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Council debates length of water-board terms

Published October 4, 2013 9:47 pm

Salt Lake County • Opinions differ on value of experience versus new ideas.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's time for the Salt Lake County Council to nominate people for two positions on the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District board.

Sounds pretty matter of fact, but the issue sparked vigorous council debate last week over whether appointed board members should be limited to two terms.

Councilmen Jim Bradley and Steve DeBry suggested it might be good to restrict trustees to eight years. They noted that Gov. Gary Herbert, who ultimately makes the appointments, has stated his preference for two-term limits on most boards. A county ordinance also recommends limits, although it gives the council leeway to approve longer stints .

In this case, the Jordan Valley trustee positions that expire in January are held by Royce Gibson, who has been on the board 18 years, and Richard McDonald, a member since 2006.

"You could argue water policy is long-term, and having long-term members helps with continuity," Bradley said. "On the other side, there's a lot of talent out there and water shouldn't be controlled by an exclusive group."

But Councilman Michael Jensen, who represents the county on the Central Utah Water Conservancy District's board, argued vociferously that water boards are unique because they deal with public needs far in the future, making longevity an asset.

"I'm very opposed to putting absolutes in and to say only two terms," said Jensen, one of four county council members who have served more than two terms (Bradley, David Wilde and Randy Horiuchi being the others).

"I can't fathom changing the board every eight years," he added. "Every water board in the state is asking the governor to change his position on the two-term limit. We're not talking about a road that will be built next year, but water development 50 years down the road."

He was backed by Councilman Max Burdick, who observed "we don't have term limits here. It's disingenuous [for us] to say others should."

Councilman Richard Snelgrove endorsed Bradley and DeBry's position, saying he was troubled by someone spending 18 years on a public policy board because then trustees get closer to the institution than the people they're supposed to represent.

"I haven't heard of any scandals or issues of concern [because of Gibson's tenure]," he said, "but I'm not sure that's a reason to extend the status quo. New blood [on the board] might find issues we should be aware of."

Jensen countered that having board members with years of experience is the best way to check the power of water-district managers. If there are problems with trustees' performances, he added, the current approval process gives both the council and the governor authority to replace them when their terms expire.

He made a motion to maintain the status quo, with the council nominating three people to each position for Herbert's ultimate selection. After the protracted debate, the motion passed unanimously.

Nominations for the two Jordan Valley posts will be assembled in the next month.


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