Window closing on vote to change form of government during 2019 elections

The Grand County committee studying change of form of government is running against its deadline to have a question for voters on November’s ballot.
Photo by Doug McMurdo

Given a tight deadline and a late start, the odds are small that the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee will have a question ready for voters on November’s ballot.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan on Friday, May 10, told the committee it had to deliver its recommendation and optional plan by July 8 – 120 days prior to the Nov. 5 election.

Sloan would then have to review the optional plan to ensure it complies with Utah law. If she finds problems that require the plan to be modified, then voters will have to wait until the November 2020 election to decide what form of government the county will fall under.

Committee member Cricket Green fretted people would “lose interest” if the issue isn’t decided later this year, but others worried people might think they were rushing things as if it “were a done deal.”

There are other concerns. It appears likely the committee will have to retain an attorney – who has no ties to Grand County government or a vested interest in its form of government – to draft the optional plan as specified in Utah statutes.

Sloan cannot write the plan as her office is mandated to review the document, making for a clear conflict of interest. Should the committee not meet the July 8 deadline, members would have until March of 2020 to complete their work.

In other notes, the committee continues its efforts to reach out to as broad a cross section of the county’s residents as possible. Members approved spending $750 on advertising. They could schedule an open house or two to informally receive input from citizens, and a survey is being prepared – but how to manage it to ensure only residents respond – and only once – remains a sticking point.

The best method, perhaps, would be a postcard in the mail, but member Bob Greenberg said that could cost up to $3,500.

Sloan said she spoke with Jann Farris, the attorney for Morgan County, which is also undergoing the same change of government process as Grand County.

She said Morgan County’s study committee is further along than Grand County’s because they started earlier, but that they are “already exhausted.” She said Morgan County is looking at the option of an expanded five-person commission with a mix of districts. She also said Morgan County voters will likely decide the issue in 2019.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the four options the committee will choose from:

County Commission: This commission would hold both executive and legislative powers. It would have three members who are elected at-large with staggered four-year terms.

Expanded County Commission: In this form, the county commission also has the authority to manage the county, make laws, set taxes, budgets and fees. There would be five to seven commissioners, elected at-large, who serve staggered four-year terms.

Elected Executive/Council: This form has an executive or mayor who has authority over the executive branch of government, including veto power over council legislation. The number of members, length of terms, compensation and whether elections are at-large or by district would have to be decided.

Council/Manager: A person would be appointed to be county manager. She or he would serve at the pleasure of the council. That individual would run the executive branch while a council would handle legislation. As in the elected executive/council form, the number of members, length of terms, compensation and whether elections are at-large or by district would have to be decided.

The study committee next meets at noon Friday, May 17 in Grand County Council Chambers inside the courthouse.