[Courtesy photo]

Utah state residents will begin receiving ballots in the mail this week and election officials are urging voters to make their choices and return their ballots as soon as possible. All mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2. Voters may also leave their ballots in a drop box at the Clerk/Auditor’s Office within the Grand County building (125 E. Center Street, Moab) during normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Stephen Stocks grew up in Moab, where his family roots stretch back generations. After going to law school, Stocks returned; he and his wife live near the heart of town. Stocks is an attorney with a law firm that provides general legal assistance in family and criminal law. He chaired the Grand County Change of Form of Government Study Committee over a nine-month period, which led to this year’s Proposition 10 on the ballot. Stocks is running as an independent candidate and has declined any campaign donations.

Grand County brings in a significant amount of money to Utah’s tourism economy but appears to struggle to be heard at the State Legislature. How do you plan on building local political power?

Grand County must create and foster relationships at the state level. These relationships can go beyond the ‘political backdoors’ and instead foster working relationships with our representatives at the state level. The goal is that Moab’s booming tourist economy becomes more balanced with education for both the tourists and the local population. When I grew up here, I still fondly remember the old slogan: “Don’t bust the crust.” We can incorporate education and tourism without selling ourselves short.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how tenuous some aspects of the local economy are. How would you work to strengthen local businesses in the future?

The local economy is extremely dependent on tourism. Oil and gas, mineral leases and non-renewal energies could provide additional streams of income. The local population is very environmentally conscientious, which means there is less favor for these items. [The pandemic] has also provided education for local businesses to understand that the tourism stream of income is not endless. This additional education can help the businesses understand that there is a risk in opening in Moab, Utah. Thus, they need to incorporate resiliency in their own business models. Grand County can also assist these businesses by providing education and business resources for these businesses.

What’s an example of a great ordinance or political move you’ve seen in the last few years here in Grand County?

I believe that it is important to create laws and establish follow-through with any laws that we would like to make. Failure to follow through with the proposals creates an image that Grand County does not respect its own laws. We have seen an example of this with the recent mask mandate. If we want to make a law regarding mask mandates, we need to take the decision seriously. This means providing resources for enforcement of the law instead of passing “feel-good measures.” Regarding political moves, I think one of the best examples of a political move, to the detriment of the community, was the Grand County Council’s decision to nearly triple their salary while in office. This is not what the community needed then, and now we are facing budgetary issues. To date, the Grand County Council has still not reduced its salary even while facing the COVID pandemic economic impacts.

Development and zoning changes are hugely important, particularly along the county line in the Spanish Valley area. If you could change one thing about how Grand and San Juan counties work together, what would it be and why?

I believe that the development of Spanish Valley could incorporate both Grand County and San Juan County. The development of the area will need to focus on the desires of the individuals living in these areas. Many individuals choose to live in these areas away from the buzz of Moab. We must respect that decision. Thus, I believe the development of the area should be a combination of the Grand County representatives, San Juan County representatives, and the individuals of the community. This should happen prior to involving the interested business.

How do you plan to involve residents who feel left out of the decision-making process?

You cannot force individuals in the community to be a part of a decision. One example was the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee process. Every single meeting was held open to the public. Additionally, we held open houses in Castle Valley, Spanish Valley, and in Moab. This happened over the course of nine months. Still, we have public officials state that the community was left out of the decision. My plan would be to have as much public comment as possible, post these online, at the library, and if possible, on the Facebook pages of the government.

How would you evaluate a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure?

The infrastructure of Grand County should be based on need and use. If the community would benefit from the proposed infrastructure development, and it can be added to the budget without creating an undue burden on the taxpayers then we would implement the project. There are many projects that have been lost in the implementation process or have taken decades to approve. We need to be mindful of the projects that are in the pipeline and give priority to those that are most necessary.

What three steps would you take to put Grand County on a firmer footing for future growth?

Explore reasonable efforts to diversify the economy, implement those efforts and during the process, stabilize the existing businesses with education and resources.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the county any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

I believe that Grand County could invest in renewable energy such as a solar farm. Additionally, if there is any overage, I would dedicate resources to fiber internet as it is critical for our day-to-day lives as, due to COVID, our students, teachers, court staff and even our government representatives are required to transition online.