I’d like to take a look at where things are at in Grand County since the passage of HB 224, particularly in regard to clarification of a few misperceptions, and actions and activity of the Grand County Council. And then I suppose we can all hang on and see where this goes in Grand County.
The recent criticism that if the ballot study measure passes, the group of petitioners who successfully placed the study question on this November’s ballot will not engage in an open or inclusive process when selecting the study committee is unwarranted and unfounded.
The legislation at 17-52a-401: Procedure for appointing members to study committee clearly states at part (3)(b) “In making appointments to the study committee, the appointment council shall work to achieve a broadly representative membership.” Additionally, every meeting of the appointment council and subsequent study committee is required to be open to the public. Clearly a partisan committee would be against the intent of this statute and provide avenue for legal appeal.
What is currently going on, however, is a rather imperceptible attack on a citizen-initiated democratic process – an attack being conducted by the majority of the elected officials on the Grand County Council. Oddly, progressives in our county are usually the first to point to any error or grievance against the council in conducting the business of the citizens, and to defend any and all efforts from citizens to directly engage in their government.
Yet, look closely at what is going on here. It’s subtle coercion of a duly and legally processed and certified citizens’ petition. Seemingly, the fact that the petitioners all belong to a certain political party removes them of rights the rest of the citizens have. This has all appearances of deliberate censorship. Selective acknowledgement of the well revered democratic process of citizen petition.
This is your current progressive-dominated Grand County Council. And this is OK?
In choosing to ignore the citizens’ petition, they instead choose to follow a third-party, confidential legal opinion. They choose to believe that based on this third-party opinion, HB 224 required the council to act. They choose to ignore the publicly presented legal advice to our county clerk from the lieutenant governor’s office, in consultation with the Utah Attorney General’s office, that is apparently in direct conflict with this as-yet-unseen third-party opinion.
How is this anything remotely resembling transparency from an elected body? Show the public what you’re basing your decision on in running roughshod over a group of legitimate registered voters engaging in the democratic process of petitioning.
What is in this secret legal opinion? Why did this confidential opinion cause the Grand County Attorney to publicly flip-flop on his assessment of the “priority of process” identified in HB 224? What legal jeopardy do you put Grand County in by ignoring a legitimate citizens’ petition? Is Grand County prepared to take on the State of Utah, and bear all the legal expenses by effectively defying the lieutenant governor and attorney general’s office?
The unvarnished reality is that the lieutenant governor is the election authority in the state and its subdivision county governments. And the Grand County Clerk is the election authority in the county. Not the Grand County Council. Not the Grand County Attorney. The fact that the lieutenant governor’s office coordinated its interpretations of HB 224 with the attorney general’s office, the top legal authority in the state, should suggest to any county legislative body what they need to know and what responsible legal direction to follow.
The fact that our Grand County Council Chairwoman, Mary McGann, can openly and publicly defy this interpretation, and instead follow the order of a secret third-party legal opinion, should be unacceptable to anyone.
As one of the bona fide petitioners under provisions of HB 224 I am very exasperated by this shameful behavior from our county council, but I am even more concerned as a citizen. And I would be concerned if the county’s elected officials openly and defiantly treated any party to our democratic process like this.
You may not like that the citizen petitioners under HB 224 were alert and followed the procedures and process outlined. In fact, you may not like any particular citizens’ petition for that matter, but you get to vote for or against it at the ballot box. However, I find it hard to visualize anyone who thinks this type of seemingly defiant behavior toward a group of bona fide citizen petitioners is acceptable from a publicly elected legislative body.
Lynn Jackson is a former county council member and lives in Grand County.