It's not clear whether Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife should resign his office after he admitted to having an affair with a woman he had counseled in his ecclesiastical job as an LDS Church bishop. Some of his constituents and some members of the City Council think he should. Others believe his indiscretion does not make him unfit to lead the city.
The best resolution to the controversy would be if the council could put a recall resolution before the voters and let them decide.
But there is no provision for recalling elected officials under Utah law.
The council is scheduled to vote today on a resolution that calls for Fife to resign. But, even if the resolution passes, the mayor is free to ignore it.
State Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, says he plans to sponsor legislation that would give authority to such a resolution. Perry said he is responding to a Brigham City resident's concern but also believes the state should provide a mechanism for removing elected officials even when their wrongdoing is less than criminal.
"We're going to file something that gives voters the right to decide if they feel a public official has done something inappropriate," Perry said. Perry envisions a recall law to give voters a mechanism to get someone out of office. "I don't believe that voters should be stuck with their elected representatives until the next election," Perry said.
But the Legislature, if it receives legislation to set up a recall law, should consider it carefully. Utah is one of just 11 states that have no provision for recalling elected officials. The parameters of recall laws vary widely in other states.
In 19 states, voters can recall statewide elected officials. Eleven of these states' recall laws provide for recalling federal senators and members of Congress, but those laws have yet to be upheld in federal court.
In at least 29 states, voters can recall local officials. The recall has been used successfully most often at the local level, using a citizen petition to put a recall before voters. Few officials elected to statewide office have been successfully recalled.
Given the reluctance of the Utah Legislature to grant much authority to voters, Perry may have a hard slog. But the Legislature should consider how Utah might let voters remove an elected official, for what types of behavior or violation of law, and under what limitations.
It should be an interesting debate.