High Desert Hoofbeats – July 25, 2019

The Grand County Council’s dual meetings last week were a clear display of vote manipulation, no matter how one feels about the measure to ban new nightly rental developments.

This was one of those topics where I was content to let the chips fall wherever they did. After all, we rely on elected officials to do the heavy thinking and discussion, digesting public comments, constituents’ needs and hopefully, use common sense. Each member of the council is expected to do their own homework and make up their own minds without chastisement. And each is expected to do this when regular meetings and votes are scheduled, not a few days later.

But last week things got ugly when a 3-3 vote Tuesday, July 16 on the controversial decision to remove overnight lodging as a use by right sent some members into a tangent. It showed that some council members were unprepared and can be manipulated. It showed that votes can be strong-armed, and that many council members cast votes despite conflicts. It also showed that county administration had sloppy, if not illegal, public notice procedures.

To review: Council members Rory Paxman and Curtis Wells, expectedly, were firm votes against the measure. Their votes were joined for a brief time by Greg Halliday, who flip-flopped two days later during a second special vote, after being roundly criticized by fellow council member Mary McGann, and having his arm twisted by untold others. Halliday should have come to the table last Tuesday with a firm view of the matter in mind, but instead, he tested the waters of unpopularity for just a brief while, and changed his vote. Halliday had months to raise his concerns about the ordinance, but never did. He had apparently told several people he was going to vote for the ordinance, but at first didn’t. That left three angry peers holding the bag last Tuesday when the matter was temporarily decided in a 3-3 tie.

Council members McGann, Terry Morse and Evan Clapper came to the vote as firmly but oppositely as Wells and Paxman. And the seventh voice, Jaylyn Hawks, was conveniently on an international flight and couldn’t weigh in when the first vote happened.

During the small time – less than a day – that the 3-3 vote was on the record, some council members and county staff who had pushed the measure, ginned up a follow-up vote to help the controversial effort get approved. They criticized and lobbied Halliday to change his vote. They got ahold of Hawks from overseas to acquire her vote. And Morse threatened to quit if the measure didn’t go his way. This shaky majority mustered the effort that they should have made prior to the Tuesday vote. All seven of them should have shown firm convictions, research and commitment at the July 16 meeting, so that a follow-up flip/flop special meeting didn’t have to be called.

To add even more stumbling to the process, the county administration screwed things up. On last Wednesday afternoon, just about the time we were going to press, county administrators emailed a notice of a special meeting to be held 24 hours later, at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 18 to revisit the vote. We here at the Times took this information, redesigned our front page to let folks know that the 3-3 vote would be revisited the next day, and we printed the paper. We did our best to let the public know that the issue was a moving target, despite the county’s questionable gyrations. More transparent ways of doing business would have given the public more than a day to know that a second vote would be held.

Be that as it may, the matter was muddied when county administrators sent out an email Thursday morning saying the special meeting was cancelled. But the meeting wasn’t really cancelled. It was a mistake, county officials said, and the meeting and re-vote went on as publicized.

This error in ways did no favors to objectives of thoroughness and transparency. Debacles abounded. Some members of the public who attended the Tuesday meeting, then learned of the Thursday revote, then learned that the meeting was cancelled (when it really wasn’t) did not attend the special meeting because they thought it wasn’t going to happen. Not that it would have made a difference. The back-scene gyrations had already happened. The three people who voted firmly in favor of the measure to ban new nightly rentals had already solicited one vote from overseas and strong-armed another into changing from nay to yay.

The whole charade stinks. The only positive thing about it is that we can more clearly see the tactics of individual members of the council. We can also see critical errors made by county administration, which is expected to have impeccable public notice responsibilities. And we can see that conflicts of interest are cast aside when the votes matter.

Again, I don’t care whether the measure passed or failed. But I do care that we have honest council members who let one another decide for themselves what their votes should be.