Monday, October 01, 2007

Is the term "Mayor" really dead in Utah?

Many of you may have read or heard the recent news story regarding a minor legislative attempt to "eliminate" the Mayor position as we now know it -- at least in title, the story certainly down-played the overwhelming negative reaction that the proposal received as well as the 6-3 "NO" vote on the proposal.

While it cannot be denied that Sen. Howard Stephenson promoted an idea to do way with the title "mayor" for nearly 230 mayors in the State of Utah, it should also be mentioned that the vast majority of the committee supported the Utah League of Cities and Towns as they recommended to the committee that such a proposal would be ill-conceived and would likely be the "poison pill" to a more rational proposal that the committee may wish to contemplate regarding transitions between forms of government. In the end, the committee sided with the ULCT and decided to pursue more productive proposals.

Granted the sensational nature of a story to do away with Utah's mayors is tempting for many, but we would hope that the true story really gets out, and that is that this legislative taskforce on forms of government has done some really good work. After many months of meeting, the committee has decided to do the following:

  • Clean up the statute so that the confusion regarding the role of the mayor, the role of the council, and the role of administrative staff is clear in the various municipal forms of government.

  • Provide the citizenry an opportunity to vote on changes of form of government at the municipal level (Note: hiring a city manager that reports to either the mayor or council is not considered a "change in form of government")

  • Define the three forms of government that will exist in Utah state statute to include the (1) "Mayor-Council" form of government, which has a separate executive and legislative branch; (2) the 6-member council form of government, where the mayor and council sit as one governing body and the mayor is a non-voting chair of council meetings and has additional executive and administrative responsibilities; and (3) the 5-member council form of government, where the mayor is a voting member of the council in addition to having specific administrative and executive responsibilities. They will also grandfather those cities where the public has voted to have the "City Manager" form of government, otherwise known as the "City Manager by Statute" form.

  • In addition all of the cities and towns that currently operate under what is now the "City Manager by Ordinance" form of government will still be able to operate as they currently are and will just have to specify in ordinance that they are the 6-member council or 5-Member Council with a city manager that reports to either the mayor or council or combination thereof.

The proposal mentioned above was approved by the legislative committee with only one NO vote.

So as you can see that despite the impression that may have been left by the news reports of late, it appears that the vast majority of the Utah Legislature is still interested in having mayors and supporting our cities and towns as they try to govern. In short, the Legislative Committee and the ULCT have attempted to infuse considerable clarity into the statute surrounding this issue, but pragmatically the governance at the local level will be left unaltered except for the times in which there is a transition between the various forms of government.

There is one point Sen. Stephenson made that does resonate -- it is clear that there are many people that do not understand the governance structure at the local level. It appears evermore important to begin to reintroduce local civics to the public at-large so we can all begin to understand more clearly the government that is truly "closest to the people". Hopefully all of Utah's cities will pursue such endeavours.

May our mayors live on... Until next time enjoy.