Voters will wait until November to decide whether reorganizing Grand County’s government should be studied.
In a special session Monday morning, June 11, the Grand County Council voted 5-2 to put the initiative – that asks voters whether a study committee should be formed to consider a change in Grand County’s form of government – on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The council first struck down a motion to keep the initiative on the June 26 ballot, with a 4-3 vote. June 26 is the Republican primary in the state of Utah.
The special hearing was called after Judge Lyle Anderson on Friday, June 8, ruled proper procedure hadn’t been followed in placing the initiative on the June 26 ballot. He put the ball in the County Council’s court, ordering council members to take up the issue.
A group called Citizens to Preserve Grand County filed an injunction against the county last week, citing improper procedure.
At issue was whether the county clerk, county council and other officials had followed protocol in placing the initiative on the ballot. The citizens group said it hadn’t been done properly.
“I’m all in favor of people’s right to place a question on a ballot,” said Bob Greenberg, with the Citizens to Preserve Grand County, at the County Council’s June 5 meeting. “But the Republican primary is not the legal venue to ask voters if a different form of government should be instated. The Council hasn’t called an election. Clerk, this question must be submitted to voters in November.”
At the conclusion of Monday morning’s special meeting, County Clerk Diana Carroll said she had followed proper procedure.
“All seven of you knew this was on the ballot,” she told the council members. “I did nothing as a rogue county clerk to slap this on the ballot.”
County Council Chairman Gene Ciarus said he was to blame. He said he was given faulty legal information from a couple of people he had asked for advice.
“I was misinformed,” Ciarus said. “It’s my fault for not reading state code or this would have been before the council before now. So throw your eggs and rocks at me, and I’ll try to duck before one of them hits.”
Council member Patricia Holyoak said Ciarus didn’t have to take the blame.
“We were all asked,” Holyoak said, “and we all agreed that this could be on the ballot.”
Jeramey McElhaney, chairman of the Grand County Republican Party, spearheaded the effort to get the initiative on the Republican primary ballot later this month.
McElhaney said he first approached the County Council about putting the question before voters. But he decided to start a petition and gather signatures after a council member told him this sort of proposal would be better coming from the citizens, he said. He collected enough signatures to get the motion on the ballot.
The citizens group and others were concerned that placing the question on a ballot during a partisan primary wouldn’t get a fair result.
At Monday’s Council meeting, Council member Chris Baird said that was the main issue with the June 26 date.
“This action isn’t about whether we’re going to run this,” Baird said. “It’s when. The election should be fair. The officers of the Republican Party are the sponsors of this petition. It’s obvious that to put this on the ballot in June is to weigh heavily in the Republicans’ favor.
“November is clearly the fair venue for this.”
Council member Audrey Graham said she’s heard from people on both sides of the issue. They agree, she said, on the fact that many community members think this vote is to change the form of government, not just to study whether to change it.
That should be troubling to people on both sides, she said.
“I don’t care about pointing fingers,” Graham said. “I care about having an educated, informed public.”
County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald, on speaker phone from Salt Lake City, told the Council that the citizens group had promised to push forward with their lawsuit if the June date was chosen.
Voting in favor of keeping the initiative on the June 26 ballot were Chairman Ciarus and council members Holyoak and Jim Nyland. Council members Graham, Baird, Ken Ballantyne and Chris Conrad voted against it.
In the end, Ciarus and Nyland voted against having the question on the November ballot, too. The other five voted in favor.