Clerk/Auditor Diana Carroll reported Tuesday that she had received a letter from the Lt. Governor’s office with regards to House Bill 224, a March law requiring Grand County to change its form of government to one of several other approved forms. Carroll shared that letter with the public at the Sept. 18 meeting of the Grand County Council.
After H.B. 224 passed, a group of citizens affiliated with the local Republican Party quickly submitted a petition to change the county’s form of government. They were followed, more than a week later, by a Grand County Council resolution that also initiated the process. The question as to which process takes precedence is important in that the group that initiated the process may have influence over the appointment of the committee that will recommend the next form of government.
“The question at hand is whether the March 26, 2018 resolution of the Grand County Council negates the voters’ petition to initiate the process to change the county’s form of government,” Carroll read from the letter, which was signed by Justin Lee, director of elections in the lieutenant governor’s office. “The voters filed an application on March 15, 2018 while the council’s resolution was pending. We interpret the statute to require that the first initiated process be allowed to run its course. The statute does not allow for a later initiated process to negate or nullify the previously valid initiated effort. The pending proceedings provision of part three of the statute makes clear that if the process for changing the form of government has already begun, the first initiated process must be allowed to run its course and a later initiated process is prohibited.”
Diana Carroll was out of the office at press time and could not be reached for further comment.
Grand County Democratic Party Chair Kevin Walker took exception to Carroll’s presentation of the letter, and in an email to The Times-Independent questioned the letter’s timing. “The timing of this letter is suspicious for two reasons: one, the county attorney had just ruled in our favor on another petition issue, and two, ballot statements have already been submitted for and against Prop 9. It would be improper to change the meaning of Prop 9 at this late hour.”
“There is a very important difference between a council-initiated change-of-government process and a petition-initiated change-of-government,” Walker went on to say. “With the council-initiated process, we would have a diverse appointment council with members named by state legislators, the county council, and citizen groups. With the petition-initiated process, the appointment council consists of the local Republican “gang of five”: Lynn Jackson, Jerry McNeely, Manuel Torres, Gene Ciarus and Jeramy Day. I don’t think that Grand County citizens are in favor of a lopsided, Republican-dominated appointment council. I think the county attorney’s opinion carries more weight on these issues than does the opinion of the lieutenant governor’s office.”
Walker added that on Monday, a citizen group led by Kya Marienfeld turned in more than 400 signatures to the clerk’s office with the goal of naming one member of the appointment council. “One day later we get this letter from the [lieutenant governor’s] office. The timing is suspicious. For months the LG’s office has refused to weigh in. As soon as things begin to look favorable to us, they change their mind and do weigh in. The Republicans are changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
All of this, of course, hinges on whether Proposition 9 passes. It asks voters, “Shall a study committee be appointed to consider and possibly recommend a change in Grand County’s form of government?” If it passes, said committee would be formed. The question of who will appoint the members of the study committee is disputed.
Lynn Jackson, one of the citizens who filed the petition to change the form of government, said that he was disappointed at Walker’s reaction. “I’d like to think we’d get more credit than that. I don’t know exactly how that appointment council is going to run,” Jackson said. “We’ll make sure there’s some diversity on that study committee. I know I will and I think the other people are okay with that too, so I’m just disappointed that that’s the immediate conclusion they’re going to jump to.”
Jackson said he agreed with the lieutenant governor’s opinion. “That’s the basis we’ve been going off of since the get-go, that the first group that initiates the process is what prevails...If the vote [on Prop. 9] is affirmative, the other side will have representation if we move forward … I think it’s fairly clear our position is, we want to be called a commission again. But whatever form that looks like, three or five, that remains to be seen. I think people are open-minded about that. Our preference would be all at-large rather than districts … of course there’s always details,” Jackson added.