Attorneys representing a local citizens group say Grand County officials did not properly follow state law in placing a question on the June 26 primary ballot that, if approved by voters, would begin the process to possibly change the county’s form of government.
A court hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, June 7 at 1:30 p.m.
The ballot proposition asks voters to decide the question: “Shall a study committee be appointed to possibly recommend a change in the form of government of Grand County?”
In March, leaders of the Grand County Republican Party collected petition signatures and submitted them to Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll. The documents submitted with the petition also asked that the county place the proposition on the June 26 primary ballot.
In documents filed May 30 with Moab’s 7th District Court, attorneys Christina Sloan and Steve Russell, representing the Committee to Preserve Grand County, argue that the ballot initiative was improperly handled by the Grand County Clerk and the Grand County Council.
The request for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief asks the court to remove the question from the June ballot and place it, instead, on the Nov. 6 general election ballot to give the county time to comply with state laws.
The complaint alleges, among other issues, 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.
The complaint further argues that ballot questions related to changes in the form of government must be considered only during “a special election separate and distinct from a primary election” during a general election in November. Sloan and Russell argue that state law requires the governing body – in this case the Grand County Council – to hold a vote to set a special election and state the purpose of that election. A search of county council agendas shows that the council held no such vote.
“The County Council has not adopted an ordinance or resolution calling for a special election and designating the date and purpose for the special election,” the court documents state.
In a phone interview last week, Carroll said she did properly notify the petition sponsors and presented the certified petitions to the county council as required by law. Carroll also said state law allows the measure to be placed on a primary ballot.
“That’s my understanding – that it’s not a special election because there is already a primary election [scheduled],” Carroll said. “We have a citizen petition here, so I believe the citizens should have some legal recourse also.”
Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald said this week that he believes the court may find many of the provisions of the complaint to be “merely technicalities” that have little merit.
“State code says the courts and sponsors are to interpret the code in that section [regarding changing the form of government] liberally and with intent to the petitioners’ intentions,” Fitzgerald said. “Little things that don’t match up the courts will interpret liberally. I think the judge might possibly say many parts of the claim are minor. But that’s up to the judge.”
More “tricky,” Fitzgerald said, is the argument that state law requires the county council to call a special election for ballot measures that involve the process of changing the form of county government.
“It’s a little more of a mixed bag,” he said. “The judge could say the council needs to call [a special election] and they could choose June or November. Or he could allow it to remain on the primary ballot as it is.”
He said the county council would not necessarily be aware of a requirement to hold a vote to set the special election unless notified by the Grand County Clerk, who “takes on the responsibility as the county’s election official.”
Jeramy McElhaney, one of the petition sponsors, said one concern is whether or not the petition signatures would be deemed invalid if the judge decides to take the measure off the June ballot.
“I don’t think it will be a big issue to get those signatures again, but it would take some time,” he said. “We’ll just have to see what the judge decides. It should be an interesting hearing.”