Nathan Ivie: Reflections on Serving as a Utah County Commissioner
Nathan Ivie came on the scene pretty quickly in 2015 when he ran for Utah County Commissioner’s Office. He served as a Utah Commissioner from 2016-2020.
I asked Nathan to tell me a little bit about his background before he became county commissioner:
“So I’m a horseman and I’ve spent my whole entire life working professionally in the equine industry. I specialize in reining horses. I went to work for a horse trainer when I was 12 years old, it’s always been my passion. I grew up on a family ranch, and we grew that from a little tiny one acre in Bluffdale to we now have 30 acres here in our main facility in Benjamin, Utah.”
“We have a little over 1000 acres of summer pasture, we have about five stud horses that are all multiple world champions. This last year is actually the highest money year trainer in the state of Utah, even just doing that part time. Horses have been my life and I love it, I’m fortunate to be able to do what I love for a living my whole life.
Running for County Commissioner
I asked Nathan to tell me why he decided to get involved in government.
Nathan shared, “Several years ago, I was getting really frustrated with county government. I have always been very politically active, you know, following politics. My dad was the chief building official for Park City for 30 years, so he worked on a lot of legislation up at the Capitol. He’d drag me along periodically, so I’d seen sausage made before. I had several people say ‘You should run for office’ and so I said, ‘Okay.’ And we won. We had our eyes open to a whole new world.”
I told Nathan that I’ve been involved in politics in Utah County for 30 years or so and when the Name Nathan Ivie came up, I had never heard of Nathan Ivie before. But I had friends who knew you, Nathan, and my friends kept saying, ‘Nathan Ivie is so awesome, we have got to elect him as a county commissioner.’ So I don’t know what you did to impress other people but they were plenty impressed with you and who you are.
Nathan agreed saying, “I was fortunate to have some really good friends. I was in the same ward for a little while as Deidre Henderson, trained horses for Mike McKell, and so I got the opportunity to interact with those people a bunch on a personal level, and they were my friends first and they knew me personally. They were a huge help to me and are still some of my best friends today.”
What Was It Like Jumping into Politics?
One of the purposes of “Unlocking Politics with Stan Lockhart” is to go beyond the veneer. The media kind of, they vilify our elected officials on a regular basis, but I think what our listeners would like to know Nathan is, what was it like going from not being quite as involved to being right in the middle of it? You get elected to the county commission and then you jump right into the fire. Tell us, what was that discovery process like?
Nathan shared, “That’s a good question. I was fortunate in that I won the primary and we were a Republican stronghold. So, once I won the primary, I knew I was going to be the commissioner. So, I was able to spend about 6 months getting to know what my job was going to be, so that was a really big help.”
“When I very first got elected in those first days in the office it was, particularly in the commissioner’s office it was mind boggling to me the amount of purchase orders and requisitions and acquisitions and all those kinds of things that we had to approve and sign off on. So, there was a lot of slightly mundane day-to-day tasks keeping the county operating that was a little eye opening, it wasn’t all fancy speeches and legislative acts.”
“In coming into politics in general for someone who hadn’t really been engaged much, it was really interesting to me at the start to see a little bit more how it worked internally. And quickly come to find there’s some really ,really good people who serve as our elected officials. And there are a handful of people who are very self-serving. And unfortunately the self-serving ones get a lot of the attention, because they like to tap their horn really loud, and the people who just go to work and do a great job for the citizens get largely ignored, and that’s kind of sad. So that was one of the first real eye-opening things that I found, was that. One was that there are a lot of good people which you know, from the media it makes you think that all politicians are dirty scoundrels and then I found out that there are a handful that are, that unfortunately taint it for the good people.”
Duties of a County Commissioner
I asked Nathan to tell us about what the duties are for the county commissioner because it’s a little different from other elected positions.
Nathan shared, “The county Commissioner is a really, really interesting position because you are the CEO for the county, so you have significant administrative responsibilities, you are a legislative body, you actually serve as a quasi-judicial official and you make judgments, particularly on a lot of taxes issues.”
“So you really wear these three hats, and in our case there is three of us that all have equal powers but we have those three areas of responsibility and so it’s kind of odd sometimes because you never know if you are making an administrative decision or have to make it a legislative priority and put on a commission meeting so it’s a bit of a juggling act. And of course we set the tax rate and we sit in judgement to see if someone qualifies for a tax break or not, so that’s kind of an interesting scenario where you kind of sit in all three branches of government as one individual. So when most people think about government they think about the President, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, it’s very roughly we’re kind of all three of those in one body. So, it’s a unique position in that regard.”
Favorite Parts of Being a County Commissioner
I asked Nathan to share his favorite part of serving as a county commissioner.
Nathan said, “I loved helping people. There is nothing better than having somebody come in with a land use ordinance or a challenge or a problem and being able to sit down and find a way to help those people. We were able to change land use ordinances, so people had more access to do with their property as they wanted. We actually changed some land use ordinances to protect neighbors from what happens with growth.”
“We had a big gravel pit issue where the gravel pit dust was destroying the fruit farm so we worked through some legislature process to put some more control on the gravel pit to mitigate the dust so it wasn’t destroying the fruit farms and so we were able to keep them open and running and save farms.”
“I was able to help the encircle kids get in the Freedom Festival parade and that was one of my happiest moments, seeing those kids get to be a part of our community. Helping people was definitely my favorite part, having someone come in with a problem and being able to find a solution to it. What I learned in that process was that solutions are more important than ideology, because solutions help people, ideology doesn’t. And I learned that pretty early in my service, that solutions help people, but your ideology doesn’t put bread on their table so to speak when they have a problem.”
County Commissioner and Taxes
I asked Nathan to share with me something that the average citizen wouldn’t know about county government.
Nathan shared, “I will tell you something that the vast majority of people don’t know about county government: the county’s portion of your property taxes only account for 6% of your overall property tax bill. We had to adjust the property tax rate in Utah county for the first time in 23 years during my tenure to get our budget back in a healthy position. It was amazing to me how many people didn’t realize what a small percentage of their overall tax bill that was. So that was one thing that was surprising.”
“I’ll tell you another thing that a lot of people don’t know about county government, and it’s not just county government it’s school district and others, is how property tax works. It’s amazing to me how many people don’t understand the nuances of property tax law, so that is kind of a couple of things that the general public don’t understand about how county government works and their role in property taxes.”
Taxes in Utah County Explained
“So most people in Utah County pay between 70%-75% of their overall property tax bill to the school district depending on which one you live in, and the county gets roughly 6%. But all your property tax, when you write the check it comes to Utah County and then we disperse it to other agencies and so that’s a little confusing, right? Because you don’t write a check to the school district you write it to the county, but we actually are just a pass of all those funds to go to these various entities.”
“And so when somebody hears about a property tax increase from the county, if it’s 10%, 15%, or 20% and you pay $2,000 and you think it’s going to grow by 50%, that’s a whole lot! But it it’s 6% of that total, it’s $3 or $4 a month, which isn’t quite so painful. A lot of people don’t understand how that works.”
“A lot of people think that if their home value increases, their property tax automatically increases. When state law actually requires us to lower your certified rate if your home value increases, so you pay the same dollar figure year over year unless we go through truth and taxation and adjust that rate upward. I think that’s a common misconception too. Just because your house value goes up, isn’t why your property tax goes up. The reason it goes up is because your school district, or your water district, or your city had gone through a truth and taxation and increased your certified rate.”
“We get blamed a lot for what others do and the county treasure right, they’re the ones that send out those notices and then collect your taxes and you pay it to the treasurer or your assessor assesses your property value and county treasurer collects those funds and then their largest responsibility is dispersing those funds to the other agencies, that you actually pay it to.”
Lessons about Utah County
I asked Nathan to share things that he learned about Utah County.
Great State Legislators
Nathan shared, “ My greatest lesson about Utah County is how really good we have it in the State legislature. We have some incredible legislators in Utah County who bring a great deal of transportation funding, and other very needed resources to our county. So that was probably something I learned about the county that I maybe didn’t know before is just how good of a group we have in the State legislature working for us.”
Diverse Economic Field
“ Another thing I learned about the county that was a little surprising because you don’t think of it is actually how diverse the county is. We’re the largest agricultural producing county in the state of Utah, which I knew. But then you move into Provo and Orem and you have this incredible retail, you get up into Silicon Slopes and we are leading the world with Qualtrics and Adobe and all these other software giants in the technology industry, and now Eagle Mountain is expanding into this great manufacturing hub and data center. I learned how diverse our economy is and how we have our fingers in a bunch of different things and are very, very good at those various things which I think is why I think Utah County is so stable despite the shifts in global markets and global economies. We’re pretty dang stable here and able to weather out storms whether they are from recessions, or COVID viruses, we stayed pretty well employed and we stayed pretty strong economically because we have a very diverse economic field.”
I agreed with Nathan. I’ve heard that many times about not, about the state of Utah having an incredibly diverse economy and being the best able to withstand economic downturns. Because when things are down in one sector, they might not be down in other sectors. And if you’ve got a strong, diverse economy in all these different sectors, you can weather some of those storms. And I think your right, I think Utah county is very well positioned in that regard.
Nathan said, “Yeah, we are. We lead the nation in tart cherry production, most people don’t realize that. So I mean, it’s not just that we’re good in the state, we’re good in the nation in agriculture here in Utah County and then obviously you take some of our major tech companies and we lead the world in those too. It’s cool to have that all in one place.”
Losing an Election
I shared with Nathan my experience losing an election. I was on the Provo City Council and I lost an election after one term. I don’t know how you felt about it, I was devastated! And I would have stayed two weeks in bed if given the opportunity. My wife, after I’d slept in a couple of hours, said ‘Get out of bed, get going.’
Tell me what it’s like, you give your heart and soul to something and suddenly it’s no longer there.
Nathan said, “I would be lying if I said I was all happy, because there are sad moments. But I’m very, very happy. I think the biggest reason I’m happy is because I know I did what I committed to do. And so, you know the loss was disappointing. I wanted an opportunity, there were a couple of things I didn’t get to do. I really, really wanted to get into Domestic Violence Court in Utah County. That was something we’d worked on and kind of gotten stalled, but it was something that was really important to me. The employees at Utah county are really important to me. They’re wonderful people and I miss associating with them every day. That will be a big change. But I’m a horse guy at heart and this was a public service and that came to an end, and so that part of it, I’m okay with that.”
“I’m in a great place in my life, personally, I’m the happiest and freest I’ve ever been in my life, because of some personal decisions that I’ve made and so that’s been a wonderful experience. So ,I think the loss was pretty easy to take in stride because there is so much good in my life and so much good that came to my life because I was able to serve.”
“And so my ex-wife, my partner, they have all helped keep me in a really good perspective that we served well, we did our job, and whatever comes next, the next chapter will be exciting. We’ll continue to be engaged and involved in some kind of public service and trying to help make our community a better happier place to live cause that’s just how I was raised and what I believe in. So, I truly believe that God is in control and my season doing this came to an end, and we’ll see what happens next.”
Didn’t Feel Like a Loss
“l’ll share a very personal story with you Stan. I’ll tell you why it didn’t feel like a loss. I had one of my really good friends, his name is Tad. The day after the election, so Wednesday morning he called me and he was crying, and he was like, ‘I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you!’ And I’m like ‘Uhhh… did you not see the results?’ and he said, ‘I would have never in my lifetime believed in Utah County you could have gotten 40% of the vote, and you did! And you lit the world as a better place.’ That phone call, because I was pretty sad that morning, that phone call really really changed everything for me, and it’s been the one that when I get teary or sad about leaving and the results, I hear his voice and I remember that we did great things, and it’s okay.”
I shared with Nathan that after I lost my city council race I stayed involved. I kept trying to do what I could in the sphere that I was to help. I remained a delegate, I was a state and county delegate and was involved in some of the party leadership things for a while but four years later I was the chairman of the Republican Party in the state. And I don’t think I would have ever had that experience if I had stayed on the Provo City Council. What I discovered is that when one door closes, other doors open. And you just have to be willing to walk through those other doors. So I’m guessing it will be the same for you.”
Plans for the Future
Nathan shared his plans for the future and what is ahead for him:
“I’ve got two different organizations, non-profit organizations that have already called me and said ‘Now that you’re free, can you please serve on our board?’ And I’m very very excited to, once that gets official, to be able to serve on those two boards. They is one in the arts and one is suicide prevention. So two very very near and dear subjects to my heart and so I’m very excited to be part of those boards and help their causes. So those things are already happening. We’ve got a couple of legislative bills we’re going to work on and push on and so there are a lot of fun things that are there that I wouldn’t have had time to do if I still had to be in the commission full time. And I get to ride horses all day.”
I asked Nathan if he would be making more money now than he would when he was on the commission.
He said, “That’s actually funny because the horse deal on my good years definitely pays a little more than the commission did. Financially it’s not a hardship, you know we got to jumpstart our business again. I kept it running just a little bit cause I had only planned on serving for two terms and then I was happy to come back to this. But obviously, there’s a difference, taking something that was running at 10% and getting it back to 100%, but we’ll be back running full steam. I’ve got some clients that have invested in some really nice horses for me to ride and show, they’re coming along great. We actually, it was kind of a really sad day but we sold one of our great horses that we wanted to run on on this year for a lot of money. So we’re almost to what I make as a commissioner, in a year. We’re very blessed, the Lord takes care of us and we’re thankful for that.”
“As Rick and I talk, and Steph and the kids, the one thing that we all say as a family is that things work out. We just do our part, we work hard and things work out. And I’m sure that will continue to be the case.
Final Word: Propaganda
I asked Nathan to share any final thoughts he wanted to share.
He said, “You know, I actually do. I want to talk a little bit about propaganda. If I learned anything in politics, it’s about propaganda. Somehow, I hope, as a nation we can get past the 30 second sound clips and the TV spots and the little meme on Facebook and get back to the heart of discussing significant issues in depth. Because I fear for the future of our Republic if we allow propaganda to continue to take over. It’s always been a role, but I think it’s very very dangerous. And the other thing I am very fearful of is identity politics.”
“Like I said, my happiest thing was finding solutions, you don’t find solutions in my opinion in identity politics, you find conflict. A little conflict is good if it results in a better outcome. But when it’s entrenched in your identity and nobody budges, nothing good comes of it. And so I hope as we think about things moving forward, we can listen to the depth of the discussion, appreciate each other, appreciate our differences, and realize we’re working towards something similar.”
“ I had a really unique experience as an elected official to go to DC and there I met someone who’s become one of my best friends, his name is Ed. Ed is as democrat, socialist guy as you can get, and we love each other and are best, great friends. Because we both came to a realization that we actually want the same things, we just have different ideas on how to get there. We want less gun violence, we want less poverty, we want less hungry kids, we want people to have good health insurance, we want people to be free and happy, and be able to pursue their dreams. And when we focus on that similarity, we find out we have so much in common to celebrate and that we can really come up with good ideas together on how to help those things move forward.”
I appreciate your ending words. On “Unlocking Politics with Stan Lockhart” our main goal is to get beyond the sound bites and get to things that are a little more substantive. We sure appreciate you coming on with us.
- County commissioners are the executive branch, the legislative branch, and a quasi-judicial branch all in one. They have great power and influence.
- There are a lot of good people who work in county government. A handful of self-serving people who get all the attention. Lots and lots of good people.
- He loved helping people and solving problems. He said over and over again that ideology doesn’t solve problems.
- He isn’t incredibly sad about losing, although he has his moments. He is a horse guy at heart, and he gets to go back to his horses.
- The loss is easier because he has so much good in his life and is excited about the next chapter of his life.
- He doesn’t like the propaganda in politics. If he has discovered anything it is that there is way too much propaganda. We have to get past the 30 second sound clips and discuss issues in a more thoughtful manner. He fears for the future of our republic if we don’t get to a more intentional discussion of issues.
- Democrats and Republicans want the same things, but they just have different ways of getting there.