County ratifies vote on lodging ban

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan addresses concerns over a controversial special meeting held July 18 that resulted in a revote approving a temporary ban on the development of overnight rentals. To her left are Grand County Administrator Ruth Dillon and Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Flaws in how a July 18 Grand County Council special meeting was noticed prompted Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan to require the council to ratify its revote on whether to temporarily remove overnight lodging developments as a use by right.

With Member Jaylyn Hawks participating by telephone Tuesday, Aug. 6 and Member Rory Paxman not in attendance, the council in a 5-1 vote ratified the action, but not before Member Curtis Wells in a series of questions raised concerns whether the meeting and subsequent revote met Utah open meeting laws.

Two nights prior to the special meeting, the council in its second regular meeting of July in a stunning decision, voted 3-3 not to implement the ban on overnight accommodation developments. Hawks, who has been on an extended vacation, was on an international flight and not available to participate telephonically at that regular meeting.

Wells had two key concerns. The council on July 17 posted notice of the meeting 24 hours prior to its scheduled start time, but midmorning on July 18 the agenda came through again with the word “Cancelled” superimposed over the text.

That notice was an inadvertent error in the Grand County Administrator’s office, according to Administrator Ruth Dillon.

Her comment came after Wells mentioned the cancellation notice and questioned if the meeting, which was held early in the afternoon, met the 24-hour threshold. “What is advanced public notice?” asked Wells. Sloan responded that it is 24 hours, but she said the cancellation was not valid. She also noted that residents “packed” the Grand County Council and the meeting was also streamed online.

“We understand the public is concerned about this,” Sloan said, adding that was why she asked the council to ratify its July 18 decision.

At the first regular meeting July16, Member Greg Halliday voted with Wells and Paxman against the ban. On July 18, he changed his vote after the rural communities he represents were included in maps that show where lodging developments could be developed.

Wells said the change was “substantial” and deserved more scrutiny. Sloan said the revote came after six months of process. “It [Halliday’s request] was discussed,” she said.

Wells replied, “You’re saying it’s OK to bend the rules and make a last-second change?” also questioning how the issue constituted an emergency.

“I see it differently,” said Sloan. “There is flexibility in the code. And it was certainly an urgent matter.”

The exchange led Wells to a Grand County rule that requires five days of notice for special meetings.

Dillon acknowledged the rule was there, but she said it has never been followed during her tenure as administrator.

“It’s a nomenclature issue,” said Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird, explaining the county uses different terminology from state meeting rules, an issue he said needs to be addressed.

Wells also questioned why the meeting couldn’t be held off for a week. He reasoned that would still allow them to meet before the six-month moratorium was scheduled to expire Aug. 5. “This has been six months in the making.”

He was highly critical of Chair Evan Clapper’s decision not to take public comment prior to the revote. “Grand County is the public comment champions,” he said. “We use public comment as a referendum.”

“It’s up to the chair’s discretion to accept public comment,” said Sloan, regarding special meeting rules. Clapper has not explained his decision, but he allowed lengthy public comment at previous discussions and hearings on the matter.

“The reason we’re ratifying is we’re acknowledging there were issues with the special meeting,” said Baird.