A group of residents last week began circulating a petition to establish a ballot question for the recall of Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson. The petition’s organizers say it was generated in response to their complaints that Jackson stifles public comment on important issues affecting the citizens of Grand County.
To put the recall question on November’s ballot, 580 signatures are required.
Former Grand County Council member – and current Grand County Council candidate – Chris Baird, drafted the petition.
“Unfortunately council member Lynn Jackson has failed Grand County citizens by limiting public comment and participation at every opportunity,” he said. “Further, Mr. Jackson treats those who attempt to participate with contempt and disrespect.”
Local resident Rusty Wheaton said she signed the petition because she doesn’t think Jackson respects people he disagrees with.
“I don’t like his attitude,” she said. “He said he was going to be fair and listen to what people had to say, and he’s not doing that.”
The issue came to head at a contentious County Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 5, in which the council was scheduled to vote on whether or not to join the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC).
The SCIC would create a partnership between Grand, San Juan, Uintah, Duchesne, Daggett, Carbon, and Emery counties for the purpose of promoting resource development and to secure funding for infrastructure projects, transportation corridors, and energy and utility delivery systems.
Grand County is the only county that has not signed the agreement, and its participation has proven to be controversial among area residents. Specific concerns raised have been a loss of local control, coerced participation in projects that may not be in the best interest of Grand County, and the potential for indebtedness to Grand County taxpayers. Several residents requested to be heard on the issue in accordance with County Council policy that allows the public to comment on agenda items that are up for a vote.
Noting the large number of people who wanted to speak, Jackson at first declined to allow public comment.
“This really was not intended as a public hearing,” he said. “We are fairly aware of everything that we’ve been reading in the emails and what’s been in the media about what our public’s concerns are with the Seven County.”
Jackson’s comment caused the room to erupt in protest. Several residents shouted that the members of the council did not know what the comments were going to be, and that the council was not following its policy of accepting comments during meetings.
“It is preposterous that you are going to ignore the citizens of Grand County and not let us have a voice in this process,” Baird said at the meeting. “You are going to have to throw me out if you don’t let me speak.”
Jackson has since admitted to making a mistake in not allowing the public to comment. After a discussion at the meeting, which included comments from council member Elizabeth Tubbs, urging the council to allow citizens to speak, he reversed his decision.
Jackson also said that he is not against public involvement, nor is he secretly trying to rush things through the council. He said that the SCIC issue was first made available to the public at the July 1 County Council meeting as a discussion item only so they could get resident feedback, and that a vote has now been postponed twice to allow further community discussion.
“The voters are not being shut out of anything the council is working on – the Bishop lands bill, the Book Cliffs (road) economic study, or our county’s consideration in joining the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition,” he said. “All our council agenda items are available for the public, and our meetings are open.”
Baird said that the most direct evidence of Jackson’s hostility toward local public input and for the advice of Grand County’s own attorney is shown in emails obtained though a GRAMA (Government Records Accounting Management Act) request on Monday, Aug. 25.
In an email dated Tuesday, Aug. 5 between Jackson and Eric Johnson, a lawyer representing the coalition, Jackson wrote, “I apologize for the less than professional behavior of our ‘activists’ crowd and the disruption to our meeting … Our county attorney managed to postpone action on both the Seven County issue and the Book Cliffs Study issue.”
Baird said that the emails between Jackson and Johnson show that Jackson has had an agenda to “fast-track” the seven-county coalition with a minimum of public or legal input.
Jackson goes on to write, “Apparently a month is not enough time for (the County Attorney) … even though I had spoken with him repeatedly about the time sensitivity of these issues. My sense is he’s opposed to both these initiatives. It’s unfortunate the agreements require signatures by county attorneys. I’m fairly certain our council will approve both, but not sure what our course would be if our Republican county attorney won’t sign … I suggest you guys move forward with a Six County Coalition. I think our County Attorney is going to keep us jammed up down here, he’ll probably come up with another spitball in two weeks.”
Baird added that Jackson has downplayed the heavy influence that the SCIC coalition could have in forcing Grand County to go along with projects that Grand County citizens might not otherwise support.
In an email from Johnson to Jackson on Thursday, July, 24 Johnson informed Jackson that if Grand County fails to join the other counties in the coalition, “(Grand County) issues could trump regional interests.”
“Jackson’s comments to Eric Johnson describing his constituents and the attorney’s office exemplify his poor regard for his own community and their elected attorney, who is working to protect the citizens of Grand County against agreements which are adverse to Grand County’s interests,” Baird said.
Petition signer, and Grand County resident Sue deVall, said that the first indication she received that Jackson was not interested in hearing ideas that weren’t his own, was when the council presented three choices for the Utah Public Lands Initiative (UPLI) sponsored by Utah Congressman Rob Bishop.
The UPLI is intended to solve federal land-management issues on public lands in Utah by drawing on input from the public and various interested stakeholders, including representatives from the oil and gas industry, conservation groups, and the recreation industry.
As part of the process, the Grand County Council solicited public comment to come up with three alternative land-use maps that would detail possible land-use designations for public lands within Grand County.
Emailed comments were not accepted, but the council received 190 handwritten letters, 90 percent of which favored stronger protection for public lands.
When the alternative maps came out, deVall said that they offered a narrow range of choices.
“All (the alternatives) included the Book Cliffs highway and doing away with the Antiquities Act,” deVall said. “The American Red Rock Wilderness Act was nowhere to be found, nor was any protection for the La Sal Mountains, our primary water source. Where were our choices?”
deVall said that the next indicator was the rush to join the SCIC.
“If the SCIC is so good for us, let’s vote on it,” she said. “Jackson has refused to listen to any ideas that aren’t his own.”
Local business owner and resident Steve Lawry, who spoke in favor of the county joining the SCIC at the last County Council meeting, said that he is not in favor of recalling Jackson.
“I think Lynn is concerned and involved,” Lawry said. “And I really feel that he is working in the best interest of a lot of his constituents who want a more diversified economy.”
Former Grand County commissioner Ray Tibbetts said that even though he isn’t in favor of joining the SCIC, the idea of recalling Jackson is “ludicrous.”
“I’ve known about Lynn for a long time,” Tibbetts said. “He has a lot of knowledge and he brought some things to the county that we really needed. Let the voters decide when his term expires.”
Long-time Grand County resident Joe Sorenson said that he was initially hesitant to sign the petition, but that he eventually did.
“I like Lynn,” he said. “But as a council chairman, I don’t feel that my comments and opinions are being considered. I feel that the Seven County Coalition was predetermined, and that community involvement was not considered or desired.”
The petition is being circulated through grass-roots efforts, and is not sponsored by an organized group or political entity.
Baird said the recall petition and circulation certification may be viewed at archesmusic.com.
In response to rumors that the petition is being circulated by the Democratic Party, chairman Bob Greenberg said that, “Absolutely and categorically, the Democratic Party in Grand County has nothing to do with this. We’re all about electing some great candidates who will bring balance back to county government.”
For his part, Jackson said that he is confident that he speaks for “the silent majority” in Grand County.
“The group seeking this recall petition will have you convinced they are the voice of the majority of Grand County residents,” Jackson said. “I have no doubt they speak for a sizable minority, but in our democracy, the majority rules. I am looking forward to our elections in November, even if I’m on the ballot, to answer this question. I believe common sense and a balanced economic future for our county are what the majority of our citizens want.”
Recall proponents argue that county chairman stifles debate, disrespects opposing views;
Jackson and defenders say he is working hard to build a diversified economy
“The group seeking this recall petition will have you convinced they are the voice of the majority of Grand County residents. I have no doubt they speak for a sizable minority, but in our democracy, the majority rules. I am looking forward to our elections in November, even if I’m on the ballot, to answer this question.”