Council chosen over commission

Three positions will be at-large, two by districts

Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird Friday, July 26 speaks to members of a committee tasked with hammering out the county’s next form of government. He confirmed that the earliest voters could elect officers to a new form of government now under development would be 2022 – although the committee has not formally made such a declaration. County elections are held in even-numbered years while city elections are in odd-numbered years. Voters must first approve the new form of government in 2020 before officials are elected. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Should voters ultimately approve the plan, the next form of government in Grand County will be a five-person council with an appointed manager. Three of the five seats will be at-large and two will be by district with an eye on making one as urban as possible and the other as rural as can be.

The Grand County Change of Form of Government Study Committee has made significant strides in recent weeks as the number of members of the future governing board, its form of government and how they will be elected have been, for all intents and purposes, decided.

That doesn’t mean the committee’s work is done.

With Salt Lake City-based attorney Gavin Anderson, whom the committee two weeks ago agreed to hire to draft the optional plan once it’s completed, participating via telephone, members engaged in robust debate on the form of government – council or commission – and how members would be elected, at-large, by district or a combination of the two. Neither vote was unanimous, but both were taken in the spirit of compromise.

At-large versus by district

Member Bob Greenberg wanted the committee to delay a vote on this question and instead suggested the committee hold a workshop featuring Grand County and City of Moab chief planners Zacharia Levine and Nora Shepard, respectively. Planners, he said, would recommend “what other variables other than the number of citizens” the committee should consider in the coming redistricting. His colleagues apparently wanted to move forward during the Friday, July 26 meeting as nobody offered a second to Greenberg’s motion.

With the committee previously settling on a five-person governing board, the choices were to have all candidates run at-large, have all candidates run by district, or have three run by district and two at-large or vice-versa.

If either all or partial district voting was chosen, member Walt Dabney said the committee should follow the advice of William Cooper, the redistricting consultant who at a meeting earlier in July encouraged the committee to only ensure the same number of citizens live within each district and nothing else – such as what neighborhood people live in, socioeconomics or other considerations. “We need to keep it simplified,” said Dabney.

In response, member Jeramy Day drifted from his previous preference to have all candidates run at-large, suggested two districts be separated much like Grand County already is: One that would primarily consist of the City of Moab and the other be rural Grand County.

“I really see the merit, …” said Day. “Two weeks ago I wanted us to be all at-large, but there is a disconnect between Moab and the rural areas. Our biggest disconnect is the hustle and bustle of Moab and the outlying farms [and properties] of people who like their space.”

Greenberg concurred: “I agree 100 percent,” he said, but he cautioned that objective criteria might be hard to find. “They might come back and say, your community is too mixed up. You have mansions next to shacks.” Greenberg said delaying the decision would be prudent. “We owe it to Grand County to take time and look for objective measures.”

Member Marcy Till said she would advocate for the system that yields the best candidates. She said she’s in favor of a combination of categories, and would support three at-large and two districts, with the idea that more people would be inclined to run in an at-large election. Member Judy Carmichael agreed, echoing a sentiment shared with other members: “I want people to be able to vote for as many [candidates] as possible.”

Member Cricket Green also backed off of her previous desire for all positions being at-large, voting in favor of two districts and three at-large.

While nobody advocated for elections with five districts, Dabney noted the majority of about 250 people who took a survey preferred a combination. “The downside to me with all at-large is everybody can live in the same neighborhood,” he said.

Day made the motion to go with three at-large and two by district, with one district primarily being rural and the other consisting of city residents – and that only population figures be used to determine those maps. Day’s motion also called for the committee to hire Cooper for his map-drawing expertise.

“This, to me, is consensus,” said Day. “I’m looking at the greater compromise because we’re here for the future of the community.” He said Grand County is “diverse in ideologies” and voters will still be able to vote for four of the five seats.

“Grand County is unique,” said Chair Steve Stocks, “with a unique set of politics … we see people aren’t exactly happy but they accept it. That’s compromise.”

The vote passed 6-1 with Greenberg voting against the measure. “I can live with this,” he said with a smile.