Monday, February 11, 2008

Municipal Form of Government -- Trying to Strike the Balance

Many of you may have been hearing about potential concerns with the Senate Bill 20 (Changes in Municipal Form of Government). In attempt to help clarify the situation and clearly show what the initially proposed bill actually did, we have included a set of explanations for what the proposed bill contained.

In addition, we will also discuss the changes that were made by way of an amendment today (Monday, February 11) on the Senate floor which completely undermines both mayors and councils universally. Obviously with the amendments, the ULCT and all cities and towns should have concerns with the legislation, as it completely upsets the current operation of just about every city and town in Utah.

While it is true that some of the early drafts were prepared a little hastily and had some unintended consequences, the second substitute to the bill adequately struck the same balance of power that exists today in all of your cities and towns.

The ULCT has worked long and hard to ensure no form of government or individual government was detrimentally affected and believes the initial proposed bill strikes that balance. While some would like to remove the option of allowing a professional manager to assume some of the day to day responsibilities of governance, we have to be cognizant of the 80+ cities that currently employ city managers that do just that. The intent behind the bill was to simply clarify existing law to avoid future problems with the confusion that exists in the current statute relative to the existing forms of government, and to not upset any existing form of government with monumental shifts in power that would be ushered in by statute.

The ULCT would not be supporting a bill that stripped councils or mayors of their authority, and believes this bill simply clarifies the current options.In short, the original bill (without the floor substitutes) did the following:

· Clarifies the intent of existing forms without changing any balance of power between councils and mayors.
· Provides a default delineation of powers which statutorily makes the mayor the CEO.
· Requires that any change in form of government requires a vote of the people.
· Allows for flexibility by municipal ordinance to delegate authorities to mayors, councils or administrative staff for specific administrative duties.
· Specifies that there are specific duties that are inherently vested in the mayor and does not allow those powers to be delegated.
· Specifies that there are specific duties that are inherently vested in the council and does not allow those powers to be delegated.
· Cleans up the existing statute through a comprehensive recodification.

So, what did the floor amendments do to the bill?

Well, through amendment, the bill now says that any changes in the powers of the mayor require the affirmative vote of the people. As mentioned earlier, this legislative change is equally punitive to both mayors and councils by prescribing that any change in function, whether it be an enhancement or reduction of powers will require a vote.

So what kind of powers are we talking about?

As currently drafted it would include any change in power. So if the mayor decided that the city administrator should conduct performance evaluations for employees instead of the mayor, it would require a vote of the people, or vice versa. If the Mayor wanted to delegate the authority to review all checks and receipts to a financial adviser or manager, it would require a vote of the people. If, in a small community, the mayor wanted to delegate some of his authority over departments to individual council members (spread the administrative burden) it would require a vote of the people. Please remember that the countervailing point is also true, if the council and mayor wanted to grant all, or some, of that responsibility in a mayor that may not have that responsibility today, it would require a vote as well.

So the question then becomes -- do any of these changes constitute a "true change in form" or is it simply divvying up responsibilities? If changes of this nature are not considered fundamental change, then why should it require a vote?

Hopefully you can see how this could easily get out of control, with minor changes in day to day operations now being considered fundamental changes in governance and requiring a vote. This has never been the spirit or letter of the law or constitution. While the law recognizes the need for voter approval on changes in form, it is contemplated only under the notion of fundamental change in governance. I am still trying to figure out how ANY change in function, regardless of scale, of an individual can be universally categorized as a fundamental shift in governance -- which is how the bill now stands.

We obviously need to strongly oppose the bill as drafted to protect mayors, council members and other administrators from the overstepping aspects of the amendments.

We will be working with the interested parties to make sure that they understand the litany of unintended consequences of the proposed amendments to the bill, and would encourage you to do the same.

For more detailed reading of the bill, please review the link to the bill text below.

Municipal Government Amendments - SB20 -- Second Substitute