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West Jordan struggles over change-of-government issue

First Published      Last Updated Mar 02 2017 02:16 pm


Ballot question » Residents request more time to consider switching to a model under which the mayor would not have a council vote.

West Jordan • "Why now?"

That was the question West Jordan residents asked again and again at a recent public hearing — the city's first — on a ballot question that would change its form of government to a council-mayor model, sometimes called a strong mayor form. Several even went so far as to speculate there were ulterior motives for the proposed change from the current council-manager government.

"This [weak mayor] form of government has worked for this city for many, many good years," said West Jordan resident Joe Martinez. "And I don't understand why all of a sudden someone proposes that we should change our form of government. I really think that the root cause of this is for selfish reasons."



The council last month approved a ballot measure on the issue.

For many residents of what is now Utah's fourth-largest city, the question really comes back to who has the power to run the city.

The mayor — currently Kim Rolfe — is one of seven council members with the same voting rights as the others in the current system. Additionally, the mayor conducts the council meetings and is authorized to sign contracts approved by the council.

Under the council-mayor model, the mayor would act as head of the executive branch, including appointing staff and department heads, while the council would be the legislative branch. Under such a system, the mayor would not have a vote on the council, but would have veto authority.

Though some residents who spoke during public comment expressed uncertainty about the measure, none spoke in favor of a new form of government and all asked for more resident input and education.

"I'm just begging you not to put it on this year's ballot," said resident Alexandra Eframo during public comment. "Wait for a year. Give us a chance to think about it."

Though some longed for more time, others said the council has been thinking about changing the form of government for too long.

"I have been following the council for three years now, and every year, someone has brought up, 'Let's change the form of government,'" said resident Chad Lamb. "My public input tonight for this is let's stop trying to change the form of government and just run the city of West Jordan."

Another concern residents expressed centered on the fiscal impact a new form of government would have. Though mayoral candidates currently run for a four-year term, if the change of government was approved, a new mayor would be elected to take office in 2020 — at the same time the system change would become effective. So the mayor elected later this year to take office in 2018 would have his or her term cut short but would continue to receive a paycheck for the full four years.

Some council members would have their terms cut short and would have a similar claim on compensation. Some council members argued that the timing would be more natural to take effect in 2022, when a new mayoral term would naturally start.

Councilman Alan Anderson proposed amendments to the ballot question, but the motion failed after contentious council debate.

Councilman Chris McConnehey said he would favor bringing back a new resolution to rescind the ballot question on change of government.

"I just disagree with the idea of partially fixing it without just going back and doing it right the first time," said McConnehey. "I'm not able to support a partial fix and let's just kind of hobble along. I would rather just start from scratch."

 

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