A bill that would have required Utah cities with populations of at least 65,000 to operate under a government run by a city manager rather than a mayor-council form has been put on hold by its sponsor.

HB206, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Wallace, R-West Jordan, was to be debated this past week by the House Political Subdivisions Committee. However, at Wallace's request, the bill was not discussed.

A representative from Wallace's office said the representative is working on drafting a substitute bill. He said Wallace was declining to comment until the new bill is submitted and would not say what was being changed in the bill.

The bill would have affected all first- and second-class cities — cities of 65,000 or more. It would have forced changes on several of Utah's largest cities, including Salt Lake City and Provo, both of which are currently run under the so-called "strong mayor," or mayor-council, form of government.

It would have placed the same requirement on first-class counties — currently only Salt Lake County, which would have to abandon its voter-approved mayor-council government.

Current state law allows municipalities to choose their own form of government from a list that includes mayor-council and council-manager.

Under a strong mayor government, a city's elected mayor serves as the city's full-time chief executive. Under a council-manager form, the mayor is a voting member of the city council, and the chief executive is an unelected professional city manager.

A group of residents in West Jordan — the city represented by Wallace — have in recent months been calling for a citywide vote to consider changing its government from council-manager to strong mayor. Wallace's bill would have required that West Jordan — a second-class city — keep its government as is.

Lincoln Shurtz of the Utah League of Cities and Towns said there has been "some anxiousness" at the league over Wallace's original bill. He said the league is willing to work with Wallace as she drafts her substitute bill.

And he has been backed up by local officials from Utah municipalities running under both forms of government.

Letters from Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, Sandy Deputy Mayor John Hiskey, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, Salt Lake City Public Services Director Rick Graham, Ogden Management Services Director Mark Johnson and Murray Deputy for Legislation and Communication Michael Wagstaff, all sent to the ULCT last fall, express opposition to any forced change in government form.

Most of the letters said the issue is best left up to city officials and local voters. Some argued the merits of one form over the other, while others said different forms of government work better in different cities.

"We feel a city's best form of government is the one chosen by the residents of that city through the exercise of their right to vote," Billings wrote.

Corroon and others wrote that a strong mayor form of government maintains checks and balances and creates a government run by an official who is directly responsible to voters.

Shurtz also received a letter from Richard Davis, president of the Utah City Management Association, who wrote, "While the Utah City Management Association favors the council-manager form of local government and remains committed to informing elected officials and their constituents as to the benefits of such, it is our position that any change in a community's form of government is best left in the hands of elected officials and the citizens whom they serve and to whom they ultimately answer."

The Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst estimated the original bill would cost Utah cities about $1.5 million to implement, as many would be required to hire new city managers.


E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com