Ten mayors in Salt Lake County face elections this year, but already four have said they won't run again. Three say they will run. Three are undecided.
While the reasons the four - West Valley Mayor Brent Anderson, Draper Mayor Kuman Davis, West Jordan Mayor Ken Miller and Riverton Mayor James Warr - are leaving vary somewhat, there is one common factor:All these mayors serve in part-time capacities. That's right, even Anderson, who oversees the second largest city in the state, with 90,000 people and a budget topping $30 million, is only a part-time mayor. Anderson makes only about $12,000 a year in a job that certainly could take 40 hours a week or more.
Not surprisingly, the three mayors who say they are running for re-election this year - Sandy Mayor Larry Smith, Murray Mayor Lynn Pett and South Salt Lake Mayor Eldon Farnsworth - are full-time mayors. Smith makes $51,225 a year.
There's a citizen movement afoot in West Valley City to change the city's form of government from the current manager-council form - where a hired city manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis and mayor and city council are part-time - to a council-mayor form of government, like Salt Lake City's and Sandy's. Those governments have a full-time mayor, who has a number of full-time aides, and a part-time city council.
Assuming 3,200 signatures of West Valley citizens can be collected this summer, city residents will vote on the change of government sometime this year.
But back to the mayors.
If you haven't noticed, Salt Lake County is growing fast. By some estimates, 1,000 Californians are moving into the state each month, many locating in the Salt Lake Valley. The Salt Lake County assessor says the fastest areas of growth in the county are Riverton, Draper, Bluffdale and West Jordan - four cities that have part-time mayors.
Citizens are always wary about hiring (via the ballot box) full-time politicians. That's understandable.
But clearly, some cities in the county - especially West Valley City - have outgrown their part-time mayors.
When constituents don't compensate their elected officials properly, sometimes those officials look for other ways to bring home the bread. They can neglect their public duties in favor of their private work. Or they can use their public positions to get more private work.
And that leads to conflicts of interest, and problems.
It's not that the public officials are crooked. It's that they're human, and they have to make a living outside of their "part-time" public positions, as well.
I well remember the time that a part-time city official that I covered years ago walked from the council chambers and gave his business card - he was a long-distance moving agent - to an out-of-state business owner who had just asked the council for some help in relocating his business to Utah.
Was this wrong? Some might say the business owner felt pressured to use the city official's moving firm, some might say the official would be biased in favor of helping the man's business relocate to get some private business for himself.
It's best, where possible, to have public officials doing the public's business. And only the public's business.
Many challenges face the people of West Valley, Riverton, West Jordan and Draper. No doubt the new mayors elected this fall in those cities will work hard and do a good job.
But it's also likely that the new mayors will burn out on the work, look at their part-time city pay checks and wonder in four years, or two years or six weeks, if the money they're getting is worth the public service they're giving.
Reasonable pay for full-time mayors in urban, growing cities is worth serious consideration.