A former Grand County Council member has filed a conflict of interest complaint against current Council Chair Jaylyn Hawks, alleging she has failed, “to recuse herself from voting on issues related to bed and breakfast (B&B) zoning considerations,” while owning and operating a bed and breakfast business in Grand County.
The complaint, filed with Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald by former Councilman Lynn Jackson on Dec. 3, alleges that Hawks received a license to operate a B&B in 2016 and, while acknowledging her financial interests in the business, has refused to step away from discussion or votes on the issue.
According to Jackson’s complaint, Hawks took part in discussion and voted on zoning and regulation changes related to B&Bs in the county during the Aug. 1 and Nov. 21 council meetings. The council voted Tuesday, Dec. 5 to restrict bed and breakfasts to the commercial overlay zone, with Hawks as the sole dissenting voice in a 6-1 vote.
Hawks, along with her husband Steve Hawks, is the owner and operator of Cider House Inn, a bed and breakfast located at 2133 Plateau Dr., just south of Moab. According to the Grand County Planning and Engineering Department, the Hawks’ bed and breakfast is not in the commercial overlay zone.
“I realize that I am viewed as having a conflict of interest,” Hawks said during the Dec. 5 meeting. “I want you to know that had I ever been voting in favor of a solution that would benefit my business, I would have recused myself. My votes have been in favor of a solution that would actually add competition to my business.”
During the Nov. 21 meeting, Hawks said though she used to be opposed to stricter bed and breakfast regulations, she has come to see the need for some of the proposed measures.
“A year ago I would have said, absolutely no perimeter but looking at the problems that have cropped up, I now agree with that and I now agree with owner-occupied regulations as well, and a year ago I would have said, no, you should be able to have a manager there. I don’t agree with some of the stricter things like trying to dictate when the owner needs to be there,” Hawks said.
The impetus behind Jackson’s decision to file the complaint stems from what he characterizes as a series of improper votes by Hawks, first on issues related to setting aside funding for USU-Moab — where her husband Steve Hawks was executive director until earlier this year — and also for voting to provide funding to Seekhaven Family Crisis and Resource Center, where she worked as executive director.
“The rules need to apply to everyone,” Jackson told The Times-Independent. “It shouldn’t be any more obvious that a business owner, who runs a business that has oversight from the county, should abstain from voting on any funding related to that type of business. I served two years on the council with [Hawks] and I have seen a pattern with her that was disturbing. She voted on county issues to provide funding to the USU campus. We weren’t voting to send money directly to the university, but we were voting to hold it in reserve. It was during one of those meetings that I asked her if she thought she should be voting on it, given [her husband’s] position. She told me, essentially, that her vote had no impact on her husband’s job and went ahead and voted. It happened with [Seekhaven] as well, so this is a recurring pattern and I finally felt compelled to make this known.”
In his complaint, Jackson cites three laws as the basis of his claims against Hawks. First, Utah Code 17-16a-6, which states, “Every appointed or elected officer who is an officer, director, agent, or employee or the owner of a substantial interest in any business entity which is subject to the regulation of the county in which the officer is an elected or appointed officer shall disclose the position held and the precise nature and value of the officer’s interest upon first becoming appointed or elected, and again during January of each year thereafter during which the officer continues to be an appointed or elected officer.” Jackson also cites Grand County Ordinance 462, which states, “...it is the intent of Grand County government to promote confidence in county government and ensure that citizens of the community are represented in a fair and impartial manner by public officers who do not have a personal financial interest in items under consideration before the county,” and that any member of a county government body should disclose when they have, “an ownership interest in a piece of property for which zoning, conditional use or development approvals are under consideration.” The ordinance also states, “An officer of the county council, planning commission or other public body of Grand County who is required ... to disclose a conflict of interest shall recuse himself or herself from participating in, commenting on, or voting on the matter in which such conflict exists.”
Jackson said he believes a vote by Hawks in May was also inconsistent with the intent of Ordinance 462.
“At [the May 30, 2017] meeting, she verbally disclosed her business interest in a B&B, then went on to present comments for the record as a ‘private’ citizen, at a county meeting she was chairing,” Jackson states in the complaint. “She then refused to recuse herself from voting, and voted against the motion to impose a six-month moratorium on new B&B business licenses. The vote for the moratorium was 5-1 in favor. This certainly would not be consistent with this ordinance.”
Now, with the complaint filed before the Grand County Attorney’s Office and the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the first step in determining the validity of the claims against Hawks rests with Fitzgerald’s office and outside counsel.
“With ethical complaints, we send them out for independent legal review,” Fitzgerald told The Times-Independent. “That is currently taking place and we are waiting for the results to come back. I have also spoken with the Attorney General’s Office and they are aware that we are reviewing it and have offered their assistance in the matter. We are working in tandem with them on the review.”
According to Fitzgerald, Jackson endured his own ethics complaints while in office. Those complaints, which Fitzgerald said were found to be, “without merit,” involved his work with land-use groups and ”perceived conflicts.”
“The issues he was involved with were determined not to be conflicts and there was no wrongdoing on his part,” Fitzgerald said.