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West Valley City Journal

Council designates city to rejoin Utah League of Cities and Towns

Feb 06, 2023 03:16PM ● By Travis Barton

West Valley City will be members of the Utah League of Cities and Towns again after leaving the body. (File photo West Valley City)

West Valley City councilmembers informally voted to rejoin the Utah League of Cities and Towns in January, right before the state legislative session began. 

Mayor Karen Lang brought the possibility up in December saying councilmembers had expressed interest in rejoining. 

City officials originally stepped away with West Valley City facing different challenges to ones faced by other municipalities, such as growth where WVC is already mostly built out. 

The Utah League of Cities and Towns has over 250 members and its job is effectively to advocate for cities year round, explained its Executive Director Cameron Diehl to the council during a January study meeting. 

But most importantly, its advocacy is most prevalent during the legislative session where they work on everything minus education and healthcare. Diehl listed transportation, homelessness policy, property taxes, sales tax, gas tax as but a few of the issues they work on. 

He said their top three focuses this year were land use, public safety and growth (i.e. transportation, water, economic development). 

“The strength of the league is its membership,” he said. 

Each member city is entitled of up to three voting members. On top of that there is a board of directors made up of mayors and councilmembers from around the state and an executive board which consists of a president and a first and second vice president (which are the mayors of Millcreek, Provo and Draper, respectively). 

Despite leaving the league, city officials noted Diehl continued working with the city and built trust through a working relationship. 

In the interim, the city created its own in-house team headlined by Lincoln Shurtz, government relations director who incidentally once worked for the league running its government affairs for 14 years. 
The difference boiled down to timely and applicable effectiveness. While the league could be a partner with the city working toward common goals, there lacked a specificity for uniquely designed West Valley City challenges such as certain requests regarding Olympic venues, additional infrastructure dollars and transportation safety on Mountain View Corridor within city boundaries. Those specific challenges would not suit the league who has hundreds of other clients. 

Participation did not require membership, though fees for trainings would be higher as a nonmember, but Lang noted membership would allow for a partnership without “freeloading” off their kindness as well as facilitate friendlier channels with other cities. 

Councilmember Don Christensen, who was West Valley’s league representative when the city were members, was happy either way. Councilmember Lars Nordfelt felt the same way. 

Councilmember Will Whetstone said the “benefits would outweigh the potential conflicts.”

Councilmember Jake Fitisemanu Jr. said he didn’t see it as a binary anymore between membership and a WVC team but was curious about the cost of having both. 

“I’m interested in looking at those numbers (cost) to see if there isn’t a way to leverage both,” he said. “Having an in-house team but also giving us leverage and being good neighbors, helping out other municipalities as well.” 

City officials said the current budgeting process already allows for them to hire a specialist lobbyist if needed, so there is enough funding to do both. 

The choice to rejoin was informal, with no official vote required. Fitisemanu, Nordfelt and Christensen were fine either way, while the other four—Lang, Whetstone, Tom Huynh and Scott Harmon—were in favor leading to the city rejoining the league. There will be reports to the council from both the league and the city later this year on the partnership.