Bills aimed at helping Utah counties change form of government, create oversight committee get mixed reviews

Posted at 7:20 PM, Feb 02, 2018

CAPITOL HILL – Lawmakers are considering two bills that supporters say would offer better local representation and more transparency, But opponents argue it’s nothing more than a power grab.

Representative Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, unveiled House Bill 224.

The bill will allow counties to change their form of government. For example, in Utah County, they have three commissioners and could move to a council form, similar to Salt Lake County.

Tooele, Davis and Weber counties are considering it.

“It ensures that every section of our community has a voice at the government table,” said Nathan Ivie, Utah County Commissioner.

His growing community of 600,000 is faced with affordable housing and infrastructure issues, and he said people need better representation.

“With the growth, eventually the three people won't be able to handle the workload,” Ivie said.

Representative Val Potter, R-North Logan, was a former Cache County commissioner. He says the more decision makers, the better.

“You don't make knee-jerk decisions," Potter said. "You think about it, debate it, and discuss it with other members of the council.”

With House Bill 175, Representative Keven Stratton, R-Salt Lake City, would like to create a congressional-style oversight committee.

“This is not about party line: We ought to welcome scrutiny,” Stratton said.

On Thursday, a committee blocked the bill. But Stratton vowed to bring it back in some form.

“One of the criticisms we heard yesterday is this is redundant," Stratton said. "Well, don't we want redundant in a $17 billion bill that comes through this House and Senate?”

Representative Joel Briscoe, D-SLC, argues that reinventing the wheel is a waste of taxpayer’s money.

“I don't see why we need a legislative committee to oversee every state government, every school district, every charter school? Why do we need to do that?”

Heather Bennett, President of the Salt Lake City School Board, issued this statement regarding the legislation:

"On Friday, Representative Stratton addressed the Utah School Boards Association and the Utah School Superintendents Association to discuss House Bill 175. Based on the information presented in that meeting, the group voted to oppose HB 175. The Salt Lake City School District supports the decision to oppose this bill.

House Bill 175 would create an oversight committee to oversee state and local government entities, including locally elected school boards, school districts, the State Board of Education, public schools, and even School Community Councils, along with other local entities.

This oversight committee represents unnecessary government overreach, and we are concerned by the implications of such a body being created. As a local school board member, I am accountable to the voters who put me into office. The creation of this committee dilutes the voices of the citizens who have exercised their right to elect officials at the local level to carry out the people’s business. My constituents and community members must be my focus, not a state government committee far removed from local concerns and issues.

This bill also creates a redundant level of bureaucracy, one that would affect even the most basic decisions – such as how School Community Councils (which are made up of parents, principals, and school employees) implement their School Improvement Plans, where a local school board votes to build a school, or how it assesses and responds to student needs.

As local school boards, we are already highly regulated, checked, and balanced by state statute, State Board rules, and our own administrative policies and procedures. The process of governing is already challenging enough. This bill— and the committee it creates — is unnecessary, and I urge the members of this committee to vote against it. Thank you."