When confronted about the origins, makers and intentions of House Bill 224, Lynn Jackson offers the citizens of Grand County a reality check. That check is returned for insufficient truth.
This publication’s readers and the citizens of Grand County will sort through the events coming to light regarding the genesis, purpose and significance of H.B. 224 and decide in loud and messy Moab style, who did what, when and why. But, as Mr. Jackson gloats repeatedly, it’s done now. Yes, it is and the people of this county deserve to know who took away the form of self-government that they have approved by ballot three times in the last 25 years. Obviously this act was committed behind the citizens’ backs by men who say they know best.
H.B. 224 may have been conceived when current Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells thought to himself, “If there were fewer people on this council I would be happier, more productive and more powerful.” The obsession with replacing the form of Grand County government is as ancient and persistent as the proposals for a Book Cliffs road for the oil companies. Wells made it known that this was his agenda on numerous occasions to many listeners. His fingerprints are all over this law. Knowing that his intent was to change a form of government already endorsed by the citizens of this county on three separate occasions, he just decided to go down another road altogether.
State level support was rallied. Utah State Rep. Gage Froerer of Huntsville, whose day job is real estate, was delegated the task. As an aid to the maneuver, Wells serves on the board of directors for the Utah Association of Counties, putting him in a perfect position to lobby the bill while ensuring no objection was raised by that organization, whose mission includes apprising county governments of pending legislation that may affect them.
In a masterful demonstration of political acumen, Mr. Wells used five guys he picked up in the parking lot at Home Depot to submit the petition paperwork moments after the bill was signed, leaving him completely outside the impact zone. For now perhaps, Wells must live without the acknowledgement and praise such cunning effort deserves, but I suspect those in the know are giving it in spades.
H.B. 224 is precisely targeted to change Grand County’s form of governance. It was written specifically to affect changes to this county that are perceived by H.B. 224’s creators as beneficial to their group’s power locally and to state officials’ designs for Grand County. In this deeply conservative state, three cities vote and legislate consistently progressive: Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab. The other two are too big and rich to mess with so blatantly. Moab and Grand County are held in low regard by the leadership of the surrounding counties and by the state legislature. Grand County continually disappoints their plans and machinations and goes its own way on issue after issue: SITLA land use, the Seven-County Coalition, Book Cliffs oil road, water allocation for “South Moab”, specified use of transient room tax ... the list goes on.
The current situation of our city and county is that of a community under siege by forces at the state level whose intent is to force growth with utter disregard for the consequences on the life of the citizens and the nature of this community. This destruction of our chosen form of government is consistent with the intentions of those who stand to gain wealth or power through the elimination of what ever limited checks our local elected officials — and by extension our citizens — may have against the onslaught of St. George-style development here. H.B. 224 passed virtually unanimously in both the Utah House and Utah Senate. State leadership avidly supported its true purpose. A Grand County smack down.
Most importantly for the extremists who committed this murder of our county’s form of self-government: the hope of a return to the bad old days. The people of this county know a big majority voted the old three-member council form out repeatedly because it didn’t just serve the people. Too often, it served itself.
The specific provisions of this new law are a little tyrant’s wish list. More power in fewer hands, partisan labeling (a destructive trend, clearly), no term limits and no recall power for the citizens.
Wells, Jackson and company instigated and collaborated with powerful state legislators. As their actions demonstrate so clearly, they believe in democracy until it interferes with their agenda and their quest for control. Wrapping themselves in robes of righteousness and special insight they betrayed their community and core values of democracy.
Apparently they are too ashamed to own their actions openly. Their denials of a coordinated, covert and collective action are a sham.