Mayor Emily Niehaus listens while council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd speaks at the Moab City Council meeting on Aug. 27. [Photo by Maggie McGuire / Moab Sun News]

The long process of bringing grand ideas to practical reality was on display at the last Moab City Council meeting on Aug. 27. 

While some issues brought before the council are quickly understood and voted on, deeper changes require more work and thought.

The council discussed some of these changes while addressing the 2019 Sustainability Action Plan and the Moab’s Administrative Work Plan.

While the ambitious 2019 Sustainability Action Plan was unanimously passed, issues were raised concerning the approval process and the nature of the document.

The proposed plan outlines goals pushing Moab to become a more sustainable community, focusing on areas like energy use, water conservation, and strategies to “protect the world-class environment we call home,” according to the plan’s executive summary.

Despite the clear support for sustainability after the success of the Dark Skies ordinance, members expressed concern at the preparation of the Sustainability Action Plan. The Dark Skies ordinance, which mandates that all outdoor lighting conform to International Dark Sky standards within five years, was unanimously passed at the Aug. 13 meeting.

“This just doesn’t look like it’s quite ready for us,” said council member Kalen Jones, mentioning that council members had many suggested edits to the document.

“My suggestion is we adopt this tentatively,” Moab City Manager Joel Linares said, which Mayor Emily Niehaus supported.

“In that way, we can pass it but we can flesh out the edit and finalize it,” Niehaus said.

Local resident Mark Thomas spoke to urge the council to approve the plan.

“Moab indicated a desire to lead at the local level in combating climate change and fostering sustainability,” Thomas said, “and now more action is needed. The 2019 Sustainable Action Plan points the way forward for us with necessary and achievable initiatives.”

Mayor Niehaus suggested that some support could help refine proposals before they come before the council.

“We need to be having policy conversations here,” she said, “and not punctuation conversations.”

Council members expressed support for the plan’s goals.

“This is a ton of work, and it has been a very long process,” said council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd.

“I really appreciate how huge this is, in terms of giving us a document to follow,” said council member Rani Derasary.

Derasary moved to adopt the ten-year Sustainability Action Plan on a tentative basis, with the understanding that it will be a “living document” subject to change.

The motion passed unanimously.


Another piece of long-term planning came before the Council for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We never did finish approving our Administrative Work Plan,” under former City Manager David Everitt, said Mayor Niehaus, “and now we’ve got a new city manager with a new management style.”

The Administrative Work Plan is a document that clarifies the goals and recommendations of the city council, which guides staff and administration.

“These are some things that we probably needed to dig back out, some half-ideas that never got fully fleshed out,” said Linares, who became city manager earlier this year.

Linares said that there were many goals on the old work plan that have already been met and said that revisions would create a useful system for communication between the city council and staff.

“I think it’s a great tool that we can use,” he said, “but I think we want to change the organization a little bit.”

Linares proposed that Moab City staff would revise the document to reflect departmental priorities and needs before going before the city council, rather than being a document coming from the council and directing department work with little collaboration.

“I think that’s a much more common-sense way to do it,” said Knuteson-Boyd. “That way, you’ve got the people that are actually on the ground and doing the work letting us know what the priorities are out there.”

“We might have some grand ideas and want to implement them,” she said, “but we don’t always know what the practicality and the reality is of doing that.”

Council members recognized the importance of having a guide to appropriate lines of communication between the responsibilities of a legislative-branch council and an executive-branch administrative team.

“You have potentially six managers here, and sometimes we have different priorities,” said council member Jones. “So how does this process sort of play out?”

Linares noted that in other cities, council members have been known to put undue pressure on staff.

“You’re a really good group; you tend to work together,” he said, “so it hasn’t been an issue.”

“Besides, you’re all noise until there’s three of you,” Linares said to general laughter. “You have to get a coalition. That’s how representative democracy works.”