Governance group examines options

Attorney calls HB 224 ‘obtuse and un-understandable’

House Bill 224, the legislation that required Grand and Morgan counties to change their respective forms of government following the 2018 session of the Utah Legislature, was an “obtuse and un-understandable” law, according to Gavin Anderson, a Salt Lake County deputy attorney who over his three-decade career literally wrote the book on changing forms of government in Utah.

Anderson said that, last year, an employee of the Legislative Counsel in a PowerPoint presentation displayed a map that purportedly explained HB 224 that “looked like a map of the L.A. street” network.

When he addressed citizens as well as the study committee tasked with creating Grand County’s next form of government during a presentation at Star Hall on March 21, he said HB 224 was a strange law that applies only to Grand and Morgan counties. He made it clear he had “nothing to do” with the law, which in some cases created hard feelings last year throughout the community that did not soften until the membership of the committee was settled a few weeks ago.

Attorney Gavin Anderson, at left, reviews documents with Bob Greenberg, a member of the governance study committee for Grand County.
Photo by Doug McMurdo

In his presentation, Anderson said separation of powers was a key part of any change of government. He likened it to the U.S. Constitution, which gives equal power to the three branches of government, thereby building in checks and balances to ensure one branch does not have more power than the others.

There are four options from which the study committee can choose. The first is the form of government that was in place in 1992 when Grand County was governed by a three-person commission.

In this form of government, said Anderson, the commission acts as both the executive branch and the legislative branch, meaning the three commissioners would set policy and carry it out. They would have staggered four-year terms and would be elected at large unless the committee in its optional plan states otherwise, said Anderson.

They would also be partisan. On this subject, Anderson noted there appears to be confusion over what this means. A candidate does not have to be a registered Republican or Democrat, or a member of any other recognized party, in order to run.

As Jeramy Day, head of the Grand County Republican Party and a member of the study committee explained, political parties have formal meetings and nominate a candidate. Unaffiliated or independent candidates get on the ballot by collecting signatures from valid voters.

And while there is no readily noticeable separation of powers with a three-person county commission, Anderson said state law delineates what they are in code. Only San Juan County has this form of government in Utah.

The second option is an expanded county commission. Like the first, the county commissioners would have the power of the purse and the power to make laws, set tax levels, and adopt a budget and have other authority. No counties in Utah have this form of government.

Option three is an elected executive and council. This form of government puts a lot of power into the hands of the elected executive, who, like a mayor, would exercise power over all executive functions – and have veto power. The elected county council would make laws, set tax levels and other legislative powers. Several Utah counties use this form of government.

The appointed manager and council is the fourth form of government the committee can consider. It is largely identical to the elected executive and council form, but the manager would not have veto power.

This is the closest form of government to what has been in place in Grand County over the past 27 years, except the county administrator in Grand County does not have the same level of authority. Also, elections in Grand County are nonpartisan.

The study committee at a meeting held earlier this month informally agreed it would reach out to other Utah counties to see “what works and what doesn’t.”