Moab City Manager David Everitt attended meetings this week to discuss entering into a contract to provide interim administrative services for San Juan County.
Everitt said the Moab City Council considered his employment status on Monday, May 6, ahead of Tuesday’s San Juan County Commission meeting. The San Juan County Commission had added his name to its agenda to discuss the potential contract, Everitt said on May 2.
Everitt began working as Moab City Manager in 2016. He had previously said that he had no intention of renewing his city manager contract in Moab when it expired later this year. Moab City Council voted 4-0 to hire Joel Linares, the assistant city manager, to replace Everitt on April 9.
San Juan County Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy said he reached out to Everitt to provide interim administrative services following the sudden resignation of San Juan County’s former administrator, Kelly Pehrson. Pehrson did not respond to the Moab Sun News for information on the reason for his resignation in San Juan County.
In a press release from Maryboy on May 3, he said Pehrson’s sudden resignation meant that he gave a two-days notice to the commission.
“It was clear Pehrson was not willing to work with the new (San Juan County) Commissioners and was failing to comply with the duties of his office,” Maryboy wrote.
Maryboy said that if Pehrson had not abruptly quit, “the commission would have been forced to undertake disciplinary actions.”
“The county was operating on unwritten rules Pehrson would selectively apply, which is no way to run a government,” Maryboy wrote. “His departure gave the county an opportunity to recruit a stellar candidate with years of experience in government systems and procedures.”
Everitt is “exceptionally qualified” to serve San Juan County on an interim basis as the county looks for a new county administrator, Maryboy said. Everitt said he expects to offer administrative services to San Juan County for just two or three months.
“San Juan County will clearly benefit from Everitt’s expertise before he moves on to a long-term position somewhere else,” Maryboy said.
Everitt said that the three-person commission had voted and approved of the contract with a 2-1 vote on May 8. Maryboy and San Juan County Commissioner Willie Grayeyes voted in support of the contract with commissioner Bruce Adams voting no. The meeting and vote was live-streamed on the county’s YouTube channel. But the vote on the contract is disputed by people in attendance.
Everitt said on May 8 that he expects to resign from his city manager position in Moab once the contract is signed with San Juan County.
Everitt traveled to the San Juan County Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 8, prepared to talk about the contract to potentially provide interim administrative services to San Juan County. Everitt’s employment in Moab had so far been on track to end in August.
“This just moves up the transition date,” Everitt said, noting he gives the Moab City Council credit for “supporting the succession planning efforts” in Moab to hire the new manager ahead of his contract’s expiration date.
At the San Juan County Commission meeting, the two Navajo commission members, Maryboy and Grayeyes, discussed their reasoning behind the temporary contract with Everitt. Commission member Adams disagreed with it. They answered questions from the public in attendance as well. Questions from the public directed at the commissioners included asking why they want to go for an interim position through a resolution on the agenda, with assertions that the county was not following other processes for hiring.
“… a process that wasn’t followed that is a common practice to San Juan County and follows the county policy as well as state law,” Adams said. “… I think we need to go through the process and if he is selected as the county administrator, I would welcome him with open arms based on his qualifications.”
Adams said San Juan County’s human resources department is advertising the new position for county administrator, but Everitt, in speaking to the San Juan County Commission, said that he isn’t interested in applying for the position to be the next county administrator and still expects his work contract to last for two or three months.
Adams said he felt like the commission was circumventing the traditional hiring process for a new administrator by moving to the resolution for the interim contract.
But Utah State Code Title 17, Chapter 3, pertaining to counties’ personnel management, explains that certain county employees, such as the county administrator, are exempt from traditional civil service protections, meaning that the commissioners are not required by law to conduct formal searches or traditional human resources processes in hiring for those positions.
“In this case, the commissioners get to decide,” Everitt said after the meeting.
Moab City Council member Mike Duncan also attended the meeting and gave comments to the San Juan County Commission in support of Everitt, and said Everitt has been a “breath of fresh air” working in Moab and encouraged the commission to consider Everitt for the position.
EVERITT ON THE AGENDA
Discussion during the meeting also centered on how San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson handled Maryboy’s requests for public meetings and the resolution placed on the county’s agenda to enter into the contract with Everitt. Nielson placed the resolution in the “work meeting” section of the county’s agenda, and not under the agenda’s “action items” for the commissioners to vote upon.
Maryboy told Adams that he has some concerns, and said he had attempted last week to communicate to Nielson to hold a meeting within five days to discuss the potential contract with Everitt.
“That was a five days’ notice. Why John (David Nielson) didn’t post it, I have no idea, but my indication is that he might have been influenced to where he shouldn’t post it, so that’s what I indicated,” Maryboy said.
Maryboy said he directed Nielson three times to post notice. Nielson responded to Maryboy’s comments at the meeting by saying that Maryboy didn’t give him an order to do so.
“I should have posted it myself then,” Maryboy said. “According to my stuff, I have gone through all the process. I contacted you through email. I sent him three or four different emails.”
Nielson said Maryboy sent the date and time, but Nielson said he never saw the agenda’s order.
“That’s a very poor excuse,” Maryboy said.
Maryboy said Nielson wasn’t “doing his job,” which elicited feedback from people in the room, prompting Maryboy to say, “Hold on, hold on. Hold on! We’re having a meeting.”
At other times throughout the meeting, the commission used a gavel to call order and attention to the meeting, and Maryboy pointed at a deputy sheriff in the room a couple of times to assist with order in the room.
Following the meeting, Everitt explained that the commissioners’ action to vote on the resolution, even though Nielson posted it under the work meeting section of the agenda, still stands.
“It was on the agenda, it just got moved to a different place on the agenda,” Everitt said. “The intent of the open meetings law was met in that people were on notice and given a chance, obviously, to provide feedback and comment.”
Everitt has a law degree from the University of Utah and is an active member of the state bar association, but has never had a private law practice.
As this discussions continued at the San Juan County Commission meeting, Adams asked if Everitt has a relationship with Maryboy and Grayeyes’ personal attorney, Steven Boos.
“It would be interesting to me to know if Everitt has any affiliation with other outside groups, such as the Rural Utah Project, (Utah) Diné Bikéyah — does he have a relationship with Boos like you and Willy have?” Adams asked.
Speaking by phone during the San Juan County Commission meeting from his office, Boos said he was aware of the agenda item in front of the San Juan County Commission concerning the contract proposed for David Everitt.
“I have met Mr. Everitt. He seems extremely qualified,” Boos said. “There’s no one in (San Juan) county government who works there who can even touch his shoes in the level of qualifications he has.”
It was not discussed at the meeting what qualifications, or interest, any current employees may have to serve as the administrator.
Adams delved into a conversation saying that in his opinion, the Navajo commissioners’ resolution “verges on being illegal.”
Maryboy said he was “determined” to take action on the resolution. Grayeyes was frequently interrupted as he spoke, ultimately saying that he was also trying to make a motion to take action on the resolution, even though Nielson had posted it under the work meeting section of the agenda.
A person in the audience then spoke out and told Grayeyes that he could not take action and the person said they had a copy of the Utah law on open public meetings to show why.
Grayeyes didn’t concur with that reasoning, and instead said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got it or not. The law can be contested.”
CLERK RULED TO HAVE VIOLATED COMMISSIONER’S DUE PROCESS RIGHTS
If the Navajo commissioners have any doubt in Nielson’s capabilities to perform his job duties as clerk, it could be due to Nielson’s own admissions in federal court. On Aug. 7, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Nielson violated Grayeyes’ due process rights when he disqualified Grayeyes from running in the 2018 San Juan County Commission race.
The judge’s ruling in federal court in August put Grayeyes back on the ballot for the election that he later won. In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer said that Nielson had not been following state statute and said he acted outside of his legal authority as San Juan County Clerk.
According to an investigator in Grand County, about a month later San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws asked the Grand County Sheriff’s Office to create a report with a legal opinion on a thorough review of the documents known to pertain to the actions of Nielson in regards to his involvement with Grayeyes. The Utah Attorney General’s Office said the investigation was being directed to Grand County because the San Juan County Attorney’s Office has a conflict of interest with Nielson.
A thorough review would reveal a timeline of emails and documents, some of which show that Nielson investigated Grayeyes’ residency with the help of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. Challenging Grayeyes’ residency was then used by Nielson to challenge his eligibility to run in the upcoming election, something that can’t be done under state law, the federal judge said.
The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office investigation into Grayeyes produced reports, dates and names — information that was later admissible evidence in the federal court in Moab, along with depositions and testimony where Nielson admitted to creating false documents as clerk.
Grand County’s screening for potential criminal charges against Nielson resulted in a legal opinion from the Grand County Attorney ‘s Office. Former Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald explained through a summary of findings that Nielson had made “many errors” in his attempt to carry out his election duties, and surmised it was not likely a criminal prosecution would be successful and pointed to the potential for a civil remedy. Fitzgerald left office in December.
In January, the new Grand County Attorney, Christina Sloan, said there was an ongoing state and possibly a federal investigation into Nielson’s actions as clerk. She said she didn’t know why the former Grand County Attorney decided to take on the case before he left office in December. She thinks that Grand County is not in a position to provide a fair assessment in the findings due to San Juan County being Grand County’s “sister county.”
“Part of our Moab community lives in San Juan County,” she said. “The county attorney’s office can, in certain circumstances, work closely with the county attorney’s office in San Juan County. Our law enforcement in certain cases works closely with law enforcement in San Juan County. So in my opinion it’s impossible to have an unbiased investigation and screening of the charges, which was Andrew’s role, so it should never have been in Grand County.”
Commissioners and public dispute process
“In this case, the commissioners get to decide.”