The Grand County Council expressed its deep thanks to the Change in Form of Government Study Committee at the Aug. 20 council meeting.
“I’m just so glad that it wasn’t our role to do. Thanks for taking that on,” Council Chair Evan Clapper said.
Since March, the study committee undertook the task of recommending a form of government for Grand County that adheres to new state law. Passed during the 2018 session of the Utah Legislature, House Bill 224 made Grand County’s current form of government out of compliance.
After months of discussion and public outreach, the study committee formalized their proposed plan, known as the Optional Plan, on Aug. 12. The plan recommends a council-appointed manager and a five-seat county council, to be composed of three seats elected at-large and two district seats. District One contains the relatively urban area within Moab city limits while District Two encompasses more rural areas in the county. Both districts contain approximately equal populations; in the future, districts may need to be retooled as census data is updated.
The recommendations outline four-year terms for council members, with at-large seats elected during Presidential election years and district seats during gubernatorial election years.
The plan must now be reviewed by council, the Grand County clerk/auditor and the Grand County attorney in time to comply with the law.
“We know it is the eleventh hour before the election,” said committee chair Stephen Stocks, “but we are confident that what we’ve done is constitutional and fair.”
The study committee has met “relentlessly,” Stocks said, noting that some meetings had lasted more than nine hours.
“It’s not a popular topic,” he said, “but it is something that we’ve done with diligence, and put our time and effort into.”
Committee member Walt Dabney agreed.
“We didn’t believe that we would get this done in time,” Dabney said, “but for this dynamic, diverse and complex county, I think we’ve made a good recommendation.”
“Now it’s time to send it on to the voters,” he said, referring to the extremely short timeline for the recommended plan to be approved.
Before being placed on the Nov. 2019 ballot, the proposal must be approved by the Grand County attorney.
“At this point, it’s in the hands of [Grand County Attorney] Christina Sloan,” Stocks said to council.
“We were not able to give the county attorney 45 days, which the law allows to review work,” committee member Bob Greenberg noted.
“She’s got about half of that,” he said, “and there is the possibility that she simply will run out of time.”
“We would encourage the Grand County Council to back the plan and encourage Ms. Sloan to take the time that she needs to review the plan so it could be a part of the ballot this year,” Stocks said, “Doing so would allow us to go forward as a community past this topic and move on.”
That’s what the Utah State Legislature intended, said study committee member Marcy Till.
“They didn’t intend this to drag out over the course of three and a half years before the new government is in place,” she said.
Chris Baird, Grand County clerk-auditor, reported that the timeline was within reason.
“If the plan comes back to me by September 6, the law says it shall be on the ballot. So, yes, it’s possible,” he said.
If the plan is approved by voters this year, the first election for county officials under the new form of government will be held in 2020.
CELL TOWER AT SPANISH VALLEY ARENA
Steve Swift, director of the Old Spanish Trail Arena, also attended the County Council session to present a plan to build a cell tower located at the arena. Under the agreement, InSite Towers LLC would pay between $1450 and $2650 in rent a month for the tower.
Swift cited the increased revenue and cell phone coverage to the Spanish Valley area as benefits to the community, but some council members were not convinced.
“I think that the financial aspects of this are out of kilter,” said council member Terry Morse.
Not only that, Morse reported that residents had spoken out against building the tower.
“I have had a lot of pushback, personally, from folks in the county that do not want a tower of 130 feet,” said Morse, “nor do they want the lighting that is a subsequent part of it.”
“I think that the whole Dark Skies push that both the council and the community has signed off on also makes this a little bit problematic for me,” Morse said.
Despite Swift’s assertions that the lighting would be “no worse than a ballpark” and would conform to the recently passed Dark Skies ordinance, the plan failed to pass.
The vote was split 3-3, with council members Mary McGann, Terry Morse, and Evan Clapper in opposition.
RALLY ON THE ROCKS GETS A PROBATIONARY YEAR
The council approved the event permit for the yearly Rally on the Rocks event, which attracts hundreds of off-road enthusiasts to the area, with some serious caveats.
Council members took into account residents’ concerns about noise and “extreme” disruptions during the event, as riders of all-terrain vehicles known as UTVs travel through the city between the trailheads on surrounding public lands.
Neal Clark, a Moab resident, addressed the council to express his opposition to the event.
“In many ways, it’s not about how this event is managed,” he said, “it’s about the fact that UTVs en masse are just incompatible with quiet, peaceful way of life in the community. That is at the core is the problem here.”
Council member Mary McGann expressed the dilemma before the council.
“I think it’s important to have this conversation,” she said, “because this is the only event where we have this type of public outcry. And I sympathize very much with the outcry, but I also understand from talking to people who give UTV tours or rent them, [ending the event] will be such a financial hit on our community. So it’s this really awkward balancing act.”
Council members debated and accepted a variety of conditions that the event organizers must meet to keep their permit. Conditions include requiring that all participants be licensed, refrain from riding UTVs in residential areas before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and that all drivers keep within the posted speed limits.
Council approved the proposed recommendation for a probationary permit. The vote was 5-1, with Evan Clapper in opposition.
- The Change of Government Study Committee urged Grand County Council to move swiftly to approve the proposed plan.
- A plan to build a cell tower at Old Spanish Trail Arena was rejected by a 3-3 vote.
- The Rally on the Rocks event was approved for a probationary event permit by a 5-1 vote.