Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Forms of Government -- Are we any closer to a solution?

The Big Question: Are we any closer to a solution regarding municipal forms of government than we were 3 months ago?

While I think many of us hope the dialogue has progressed, the results of the Local Issues Taskforce regarding this issue are mixed. We have now reviewed two potential solutions to the issue of transitions between municipal forms of government, each of which has received mixed reviews from some members of the Legislative Taskforce.

The first attempt at a fix was a narrowly tailored resolution to the issue of transitions between forms of government. While this resolution still allowed for the city manager by ordinance form of government, it would have allowed for a citizen vote if the mayor contested the hiring of a city manager or if the citizens referred the issue using the currently authorized referendum process. This resolution worked for many members on the committee, but some felt that it did not add the necessary clarity to the statute so that people clearly understood the differences between the various forms of government.

In response, we tried a second attempt at a fix which was far more broad in scope and infused the desired clarity that was lacking in the first attempt. This also addressed the transitions between forms, requiring a vote of the people anytime there was a transition from one from of government to another. The proposed fix also clarified what constitutes a change in from to include three basic forms of government: the five member council form, six member council form, or the council-mayor form of government. The proposed fix then allowed for the hiring of a city manager that could either be answerable to the mayor or council all of which would be determined by the city in question. The hiring of a city manager to accomplish some administrative functions would not be considered a change in form, but rather a staffing decision for the city. While this resolution was also accepted by many on the committee, some members felt that the hiring of a city manager does still constitute a change in from unless the city manager is always directly accountable to the mayor and not the council. While we tried to explain that if a city is operating under a 5 or 6 member council, the mayor is essentially a part of the council, and not a separate executive branch, that rationale did not ease the concerns of some members of the committee who feel that regardless of form, the mayor should be in charge of the city manager.

So, now where are we? Great Question. We will be working with the two chairs of the taskforce and legislative research to see if there is some alternative solution, or if some minor tweaks to one or both of the previously offered solutions is adequate.

Towards the end of the last meeting there was some mention of having a spectrum of forms all of which would be voted on in the case of a transition from one form to another. The spectrum of forms would start with a commission form of government with no mayor and gradually progress to a mayor council-form of government with a distinct delineation of duties between the executive functions of the city and legislative functions of the city. The problem with this solution is trying to determine where each city currently fits. Since many cities have addressed many of the nuances of governance by ordinance, it is tough to force them into a category cleanly. For instance, if a mayor retains executive authority over certain divisions within the city, but operates under what is currently considered a 6 member council form where the duties are technically vested in the council AND mayor as a single governing body, Does that mean they resemble a mayor-council (split executive/legislative authority) since the mayor has some exclusive executive authority over some departments? Or does it mean we force the mayor to absolve himself of those executive roles because they actually operate under the traditional 6 member council and have only been given exclusive executive authorities by ordinance? In addition for those cities that truly operate as a unified body, but still have a mayor do we want to now get rid of the position of “mayor” and instead have city commissioners?

As you can see this is not as simple as we would have all hoped. There is still some optimism the second solution that was referenced earlier still has merit and can be tweaked to address any outstanding concerns regarding the reporting standards of a hired city manager. Our hope, as the League, is to maintain options for cities – a core tenant of the organization and our Legislative Policy Committee. While the mayor-council form works for some cities, so does the 6 member council where the hiring of a city manager, which is accountable to the governing body works well for other cities. Hopefully the Legislative Taskforce will also see the value in maintaining flexibility for the cities.

While everyone has agreed that a vote should be required under circumstances of conflict between transitions. We should not throw the baby out with the bath-water. Of the 243 cities in Utah, we have only witnessed “transitions gone-wrong” in three isolated circumstances all of which should not be viewed as the norm. In fact many cities are continuously morphing the governance model by ordinance to address new scenarios as they arise. Hopefully this is remembered by all as solutions are being considered.

Lastly a special thanks to the chairs and many members of the committee who have worked closely with the ULCT to ensure that municipal flexibility is maintained while trying to achieve greater clarity and voter accountability. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Deseret News Article Link:,1249,695194765,00.html
SL Tribune Article Link:

Until next time … Enjoy