I was one of many individuals actively involved in the 1992 adoption of the present plan for Grand County government. I am a retired lawyer and presently an inactive member of the Utah Bar Association; I am writing this letter solely as a concerned citizen.
The present plan was adopted and approved by the voters of Grand County pursuant to Article XI, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution, which grants to county voters the right to select a form of government and obligates the Utah Legislature to provide options and procedures. The Utah Legislature recently enacted House Bill 224, which contains a provision (the “forced change provision “) purporting to require that, if any Utah county does not have or institute one of certain specified forms of government by the end of 2020, there will be a state-mandated change to the county commission form (as described in the law).
None of the forms of county government specified in H.B. 224 are consistent with Grand County ‘s present plan.
This “forced change provision” is clearly unconstitutional and unenforceable as applied to Grand County. The present plan embodies the exercise by Grand County voters of a specific constitutional right to create the present plan, as authorized by Utah law in effect at that time. Once such constitutionally protected rights are in place, the Utah Legislature cannot unilaterally revoke or diminish them — the whole point of putting these provisions in the constitution was to prevent the legislature from interfering with them.
While the legislature is empowered by the constitution to modify options and procedures from time to time, those modifications can only apply to subsequently adopted plans.
Unless there is an amendment to the Utah Constitution, our present plan is grandfathered until such time as the voters of Grand County approve a new plan authorized by Utah law in effect at that time.
Those who filed the recent notice of intent could certainly proceed under the new statute to seek voter approval for a new plan of government as described in H.B. 224.
However, Grand County voters cannot be deprived of their right to reject any such proposal and retain the form of government we have under the present plan.
I believe it is a primary obligation of every elected official of Grand County to zealously defend the constitutional rights of Grand County voters and the form of government approved by those voters. Going all the way back to 1992, defense of the current plan against legislative and other shenanigans has been necessary on several occasions, but the county has been able to stand firm and has successfully defended the constitutional rights of its voters without litigation.
I suggest that the council authorize the chair to communicate with appropriate state officials pointing out, under the Utah Constitution, Grand County is grandfathered from the forced change provision, and request clarifying action as soon as possible so that we can avoid voter confusion and unnecessary litigation.