Forget a lengthy referendum battle: A bill before the Legislature would ultimately give voters the final say on what form of government they want.

SB20 comes more than a year after residents in two Utah cities filed referendum petitions in protest of a change of city government. The bill was sent back to committee for more discussion Thursday.

Syracuse voters in 2006 successfully overturned a move by the city council to strip the mayor of his chief executive officer title. That same year, a referendum in Bluffdale failed, leaving Mayor Claudia Anderson utterly powerless of all administrative duties.

"We wanted to respect the voters," the bill's sponsor, Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said. "There were residents of these various cities who were very upset they elected a mayor and the powers and authority of the mayor had been undermined in their mind."

The bill would allow cities to choose from three different forms of government.

In the strong mayor form, the mayor has veto power and can appoint administrative assistants and control the executive and administrative departments. The mayor does not have a vote on the council.

In the six-member council form, the mayor serves as chairman of the council, but is not a voting member. However, the mayor can vote when hiring and firing a city manager, or when the mayor's powers, duties or functions are being changed. The mayor does not have veto power, however.

The other form of government proposed in the bill is often called the commission form. It would be a five-member council, and the mayor is a regular voting member. The mayor would have no executive power and essentially serves in a ceremonial function.

No matter what form city councils choose, the voters will make the final decision, if SB20 is approved.

"The kicker is, as I said, the overarching, guiding principle was we wanted to include the voters in any changes, because that was really where the problem occurred," Walker said.

The bill, Valentine said, represents "a major change in the way that we have our cities governed" and needs to be looked at carefully before being approved. The Senate president said he wanted to avoid problems similar to what surfaced in an incorporation bill passed last year that resulted in the developer of a new town near Heber City going to court.

"We don't want a repeat of HB466. Oh, man," Valentine said.

The bill passed on second reading Wednesday, but was punted back to committee on third reading Thursday.

"If there is any concern from any mayor or any citizens, moving this back to committee to air those concerns and bring it back here I think is appropriate," Senate Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

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