Voters aren’t likely to see a new form of government issue on this year’s election ballot.
Grand County has one year to create a plan to adopt one of four state-approved forms of government. Its current council form of government has been in place since the 1990s, but was outlawed in 2018 when House Bill 224 was signed into law.
House Bill 224 prohibits nonpartisan elections, term limits and recalls of elected officials – three things that are unique in Utah to Grand County.
A newly formed study committee created to move the change-of-government process forward has begun to meet.
House Bill 224 states that once the study committee is created, “the county shall hold an election … before Dec. 31, 2020, on an optional plan that the study committee creates.” The bill says that if the registered voters of the county do not approve of a change in the county’s form of government at an election before Dec. 31, 2020, the county shall operate under the county commission form of government with three members.
One of the study committee’s seven members, Bob Greenberg, delivered a report on April 16 to the Grand County Council.
“In general, we’re moving along,” Greenberg said.
Grand County Clerk Chris Baird asked about whether there would be an election this year.
“I realize you may not know, but just wondering if there’s any further discussion about the timeline, and whether there is any possibility of running an election this year or not,” Baird said.
Greenberg responded by saying the committee participated in a workshop conducted by Gavin Anderson from the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office. Anderson is recognized as being “the state’s guru about the forms of government,” he said.
“He urged us to make every attempt to get it on this November’s ballot in the hopes that that would discourage the legislature from taking another whack at the process,” Greenberg said. “I have no idea whether or not we’ll be able to accomplish it. We’ve discussed that as a possibility, but it’s too early in the process. As you know, the lawsuit that the county was engaged in kind of slowed us down. But I think there’s some interest in trying to do that, whether or not we’re able to …”
“Well, just keep me in the loop on that,” Baird said. “I obviously need to know as soon as possible if you are planning on presenting it. I believe that the deadline for a ballot initiative is 65 days before the general election.”
The 2019 general election is on Tuesday, November 5. Baird said on April 24 that the study committee would need to have its plan completed “more like 120 days in advance of the election” to allow time for reviews, public hearings and county council and attorney approval.
In 2018, Grand County had an 84.5% voter turnout with 4,401 ballots cast. Voters passed Proposition 9 by a tally of 2,835 votes to 1,237 votes in order to create the study committee on changing the form of government.
If the study committee that was approved moves forward to place a plan on the ballot for 2019, in addition to the three-person commission option, the study committee could also move forward a plan for one of the three other forms of government: a five- to seven-member commission; a council with a county executive who has veto powers; or a council with an appointed county manager. Those forms of government would be partisan.
So far, Greenberg said the committee has mostly “tackled” procedural issues and he believes the committee is working “very well together.”
“We’ve adopted bylaws, although we’ve already amended them once,” he said, garnering some brief chuckles from people in attendance at the council meeting.
“The original bylaws required five votes (of seven) to transact any business, and we changed that back to four,” Greenberg said.
Requiring four out of seven for a quorum – as opposed to the original bylaws stating five of seven – is similar to the Grand County Council, which also has seven members.
“We’ve gotten an estimate for outside council,” Greenberg said. “We haven’t taken any action on that.”
Those services would not exceed $11,000, Greenberg said.
“At this point, the county attorney has agreed to work with us,” he said.
On April 12, the study committee met and heard about the availability of potential trainers for informational sessions for committee members and the public on the four forms of government.
Study committee member Jeramy Day said he has been in contact with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office on the potential trainers and said there is “no firm date” yet, but “hopefully we can get that firmed up by the end of April.”
Day also reported to the study committee that he had sent an email on behalf of the study committee to outside legal counsel for the prices for retaining legal services “and different stuff.”
“I didn’t just ask, either, for legal counsel. I asked also for what the cost would be to write up the new form of government also because I think having a legal mind who is a professional, it would be really smart for us to do that, and I think it would make (Grand County Attorney) Christina (Sloan)’s job a lot easier too,” Day said.
Other costs discussed were for ways to reach out to the public. Greenberg said the committee considers the postcards as a form of outreach to get public involvement in the process.
The cost to mail a postcard to every household in the county with a registered voter would cost about $1,100 plus printing costs.
“In my perspective, things are going very well,” Greenberg said. “… I have a high degree of confidence that we’ll continue to work together to come up with a good product well within the one-year timeline that the legislature allows.”
Change of government issue could be on ballot this year or next
“… I have a high degree of confidence that we’ll continue to work together to come up with a good product well within the one-year timeline that the legislature allows.”