On August 21, 2020, the Grand County Council voted to change Grand County’s form of government from a council to a commission without any citizen input or approval or legal authority to do so. I was part of a lawsuit filed a few days later challenging this action, recently heard by Judge Torgerson. He failed to respond to the lawsuit’s primary question of whether Utah HB224 allowed the council to legislate themselves into a commission form of government. (He did rule in favor of Grand County on another question by allowing Propositions 16 and 17 to be placed on the ballot.)
No other county in the state of Utah has an expanded commission of seven county commissioners. No other county’s department heads and county employees have to answer to seven bosses, all with expectations and authority to make demands. The members of our current county governing body voted to nearly triple their own part-time compensation in 2019 to $31,000/year, while in the same period creating a budget advisory board to lighten their workload. Can Grand County residents afford seven county commissioners?
We can afford and may even save money with five part-time council members and a county manager. This is what Proposition 10 asks voters to approve. I was a member of the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee, which was initiated by the Grand County Council in 2018. We worked diligently to determine which new form of government would most closely align with the long-standing configuration that has governed Grand County for years. Our recommendation report and Optional Plan for Grand County Government for Citizen Vote was accepted by the Grand County Council in February 2020 and can be found on the county website.
A vote “against” Proposition 10, leading to its potential defeat, could ignite another legal challenge of the former county council’s legal authority to “clarify” and vote themselves from a council to a commission. If that action is determined to be illegal, HB224 will be set into motion, ultimately requiring a default to a three-person commission.
County commissioners have legislative and executive responsibility and authority for all county government decisions. They make the laws and then decide how those laws are executed. This is a government structure with no checks and balances. Commissioners must declare a political party affiliation and may feel an obligation to only represent that party’s philosophy and platform. This form of government gives commissioners the power to: move the county agenda in directions that benefit their own interests, pay themselves more, award county contracts to their associates and businesses and stall or advance county agendas based on political motives. These kinds of activity were one of the primary reasons Grand County voters worked to change their form of government in 1992 from a commission to a council.
I urge voters to vote for Proposition 10, a five-member council-manager form of government.