A bill that would prevent someone from serving on both a city council and a county commission at the same time won unanimous support Wednesday in the Senate.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Evan Vickers, filed SB50 after a Cedar City councilman who had promised to resign his seat if he won election to the Iron County commission made the surprising and mostly unprecedented announcement late last year that he planned to hold both seats.
While it is traditional to step down from one office upon winning another, it’s not against the law, Vickers said during the bill’s preliminary hearing on Tuesday.
“Technically you can do that, and the next question is ‘Is that appropriate?’” he told lawmakers. The consensus from organizations like the Utah League of Cities and Towns was that it “was not appropriate to hold two offices, at least in this case, because there was such a conflict between those two bodies.”
Councilman Paul Cozzens has told The Salt Lake Tribune he felt it was his duty to stay on the council to ensure tax dollars weren’t “wasted” and said he intends to recuse himself when necessary. But some residents have expressed concern that Cozzens’ presence on two governmental entities puts him in a unique position of power that constitutes an unethical conflict of interest.
“How can you protect city taxpayer funds when you’re also obligated to protect county taxpayer funds?” asked Carter Wilkey, a Cedar City resident, in a recent interview with The Tribune, noting that the two entities “don’t always get along.”
The Utah League of Cities and Towns supported the bill during its hearing with the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Standing Committee on Jan. 31.
“As we talked through the potential consequences or perceived conflicts of interest, this is a bigger conversation about making sure that there’s public trust in city leaders and county leaders,” said Cameron Diehl, the organization’s executive director.
SB50 would not take effect until Jan. 1 and would only apply to sitting lawmakers who hold two seats in offices that carry past that date. Cozzens has one more year in his second term on the City Council.
Vickers noted in the committee hearing that while his bill is narrowly focused, the conversation around it could expand to look at whether a legislator should be able to hold two elected offices, for example, or whether someone on a school board or special service district should be able to.
“The research and discussion about this has been much broader than just this bill that deals just with municipality and county,” he said. “Questions were risen about well, how far do you go on this? How much is a … how deep is your conflict?”
The bill would require a county clerk to notify candidates of the prohibition against serving in both a municipal and county seat at the same time when they file. SB50 will now move to the House for consideration.
This article has been updated to reflect the final Senate vote on Wednesday.