Grand County Council chair Jaylyn Hawks (second from left) paid tribute to former council member Chris Baird on Tuesday, June 20. Council members Rory Paxman (third from left), Evan Clapper and Mary McGann, and Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll, are also pictured. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

If you’ve ever wanted to serve your community, here’s your chance.

The Grand County Council will be interviewing vetted candidates next week to fill in the remainder of former county council member Chris Baird’s term, which will expire at the end of 2018.

Council members voted 4-2 on Tuesday, June 20, to move forward with the process to find a successor; Curtis Wells and Rory Paxman voted against the majority. Once the Grand County Clerk’s Office has finalized a list of candidates and forwarded it to the council, members plan to interview candidates for the position during a special meeting on Tuesday, June 27, at 1 p.m.

Grand County Council chair Jaylyn Hawks said it’s her hope that council members will nominate a person to succeed Baird after they’ve emerged from closed session.

Anyone who would like to file for Baird’s former seat has until 5 p.m. on Friday, June 23, to submit their paperwork to the county clerk’s office. According to Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll, they will need to gather at least 25 signatures from registered voters in Grand County Council District 1, which includes voting precincts 9 and 1.

Baird resigned abruptly from the council just hours after a contentious public hearing on June 6. The hearing centered around Baird’s proposal seeking state legislative changes to the ways that certain Transient Room Tax (TRT) revenues on overnight accommodations can be spent.

In his resignation letter, Baird stated that “his vision for this community seems to have fallen out-of-line with the community’s vision.” He also cited obligations to his family, noting that he only has a few more years left to spend with his kids before they are “all grown up and gone.”

Since Baird was well over two years into his term, Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said that Utah state code dictates the process to put a new council member in place.

According to a legal memo from the county attorney’s office, the code requires to hold an election if there are still two years or more to go in a council member’s term. But if that term is less than two years, the code states that the governing body is responsible for appointing someone to fill the remainder of that term, the memo says.

“They’re thinking about the short amount of time,” Fitzgerald said. “We don’t have a choice – they’ve told us what to do.”

Wells said he always feels that it’s best to leave the selection of candidates to the voters, and noted that there wouldn’t be an additional cost to holding an election. Although it’s an odd-numbered year, the city holds its municipal elections in 2017, and voters will also cast their ballots in the race to fill departing Rep. Jason Chaffetz’ 3rd Congressional District seat.

Wells asked Fitzgerald how he determined when to depart from county code and observe state code. Fitzgerald, in response, said that the guidelines are “pretty clear.”

“It wasn’t a hard analysis,” he said.

Wells said that the history with Grand County’s form of government is what concerns him.

“We, in my opinion, pick and choose when we follow state code and county code,” he said.

Grand County Republican Party chair Jeramy Day said he understands that there are two ways of filling a vacated council seat.

“I also understand that both ways are within the preview of the law,” Day said. “What I believe needs to be asked is not what is the letter of the law but rather the intent of the law.”

An election represents the voice and the will of the people, he said.

“It is the democratic process in its purest form,” he said. “It can also be extremely expensive for a county, therefore we have an appointment process to ease the financial burden upon the county during non-election years. This is a non-election year, but as fate would have it, Jason Chaffetz has vacated his congressional seat and the state has decided to hold a special election for our very own Congressional District 3.”

Every constituent of Chaffetz’ district will get to vote for his replacement, Day said, regardless of what party they belong to.

“Adding a Grand County Council vacancy race to the already needed countywide ballot would be relatively simple to do and relatively inexpensive,” he said. “The Grand County district 1 and 9 nonpartisan council seat could be on the same ballot as the Chaffetz replacement race. (It) seems pretty clear: Let the voters choose who will represent them.”

Council chair recognizes Baird for years of service

Baird spent more than a decade on various boards, commissions and committees, including six-and-a-half years in two separate terms as a county council member, and Hawks praised him for his “tremendous passion, commitment (and) dedication.”

“I was always impressed,” Hawks said, presenting him with a plaque in honor of his service. “I hold a great deal of respect for him, and so it was my pleasure and privilege when we became elected to this council together.”

If he has a sudden change of heart, she joked, there’s still time to rejoin the council.

“You’re on speed dial, and I had this thought on the way over today: It’s probably not too late; you can probably file for candidacy,” she said.

Fitzgerald said he’s also appreciated Baird, and will miss him not only for his expertise and intelligence, but for everything else he’s contributed as a citizen and elected official.

“I don’t know if people in the county – maybe some people – know how much time he (put) in, how integral he was to the budget … and figuring out ways to make sure that we use our money most effectively so that we can free up general funds,” Fitzgerald said. “Chris’ work on that was essential.”

Baird characterized his time as a council member as a special chance to serve the public.

“I think that if you look across the world at what happens to people who do get involved in politics, you’ll realize what an opportunity and a privilege you have in this country to get involved,” he said. “And it really has been a great opportunity for me, even though I got stretched too thin recently. I can honestly say that being involved in community service has enriched my life 100 times over from what my life would have been without it.”

There are no other ways to meet as many people or to truly get to know a community as there are as a council member, he said, encouraging others not to be cynical about politics.

“If somebody like me can get involved and make a difference, then really, anybody can,” he said.

Baird was known to have sometimes-feisty public disagreements with former Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson, and spurred strong feelings on both sides during the more recent controversy surrounding the TRT issue. But politics is ultimately about service and making people’s lives better, Baird said, and he urged council members to seek out common ground and try to leave the divisiveness behind.

“I think that too often we get caught up in treating it like it’s a team sport, perhaps, just rooting for our team,” he said. “But the greatest gains that I’ve ever made have always been in searching for the common ground and trying to figure out how to get things done for the entire community.”

Filing period for vacant District 1 seat open through June 23

For more information about the candidate filing requirements, call the Grand County Clerk’s Office at 435-259-1321.