Saying he wants to protect small counties from heavy-handed special interest political meddling, state Rep. Phil Lyman has a bill that would require the commission form of government only for counties of the fourth, fifth and sixth class.
Lyman, R-Blanding, has been a San Juan County commissioner. And he believes for small population counties that is the best form of government.
There are efforts underway in Weber and Utah counties to go from a commission form of government to a council/mayor or council/manager form. Weber and Utah counties are large counties, and would not be affected by Lyman’s bill.
But why not allow small-county citizens to decide for themselves the kind of local government they want – commission or council/mayor or council/manager?
“That is a good question,” acknowledges Lyman, who as a freshman is already making a mark for himself in the 75-member Utah House.
But he still believes the state Legislature should step in and outlaw council forms of government for small counties – in part because the Legislature itself creates local governments and optional types of their governments.
Layman says he is not pushing HB257 because, for the first time, Democratic Navajos have taken control of the San Juan County Commission, two-to-one over white GOP commissioners of the past.
“Navajos are my friends, my brothers,” he said.
Rather, said Lyman, he’s concerned about outside “environmental special interests” having undue influence on part-time council members.
“I don’t mind (county) citizens making decisions. But Patagonia is not a citizen, all these environmental groups are not citizens” of small rural counties, Lyman said.
But billionaire environmentalists can fund local county council candidates and over-power other candidates, he said.
Grand County, next to Lyman’s San Juan County, has a council form of government and is a small county that would have to junk its council and go back to a commission form of government under HB257. Here are the counties in Utah and their classifications by population.
San Juan County folks are now talking about expanding their three-member commission to a five-member commission – and that appears to look like an effort to redraw commission districts, or adopt a few countywide commission districts, that could dilute the Navajo majority.
Lyman said he agreed in his new bill to allow five-member county commissions, so as to not harm a locally-adopted five-member commission effort.
But he still believes council forms of small county government are open to outside special interest meddling.
“The commission form of government, where commissioners hold both legislative and executive powers, is best suited for small governments – more efficient,” he told UtahPolicy.com.