Orem City Council’s first public meeting with new mayor Dave Young revealed tension surrounding the new administration’s initiatives as council members expressed concern over what they saw as a lack of transparency.
The meeting, which took place Jan. 11, dealt with two resolutions. The first would give the mayor and city council direct control over which applicants are considered and appointed to the city’s planning commission. This would align the city’s citizen-ran commission more closely with the legislative branch of city government.
The other resolution would name a Lehi attorney director of the new Office of Legislative Affairs. Both resolutions were met with opposition by some in attendance.
Quinn Mecham, an Orem resident with a history of involvement in city government and a BYU political science professor, took the stand to urge city council members to vote ‘no’ on the resolutions.
“Removing one of the sources of independent citizen input and concentrating power in the hands of the mayor on week one of a new city administration is a really bad precedent that I believe is likely to harm the quality of our city governance,” Mecham said.
Mecham also expressed worry over the new legal counsel position whose appointee was selected without an open search for candidates and “without transparency about where the budget for that is coming from.”
This worry was echoed by some in the city council as well.
“My really big concern is that we have not had an open search for this lawyer,” city council member Debby Lauret said at the meeting. “We have not gone through the normal process when we hire a city employee.”
According to city council members, such positions in city government are normally made public and are filled only after the council reviews all the applications and selects who they feel is the most qualified.
Tom Macdonald, recently elected to his third term, shared similar feelings to those of Lauret. He was the only other council member to vote ‘no’ on the resolutions which passed with a 5-2 vote.
These worries about open and clear communication come after Young emphasized transparency during his campaign. “Our community values transparency. Together with the council we will pass reforms to enhance transparency and encourage input from residents,” he said in his inauguration speech.
Mecham sees these two resolutions as doing the opposite. “I’m concerned that being transparent with the citizens and being open to a diverse set of citizen voices is not a priority of the new administration,” he said.
Transparency on the part of local governments is key to building the needed trust to get citizens’ support and input, Lauret said.
However, Lauret’s and Macdonald’s hesitation towards Young’s proposals sparked emotional outbursts from some Orem residents in attendance.
After the meeting ended, one man approached Lauret and made threatening remarks. Lauret said the man told her that she had better get on board with the new regime or he would make sure the city councilwoman did not get reelected. “He was in my face,” she said.
According to Mecham, this particular event may be reflective of our nation as a whole. “I think it reflects a broader national trend, right, increasing polarization, lack of respect for civic disagreement,” he said.
According to Lauret, city council meetings are not a place to disrespect city officials or other citizens. Instead, they should be a place to inform city council members of things they may not be aware of. “It’s to make sure we understand perspectives,” she said.
Macdonald highlighted this pursuit of mutual understanding to be done civilly. He said the key to good political participation, whether you are a mayor or involved citizen, is “a true desire to work together as a team, to go across political aisles, or just opinion aisles.”
Mecham agreed. “We need to redouble our efforts to be engaged as citizens, to carefully pay attention to changes and policies and the direction that we’re going and work very hard to make sure everybody’s voice is heard, and to disagree when we disagree, but do it agreeably,” he said.