Terry Morse is running unopposed for the District 1 Grand County Council seat, but he won’t have to wait for the November election to begin his duties.
The seat was left vacant when former council member Patrick Trim resigned, and as no one besides Morse applied to fill the interim, and no one is campaigning against him in the election, the council decided to appoint him to the position now.
“It’s really nice, because we’re going to be able to fill his position,” said Mary McGann, chair of the county council. “Instead of somebody who’s just going to fill the place for three months, he’ll be on board, so he’s getting a head start on what he needs to know, which is good.”
Morse and his wife moved to Grand County from Colorado nearly 20 years ago, when Moab was a smaller, slower-paced community. As Moab has developed, Morse felt he recognized similar changes to the ones he observed in his former community in Colorado, where he served on a planning commission. He believes that his previous experience in helping to plan for and manage a growing, diversifying town will be an asset to Grand County as he serves his term on the council.
Morse identifies his top concerns for the county as water, housing and economic development.
“We absolutely must have reserves,” Morse said regarding the management of the Moab aquifer. “If we only think about what we have today, and what we can do with it today, we’re setting our children and our grandchildren up for a huge problem 30 years from now.”
Morse said Grand County must be “circumspect” about the kind and extent of development approved for the Moab valley area.
Morse cited Cedar City, Utah, as a cautionary tale, pointing out that that community has a water deficit of 9,000 acre-feet of water per year, and is scrambling for a solution to its water needs.
Morse also cautioned against Moab counting on the Colorado River as a future water source. He foresees the federal government stepping in at some point to re-allocate water rights from the Colorado River, and that “the water’s going to go where the major populations are.”
This would leave small communities like Moab out of the equation, he said.
“If Moab thinks we’re going to get a drop of water out of that, I think we are naive,” Morse said of any possible future reallocation. “We need to protect our water.”
However, Morse does not believe that a conservative attitude toward the aquifer excludes economic development and diversification.
“In the immediate time, we’re in a position where we can do both [conserve and develop],” he said.
When asked about the proposed four-year university to be opened in Moab, Morse responded, “The way I understand the plan that they have, the demand on water resources isn’t going to be so great that we can’t accommodate that.”
Morse emphasized Grand County’s need for economic diversification, warning that an economy based entirely on tourism is subject to overall world market conditions.
“We need to get some other kinds of economic drivers in here as well,” he said, “and they don’t have to be big things. They can be small businesses, whether they’re IT or outdoor sports related, whatever.”
Hand-in-hand with economic growth is the need to house employees, he said.
Morse commended both the city and the county for the efforts they’ve made toward increasing the availability of affordable housing, but he thinks they should take more drastic steps.
“I don’t think we’re going far enough,” Morse said. “We have to just bite the bullet — the most economical way to do it would be for the city and the county to form a housing coalition, and actually build, own, and regulate affordable housing.”
He went on to say that affordable housing under the private sector is too prone to become market-based housing after one or two re-sales, and that there is not enough profit in affordable housing for private enterprises to be motivated to regulate it. For long-term, reliable affordable options, he said, the government must take responsibility.
“I’m not a man that likes government control any more than the next guy,” Morse said, “but the reality is, as a community and a society, if we’re going to help people that really, truly need help to get housing, then we have to make the commitment to do that, and just go ahead and do it.”
McGann considers Morse’s priorities to be in line with the goals of the council.
“Housing is economic development,” she said. “If we can’t provide housing for our people, how can we improve our economic diversity? So you have housing and economic development, they’re so tied together — and then it’s all tied to water.”
Grand County Council member Jaylyn Hawks agrees that Morse will “fit in great” with the council.
“I’ve watched his work ethic throughout his campaign — he’s put a ton of work and effort in already,” Hawks said.
Like McGann, she’s glad that Morse will be able to get a jump on learning what he needs to know before the start of his elected term.
On Tuesday, Oct. 2, the Grand County Council voted unanimously to appoint Morse to the position and he was sworn-in by Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll. As he took his new seat in the council chambers, the six members of council — Rory Paxman, Evan Clapper, Mary McGann, Curtis Wells, Greg Halliday, Jaylyn Hawks — shook his hand and offered welcoming remarks.
Though pleased to have Morse appointed to the seat, McGann did acknowledge that contested elections ensure a healthy democracy and uncontested races can be less robust.
“I’m saddened for the population that he’s running unopposed because you learn more, and you get a better candidate [when there is opposition],” she said.
Morse himself was not entirely satisfied to be unopposed.
“I was quite surprised, actually,” he said. “I’m a little ambivalent about it, because I think community needs discussion, we need different ideas. Without a dialogue, it’s very difficult to plan and support a community.”
Though he prizes discussion and various ideas, Morse does not think these necessarily lead to conflict.
“People just want to have a nice life and have a nice community to live in,” he said. “I think all the contentiousness and the vitriol is a waste of energy. We need to get together and do what’s reasonable, thinking about the future. It’s clear that somebody thought about the future for us, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
“We need to get together and do what’s reasonable, thinking about the future. It’s clear that somebody thought about the future for us, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Terry Morse appointed to council