Anyone who hoped the Grand County Change of Form of Government Study Committee would come up with a three- or nine-person commission or council is out of luck. The committee on Friday, July 19 agreed whatever form of government it creates will have five members.
This decision was made in large part due to surveys Grand County residents have completed over the past couple of months. Member Walt Dabney said there was “little or no support” for a three- or nine-member governing body, with residents choosing five twice as often as seven.
The vote was 6-1 with Member Bob Greenberg casting the no vote. Greenberg seemed to favor a seven-person governing board, as is in place right now.
The survey featured four questions. In addition to the majority favoring a five-person board, residents also want the council or commission to be part-time with an appointed manager – not administrator – with elections a combination of districts and at large, so most residents have the opportunity to vote for the majority of candidates. The council form was more popular with survey takers than was the commission form.
The primary difference between a commission and a council is authority. Commissions have authority over legislative and executive branches while councils make laws and policy, but an appointed manager or elected executive carries out those policies and has oversight of day-to-day operations. There was little appetite for an elected executive.
While there wasn’t much debate over the number of members the body will have, the other three questions were not as easily answered and require additional discussion before action will be taken. The study committee’s more conservative members favor at-large voting with no districts, for example, while the more liberal favor a combination.
Dabney said roughly 250 people took the survey and he was pleased with the engagement. “There was no animosity toward the process,” he said. “And they had thoughtful questions.”
Committee member Cricket Green said, “People feel like they’re being heard.”
Chair Steve Stocks noted some people have been upset, which Dabney said relates to having to change the form of government in the first place.
After months of debate, the committee voted 7-0 to enter into an interlocal agreement with attorney Gavin Anderson, who will earn up to $7,500 to draft the Optional Plan Ordinance, which voters will vote on in 2020.
Anderson is a recognized expert on Utah forms of government and is well respected and has the requisite knowledge, said Greenberg. Stocks, also an attorney, will negotiate the agreement on behalf of the committee.
Council or commission?
If the committee was relatively united in choosing five as the appropriate number of elected officials on the board, there still are fundamental differences of opinion on whether that board should be a council or a commission.
Member Marcy Till made her choice clear: She wants a council form of government with an appointed manager to oversee day-to-day operations – the same preference other Grand County elected officials and department heads resoundingly advocated for in meetings with committee members.
But Greenberg said, “I’m less decided now than when we began this process.” He said people in Utah are moving toward councils, which only have legislative authority, while commissions have legislative and executive power.
Committee Member Jeramy Day said, “Commissions are definitely more engaged…They’re better at problem-solving.” He also noted the risk associated with hiring a professional manager and the “damage they can leave is significant.” He didn’t name names, but it was clear he was referring to former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson, who was terminated after her reportedly harsh management style alienated city employees and citizens alike.
Day also said he “leans towards a commission” because he believes they are more effective. He also said a commission could and probably would hire a manager to carry out policy. In the end the question was postponed.
“I don’t want this to be chaotic,” said Dabney.
Districts or at-large?
Greenberg and Till said they were in favor of a combination of districts and at-large members, but Day argued for at-large positions, citing the current form of government, which has five members elected by district and two at-large. “I can only vote for three out of seven,” said Day. “That’s insane to me. The community wants to vote for everyone.”
If there were districts, he might settle for two – urban City of Moab and rural Grand County – where the interests might be different. He said he wished he could vote in city elections, citing the Moab City Council’s plastic bag ban and the more recently passed vehicle idling ordinance as “things that affect everyone.”
Pace picks up
The committee will step up its meeting schedule from now until Thanksgiving, when members hope to conclude their work. Rather than meet twice a month, the committee scheduled three meetings a month from August through November – Aug. 2, 9, 23; Sept. 6, 20, 27; Oct. 4, 18, 25; and Nov. 1, 8 , and 15. All meetings are at noon Fridays in council chambers at the Grand County Courthouse on Center Street.
The committee continues to seek public input. To comment on the pending change in Grand County’s form of government, email [email protected].