Good grief, let’s get some facts into the discussion this week.
The anger and hyperbole in the letters to the editor last week, in addition to The Times-Independent editorial, seems way over the top. Apparently active citizen involvement in government and the right to petition doesn’t apply to all groups of citizens?
There is an astonishingly uninformed understanding of how House Bill 224 unfolded, what is in the bill, and what the actions of the citizens’ petition are going to result in. There’s no doubt the bill has some complexities and ambiguities, but it quite clearly states that any county not in compliance with an accepted form of government now has no choice in this matter.
The bill passed the Utah House by a 71-2 margin, and the Utah Senate by a 27-0 margin. Gov. Gary Herbert signed it without controversy, with the exception apparently of Grand County. It doesn’t matter what past voting in Grand County has shown regarding our form of government. It doesn’t matter what metaphors one wants to use regarding the situation. If one thinks this legislation is unconstitutional, there are processes in place to challenge this legislation. We are choosing to follow the statute at this point
The provisions of H.B. 224 allow the process of bringing our form of government into compliance to be initiated either by citizen petition or resolution by a county’s legislative body. Either process simply results in the placement on the November ballot a question to voters in the county regarding the formation of a study committee. If approved, this study committee will be appointed to develop a new form of government in compliance with H.B. 224.
The sponsors of the petition independently found and monitored this bill as it was introduced and made its way through the Utah legislative process. That process is an open and transparent system that allows anyone to follow and track bills presented in the legislature from start to finish. Anyone. Why others in Grand County or the Grand County Council failed to monitor this bill is quite baffling. The sponsors of our citizen petition quickly recognized what it meant for Grand County and acted accordingly.
The petition was not filed to pre-empt or dictate the process, but rather, to allow the petition sponsors to designate one member of a five-member appointment council — if residents vote in November to initiate a study committee. Did we feel filing this petition allowed us some benefit in that process? Certainly. That appointment council then selects the seven-member study committee. We filed the petition quickly and prior to council action in order to assure we have formal representation as the process moves forward. How is following a new law, and filing a citizen petition under the provisions of that law to put an issue in front of voters an assault on democracy, or the work of a sinister cabal? By requirement of this statute, the study committee must represent a cross-section of this county’s residents. We can’t control that process, but we will have a voice.
The sponsors of the petition do not favor our current form of government. Three of the five petition sponsors spent a total of 20 years as members of our current council. We have direct experience with the ineffective, cumbersome and leaderless nature of this current system when trying to meet the demands of a growing and complex county. Part-time representatives cannot deal with the astonishing array of complex legal, technical, personnel, and budgetary issues. Seven members are too many, providing no effective leadership or strong voice for our county, either across the state or at the legislative level.
It’s difficult to get a four-member quorum together on short notice to deal with time-critical issues and there are many instances of this. It takes months and years to accomplish anything when working in conjunction with other entities, such as upgrading sewer systems or building hospitals.
It’s exceptionally difficult to manage a multifaceted county government strictly with volunteer citizen councils, boards, districts and committees. It creates significant confusion and indecision. Many of us would prefer a commission form of government with full-time representatives. It’s the standard form for all the rural and most of the urban counties in our state. In our opinion municipal governments have councils, and county governments should have commissions.
As this process moves forward we’d like the study team to consider a commission that would include five full-time members. We strongly advocate all seats be elected at large, so every two years all registered voters get to vote for all seats running in that election. H.B. 224 makes it clear; we are done with nonpartisan politics, term limits and recall. These are no longer options, whether one favors these features or not.
We are interested in assuring Grand County conservatives have a viable seat at the table. We are not opposed to an open and spirited debate on the issue. So maybe it’s time to quit the aggressive accusations, character assassinations, and false narrative based on what one thinks the law says — and move forward to provide a better and more efficient county government for residents of this county under the direction of H.B. 224.