Instead, during a special session on Monday, June 11, Grand County Council members voted 5-2 to place the ballot question – which asks voters to decide whether a study committee should be formed to possibly recommend changing the county form of government – on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
A motion to set June 26 as the date for the special election failed by a 4-3 council vote. Council members Gene Ciarus, Pat Holyoak and Jim Nyland voted in favor of the motion, but Ken Ballantyne, Audrey Graham, Chris Baird and Chris Conrad opposed.
The measure already appears on the printed June 26 primary ballots, but a local citizens group, the Committee to Preserve Grand County, filed a court injunction against the county last week, claiming county officials did not follow state law in placing the measure on the ballot.
“The public has not been educated on this enough,” Graham said. “And one of the reasons the public hasn’t been educated enough is because the process wasn’t followed.”
Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson ruled June 7 that the county failed to follow proper state procedures in the matter. Anderson said the county council is required to pass a resolution calling for the special election and setting the date – either June 26 or Nov. 6. He gave the council until June 12 to pass the resolution. Early voting in the Republican and Constitutional Party primaries began June 12 in Utah.
Anderson said Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll erred in placing the measure on the June 26 ballot before the county council vote.
At the end of the June 11 county council vote, Carroll said she followed what she believed was the proper procedure for placing the measure on the ballot.
“All of you knew that this was going on the ballot,” she told the council. “I did nothing as a rogue county clerk to slap something on the ballot.”
Ciarus said the public should hold him responsible for the mistake.
“I was misinformed,” he said, adding that he had received incorrect legal advice from people he asked about the issue. “It’s my fault for not reading state code... I take full blame... So throw your rocks and eggs at me.”
Holyoak said all the council members were to blame.
“We were all asked and we all agreed to put this on the ballot,” she said.
Holyoak and Ballantyne both said Monday that they were disturbed by the tone of some of the calls and emails they received prior to Monday’s vote. Ballantyne said he was “threatened” in one email from Republican Party vice chairman Dave Cozzens, but in an interview on Tuesday he said he “may have overstated the situation.”
“I felt like I was being told that as a Republican I’m not allowed to think for myself,” he said. “I was upset.”
He said Cozzens quickly sent another email apologizing for the first, which had seemed to question Ballantyne’s service as a council member.
“My comment about Ken Ballantyne was just an expression of frustration about his voting record on the council,” Cozzens said. “I felt bad shortly after sending it.”
In March, leaders of the Grand County Republican Party collected petition signatures and submitted them to Carroll. The documents submitted with the petition also asked that the county place the proposition on the June 26 primary ballot.
In the June 7 court hearing, attorney Steve Russell, arguing in court for the Committee to Preserve Grand County, alleged that Carroll failed to certify petition signatures within 30 days, did not properly present the certified petition to the Grand County Council, and did not notify the petition sponsors in writing that the petition was certified.
Russell also told the court that state law governing ballot questions related to changes in the form of government requires the governing body – in this case the Grand County Council – to vote to set a special election and state the purpose of that election. Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald conceded in court that no such vote was held.
“The purpose for the county council adopting by resolution and setting a special election is to inform the public and be open to public input,” Russell said. He added that holding that vote in a public meeting is important to give voters time to consider the measure prior to the election.
He told the court that the petition sponsors were attempting to “stack the deck” in favor of the measure by holding the vote during the June 26 Republican primary.
But Dave Cozzens, a petition sponsor and the vice chairman of the Grand County Republican Party, said Monday that that suggestion is untrue.
“We made no decision whatsoever, no discussion whatsoever of using the June election to an unfair advantage,” Cozzens said. “We feel this is an urgent matter that can’t wait five months.”
Jeramy McElhaney, chairman of the Grand County Republican Party, said the petition sponsors originally wanted to get the measure on the November 2011 ballot, but when they realized there was no county election and it would cost the county as much as $15,000, they decided to wait.
“That goes against our principles to cost the county additional money,” McElhaney said. “So we decided to file the petitions this spring instead.”
The ballot proposition is only a first step in initiating the process to possibly change Grand County’s form of government. If voters approve, a nominating committee will be appointed to select the members of the study committee. The study committee then has up to one year to examine the issue and write a report making a recommendation.
Should the committee recommend a change, state law currently allows counties to adopt one of four possible forms of government – a county commission, an expanded county commission, a county council with an elected executive or a county council with an appointed manager.
Grand County’s existing form of government, while grandfathered in when the Legislature adopted the new law several years ago, is not available as an option. Under any of the allowed options, Grand County’s existing provisions for term limits, citizen recall of a council member, and non-partisan elections would be unavailable.