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Vote on new form of government for Utah County likely delayed until 2020

A surprise move Tuesday by Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee appears to have delayed when voters will have the chance to consider changing the county's form of government until 2020.
A surprise move Tuesday by Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee appears to have delayed when voters will have the chance to consider changing the county's form of government until 2020.
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PROVO — A surprise move Tuesday by Utah County Commission Chairman Bill Lee appears to have delayed when voters will have the chance to consider changing the county's form of government until 2020.

Shortly before the commission was set to discuss advancing the work of an advisory board to the November ballot, a document that included Lee's signature was filed to circulate a new initiative petition on the issue, apparently halting any action.

"I'm not pleased with what I was seeing," Lee said during a tense exchange at the commission meeting, suggesting the proposal replacing the three-member commission with a seven-member county council was rushed.

The new initiative calls for expanding the commission to five members.

It will "slow this down a bit," Lee said, citing concerns "there were a lot of agendas attached" to the recommendations from the Utah County Good Governance Advisory Board, endorsed by the other county commissioners, Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie.

Ainge questioned whether the new initiative was an attempt at obstruction.

"We have a recommendation. We have two commissioners ready to move forward. Everyone knows this has been marching forward," he said. "Today this process was obstructed by a group that wanted to file this clearly with a timeline to block this."

Ainge said he was "dumbfounded" by the new initiative and said it "doesn't feel like a serious petition. It feels like a filibuster."

But Paul Jones, Utah County deputy attorney, told the commission that the law is not clear about whether that could be seen as initiating a process to change the government in bad faith.

Jones said that's the case even if the timing does "smell fishy or doesn't look quite right."

Ainge said part of him believes Lee is "trying to do the right thing," by filing an initiative with the intent to withdraw it later, to protect the commission from "some other rogue group" trying to stall the process.

Lee said, however, answering that could "put me in bad faith status" and said he plans to gathering voter signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2020 ballot.

Ivie pressed Lee on what he meant by agendas associated with the work of the advisory board.

Lee said there was talk of people "prepping and planning to run for certain positions" created by the board's recommendations, which would have created five council districts and two at-large seats.

That could "save the county hundreds of thousands of dollars," Lee said.

Both Ainge and Ivie said months of work had already been put into the advisory group's proposal by county officials to ensure it could be ready for voters to consider in November.

Josh Daniels, Utah County deputy clerk/auditor, said state law permits only one process for changing county governance to go forward at a time, so the county must now wait until the new initiative deadline to take any action.

However, the deadline for turning in initiative signatures is 180 days after filing, making it too late for this year's election given the time required for a legal review and ballot preparation, Daniels said.

The deadline for a previous initiative that had been abandoned in favor of the advisory group's work was Monday, he said. No signatures were turned in and the plan was for the commission to propose a ballot question as soon as next week.

"Today would have been the day to dive into details," Daniels said.

While Cameron Martin, chairman of the advisory board, said last month that it's "very evident" that "there is a sense of urgency to act and to change the form of government."

But Lee told the Deseret News at the time that he still had questions about the board's plan, including how the new council districts would be drawn, saying, "It just throws a lot of red flags for me."

He even raised concerns in June about the timing, asking, "What's the big hurry?"