Weber County residents gathered Wednesday night to discuss whether or not three commissioners is enough to govern a county the size of Weber.
The forum, co-sponsored by the Olene S. Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service and the League of Women Voters, discussed the current state of Weber County’s government and what options are available under Utah’s State constitution.
Max Roth, Fox13 News political reporter and weekend anchor, moderated the panel, held at the Shepherd Union at WSU. Leah Murray, a Weber State associate professor of political science, and Diana Allison of the League of Women Voters, argued that the commission should be larger. Adam Trupp of the Utah Association of Counties, described how different Utah counties have handled their governmental issues, and Duncan Murray, a lawyer and city manger for South Weber, described the process and his experience with a previous attempt to change Weber County’s government.
Once the forum was opened to the public, Roth asked Weber County Commission Chair Kerry Gibson to join the panel and speak about the county government. After a little coaxing Gibson went to the stage. Gibson said that he was not planning on speaking but it’s his job to answer questions and listen to his constituents.
“None of the commissioners are here to save their jobs,” Gibson said. “We’re here because we care about the people and what they have to say.”
Weber County is governed by three commissioners with both executive and legislative power. This was the only system allowed by Utah law until the Legislature in 1972 changed the law to allow counties some flexibility. The counties can expand the commission to five, seven or nine, or go to a council system where the council holds legislative power and one elected or appointed person holds executive power.
Jim Johnston, an Ogden resident, expressed his concern that the current system gives too much power to one person, as one person can quickly become the swing vote on a three-member commission.
Gibson replied that this can be a problem no matter what the number of the people on the commission.
“You could have a group of 75 people and still have one person cast a tie-breaking vote,” Gibson said. Gibson said that his biggest concern with making a change is the cost but that he’s open and willing to listen to the voice of the people.
Spencer Stokes, who served on the County Commission in the past said that one of the problems with the commission system is having multiple people with executive power. Stokes told stories about how when he was in the commission he would get calls from department heads asking if they were still fired after one of the commissioners would get upset with them.
Gibson said he had never experienced anything like that in his tenure on the commission and said Stokes served at a very tumultuous time.
Leah Murray said she has done research on several different counties and forms of government and the results are all over the place. There’s not one right answer, she said, adding every county needs to decide what they want to do themselves and it should be up to people to decide.
“For me , its a more abstract question about representation. In general the more people you have representing a bigger population the more representation you have,” Murray said.
Duncan Murray explained the process if Weber County did want to change the form of government. A study would be initiated ether by a petition and a vote or the commission itself. The study would then make a recommendation on a change that would include the proposed change and the time line for the change which would be put before the people on the ballot.