Is a full-time county commission inevitable? Maybe not

By Jesse Harris

A recurring theme in Iron County is candidates for county commission pledging to do the job full-time. Currently, the position is classified as part-time, but the demands of committee assignments (currently creeping up on two dozen for each of the three commissioners) and compensation of $50K/year plus benefits has produced a perfect storm of demanding 40 or more hours a week to keep up. This is not specific to Iron County either as other growing counties are going to be running into many of the same issues. Even if going full time seems like the obvious solution, it might be a good idea to step back and consider alternatives.

I think there’s a lot of value in having legislative bodies be part-time. When legislators also have “day jobs”, I think they will be more likely to carefully consider their choices. What a lot of voters might call a conflict of interest I would call having some skin in the game. The legislature solves this by requiring every member to both disclose any potential conflicts and cast a vote on every bill before them. A part-time position also makes it possible for a wider range of candidates to run for an office, not just the usual suspects of realtors, developers, and lawyers.

The question is how to get the work done while still allowing the position to be part-time.

One possible solution is to expand a county commission to include additional seats. In addition to spreading out the workload, you also invite a greater diversity of ideas and opinions. This can translate to better outcomes and more effective government. You don’t even necessarily have to spend more money for it, instead of dividing the total salary for county commissioners more ways. One of the big disappointments for me in the county commission races here in Iron County is that there are multiple qualified candidates and I have to pick the better of two or more goods. I would much rather be able to have several of them serving together.

Another solution is to consider shifting some board appointments, the majority of the work, to citizens or county/city employees. Those appointees would still report back to the commission and could handle some of the items that don’t necessarily need direct commission involvement. Citizen boards are utilized extensively in municipal government and are a great way to draw on local expertise and give budding political leaders a chance to get some experience.

And finally, maybe it would be a good idea to consider disbanding and combining boards to reduce their number or reducing the number of times they meet. A regular review of each board and its functions should be a normal and expected process to improve delivery of government functions and reduce costs. It’s entirely possible that some of them are either duplicative or have outlived their purpose.

While it may be possible that increasing the hours for county commissioners is the right way forward, it’s definitely worth evaluating other options to see if they’ll be more effective. As you interview candidates for office, make sure you gauge their reactions to these alternatives.

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