In a closed meeting of which the public received no notice, four of five appointment council members appointed themselves to a study committee, plus three others, that will now guide the county forward in public meetings to change its form of government.
In 2018, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 224 into law, and with the new law in place, Grand County’s current form of government became out of compliance. A new form of government must be chosen by 2020, and the law sets forth the procedure for doing so via the study committee and the Grand County Council.
Seventh District Court Judge Don Torgerson ruled on Feb. 1 that only the Grand County Council has the legal means to initiate the county’s change-of-government process.
On the day of the judge’s ruling, Grand County Council administrator Ruth Dillon sent an email, copied to the Moab Sun News, to 28 people the county says expressed personal interest in being a member of an appointment council or a study committee being created to help change the county’s form of government.
The email said that the five people selected (of the 28 candidates) to the appointment council are Walt Dabney, Jeramy Day, Judy Carmichael, Stephen Stocks and Cole Howe. According to Day, the appointment council held one meeting, which he said was closed to the public. No public notice was given that a closed meeting would be taking place to appoint the study committee members.
On Feb. 26, Dillon copied the Moab Sun News on another county email. The email is addressed to the seven people who the county now says comprise the official study committee to help guide the county’s form-of-government change forward. Four of those seven people named as the study committee members — Dabney, Day, Carmichael and Stocks — were on the appointment council.
Per the email, the seven people on the study committee are listed as follows: Walt Dabney, Jeramy Day, Judy Carmichael, Stephen Stocks, Bob Greenberg, Cricket Green and Marcy Till.
The email from Dillon begins by saying, “Congratulations to the Study Committee Members!” and goes on to say, “Today the Appointment Council of 5 selected the Study Committee of 7” and includes nine attached documents.
The nine attached documents include seven that are single emails sent from each of the now-appointed study committee members to the Grand County Council, or to Dillon, as a recipient; and Day’s email includes Rep. Carl Albrecht and Rep. Christine Watkins as recipients. The emails ask to be considered for or named to the appointment council and/or study committee. No other email correspondence or responses to those seven emails was included.
One of the nine attached documents in Dillon’s Feb. 26 email is a printout of the Utah Code on the “procedure for appointing members to study committee” and the other attachment is an unlabeled document that states “Change in form of county government / Optional forms” and outlines four optional forms of government.
No open public meetings have been held to discuss the process openly, but Dillon said an open public meeting is forthcoming with the study committee. By state law, eventually the county will host four public hearings on the final proposed plan for the new form of government.
The email from Dillon concludes by saying, “Please let me know what dates do not work for your initial Study Committee meeting, hopefully next week in the County Council Chambers. It will be an open, public meeting which requires support from my staff with advance notice to the public and to the press. (Next Thursday does not look good for a meeting in the Council Chambers.) The first agenda item will be to choose a Chair. As reference, please see attached letters of interest.”
In response to this email from Dillon, study committee member Green responded by saying, “Ruth, I have a request, I would like the county to give us email addresses related to this study committee. This is something I have learned from the ethics classes I have taken do [sic] to being on the planning commission. If there is ever a GRAMA request I do not want it to crossover into my personal and or business accounts. Thank you and I look forward to working with everyone.”
The Moab Sun News responded to this email and asked the seven members of the study committee, and those copied on the email including Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan and Grand County Clerk Chris Baird, if everyone is in agreement that the term “meeting” as used in the state code to describe the House Bill 224 process refers to meetings that are not open to the public.
Grand County Clerk Chris Baird responded by saying, “I believe the appointment council, and the study committee meetings should be noticed as public meetings, and follow all open meetings rules. If this hasn’t been happening it needs to start. This process, and all those involved, are certainly subject to all the provisions of GRAMA. The study committee may want to adopt by-laws and elect officers at its first meeting.”
Dillon then responded by forwarding an email between herself and Sloan on Feb. 25 discussing, ahead of the appointment council meeting, whether it was supposed to be open to the public.
Dillon wrote, “I received the question from a council member as to whether tomorrow’s appt. council mtg. is open and public. I said no but am wondering if that’s correct now that we have all 5 members. Below is state code. Please advise as we are already late to post any agenda.”
Sloan’s response was, “In my opinion, the Appt. Council meetings are not subject to the Opening Meetings Act because they are not an advisory board and they are not making decisions regarding the public’s business. The Study Committee is different – that group is clearly advisory and addressing the public’s business. So we need to make sure and notice the Study Comm meetings, empower a member of the Study Comm as Chair, and encourage them to implement Robert’s Rules re. public participation (or prohibition of same).”
On Feb. 27, Day said by telephone that he agreed that the appointment council meetings were closed to the public.
“They were not subject to the Open Meetings Act,” Day said, and clarified that the appointment council held only one meeting.
A date and location had not been set for the first public study committee meeting as of press time.
Under Utah law, public bodies and subdivisions with the authority to make decisions on public business are charged with operating under the auspices of transparency and accountability of the Open and Public Meetings Act.
Day said the study committee is an “extremely” diverse group, and with the knowledge of the ongoing public involvement in the issue said he would like to see the meeting held at the Grand Center to accommodate the community turnout.
“I hope what we can show out of this is we can work together, that is my hope, and we can do what Washington, D.C., can’t,” Day said. “At the end of the day we are all neighbors and we’ve got to remember that.”
Day said the first meeting of the study committee will openly discuss the committee’s business and the next steps in the process of changing the form of government, and is not likely to address choosing one of the different forms until a later meeting. He encouraged community members to “start writing letters” to weigh in on the four options for the new government.
“It’s important for everybody to have a voice. We also have a lot of work to do,” Day said. “I’m hoping we get a more responsive and responsible form of government. That’s my goal.”
Progress and change announced via county email
“I’m hoping we get a more responsive and responsible form of government. That’s my goal.”