What looked like an impending head-on collision between Gov. Mike Leavitt and an advisory board he appointed to recommend far-reaching changes in trust-land management mellowed into some fairly amicable give-and-take.
In a meeting Thursday, both the board and the governor made some concessions so that a bill incorporating the board's proposals could move forward."I think we've come up with workable solutions," said board chairman William "Budge" Christensen. "We will be able to support the bill."
In an emergency meeting of the board earlier in the day, some members said they would distance themselves from the bill if it appeared the principles on which they had acted were being compromised. They said their objective had been to develop a management scheme that promotes, first of all, loyalty to the trust.
The advisory group was formed at the request of the 1993 Legislature specifically to develop a new management format for the Division of State Lands, which oversees more than 3.6 million acres of school trust lands. Income from the lands is used for education.
Their tentative proposal calls for nominating committees to suggest names to the governor for appointment to a board that would provide policy for an office directed by a commissioner. The commissioner would be selected and serve at the pleasure of the board.
The crux of the disagreement between Leavitt and the board was the degree of involvement the governor should have in the proposed management scheme. The board, proceeding on Leavitt's own charge to try to insulate the land management so far as possible from political and special interest pressures, had originally proposed a limited role for the governor.
Leavitt proposed several changes that would strengthen the executive's oversight.
He suggested a seven-member policy and review board, rather than five members as proposed in the board's bill. One of the seven would be a governor appointee. Originally, Leavitt suggested that the governor's appointee should be committee chairman, but he conceded that the board should be able to select its own leadership.
Christensen said a representative of the governor on the board would be acceptable if the individual met the same criteria designed for the six other members. Board members also said they would resist having a "government" appointee to the land board, but Leavitt argued he wanted latitude to "name my chief of staff" if he chose.
The board representatives resisted a suggestion that the governor also have ability to accept or reject the board's choice of a commissioner, but Leavitt remained adamant.
Having veto power over the appointment of a commissioner would allow the governor ultimately "to have his own man," Christensen argued, but Leavitt insisted that as chief executive of the state, the governor needed to have meaningful oversight of such decisions.
"The governor of the state is the primary advocate for children," he said. An elected official also has more to lose than appointed board members if something goes wrong, he argued.
Another issue of concern was how current employees of the Division of Lands will fare as land management functions are reorganized. A new commissioner with a new charge needs to be able to select employees who will reflect those changes, Christensen said. Some division employees already are leaving as they anticipate a significant shake-up.
Leavitt advised that 42 positions be shifted to the new agency, with a transition period to allow the new administrator to deal with such issues.
Rep. Melvin R. Brown, R-Midvale, who will sponsor the bill, said he is going to "put it on the fast track." He hopes to introduce the voluminous bill in the coming week.