A ballot initiative will give Grand County voters the option to choose whether or not to have a committee study the form of government.
Grand County now has a seven-member non-partisan board. Two council members are voted at large, the five remaining council members represent districts within the county. It changed to this form of government after a vote by the public in 1992.
It was previously a three-person commission with each commissioner voted at large.
The council sought advice regarding the form of government in 2011. A special session was held at the Grand Center June 23, 2011 and all council members were in attendance. Information on the legal procedure to change Grand County’s form of government was presented to the council and members of the audience by Adam Trupp from Association of Counties and attorney Gavin Anderson.
The first step to change the form of government is to do a study, which has to be initiated by either a council vote or by a public vote.
“It was decided by the council that if we are looking at a change in government it has to be brought to the county,” Ciarus said.
Members from the Republican party proposed to put the initiative on the primary ballot in June earlier this year.
It was removed from the primary ballot because the county council didn’t adopt a resolution in time for it to be on the ballot, said county clerk Diana Carroll.
Baird said to understand the reason why the initiative is on the ballot, “see who the sponsors are.”
“They are all officers of the Republican party,” Baird said. “It’s to tweak Grand County government and give the Republican party a leg up,” Baird said.
Should the initiative pass an appointment committee is created, which will appoint at least seven, but no more than 11 people to serve on the study committee.
The petition sponsors may appoint one of the five study committee members. One will be appointed by Grand County state senators and representatives. One will be appointed by the Grand County Council. The remaining two study committee members will be appointed by the original three. All must be Grand County residents.
Baird said it is to be seen whether it will be truly a bi-partisan committee.
“Bipartisan appointment is rarely achieved,” he said.
The study committee is unpaid, but the county council must provide a budget for printing, secretarial services and legal counsel. The committee is directed to examine the current form of government, determine whether the current form can be strengthened or improved, and to submit a report to the county council within one year.
The committee may hold public hearings, but it is not mandatory.
“Even if the study committee concludes a new form of government is warranted, it doesn’t mean anything unless the citizens agree,” Baird said.
In order to put a new form of government in place, the council must put it on the ballot and the majority of the public must vote for the change.
“It is a fairly long process if it went all the way through for change,” Baird said.
Mike Binyon, chair of the Grand County Democratic Party, organized the opposition to the initiative.
His main concern is that Grand County will lose some of its provisions if any changes are made. Since the current form of government was put in place in 1993, the state legislature made changes in state law, including disallowing term limits, recalls and non-partisan elections.
“We’re grandfathered in,” Binyon said of Grand County’s exceptions to current state law.
“If we change any form of our government we will lose those parts of our government.”
Binyon is most concerned about the non-partisan part of the election. Even though he is the Democratic party chair, he wants to preserve a non-partisan election.
“Since 60 percent of voters are registered ‘other’ than Republican or Democrat, it suits us being non-partisan,” Binyon said. “We have a very democratic system here. Everyone gets to vote for three of the council members, two at large, one in their district.”
Ciarus wants to see the initiative pass.
“I think it is a good petition. I think all citizens have a right to look at their government,” he said. “Maybe change will come out of it.”
Ciarus said that the provisions now in place are not grandfathered.
“We are susceptible to lawsuits. For those things that we are not consistent with state law, we could be sued and we would lose,” Ciarus said.
He said that was clearly explained by attorney Anderson in the June 23, 2011 special session.
“People are out there making wrong accusations. Their interpretation is not the same as mine as what was relayed to us,” he said. “I want people to be able to make up their own minds without all these scare tactics and idle threats.”