Governance vote could be on fall ballot

Exhaustive meetings nail down option

Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird, left, and Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Gavin Anderson engage in a discussion during a recess at Friday’s marathon meeting that lasted nearly nine hours. Another long meeting was held Monday. Photo by Doug McMurdo

This report details what it will take for the Change of Form of Government Study Committee’s optional plan to go to a vote in 2019. This related story has details on the final version of the plan that the committee passed.

After months of meetings, the bulk of the work for the Grand County Change of Form of Government Study Committee is now officially behind it, and its proposal is likely to appear on the ballot in 2019, according to Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird.

In a 7-0 decision on Monday, Aug. 12, the committee voted to send the final draft of its proposed optional plan to legal review, one of the last steps in the process before a relevant question is put before Grand County voters. As part of the decision, the committee recommended that the public vote on the form of government be held in November of this year rather than 2020, as was previously thought necessary.

Attorney Gavin Anderson, who will earn up to $7,500 to draft the Optional Plan Ordinance, said that language in the state law governing the change of government procedure, which he called “poorly written,” permits the county to put the question on ballots in 2019. He also said that much of the law is internally inconsistent, but the ambiguities could favor the county if the 2019 election matter were to go before a judge.

Next steps

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan will review the plan and, if she finds that it is in compliance with the Utah law that necessitates Grand County’s change of form of government, the committee’s proposed plan will go to the voters.

If Sloan finishes her work before Sept. 5, voters could get to vote on the matter during the November election, otherwise the election will be in 2020. The committee voted to recommended that Baird and Sloan work to have the matter on the 2019 ballot.

Putting the matter before voters this year would require a special election on the matter for residents who live in the unincorporated part of the county, since no other ballot questions or elections are scheduled to go before voters in the unincorporated county in 2019.

For voters within city limits, the form of government question would accompany the Moab City Council general election.

Committee Member Bob Greenberg made a motion during the meeting to table the matter to November, which would have pushed back the election to 2020.

“Grand County voters have repeatedly said at the ballot box that they want to keep our current form of government, as odd and inefficient as it may be,” Greenberg said. “That should be their choice, their mistake to make. To honor that choice, the committee should delay filing its optional plan until September so that it is put before the voters in 2020.”

This timeline would mean the county’s governing body would be elected in 2022 and take office in 2023, which is the maximum time allowed by Utah law. Greenberg said having the vote in 2020 during a presidential election would maximize turnout.

In its vote, the committee rejected Greenberg’s proposal, siding with the plan of putting the question to voters sooner rather than later. Committee Member Marcy Till said that doing so would ensure that the matter was fresh on voters’ minds when it appeared on the ballot rather than stagnating for over a year.

Contents of the plan

One feature of interest for observers of the recent debate over the compensation for Moab City Council members was how the study committee recommended to handle pay increases for the council. The system that is part of the plan that will go before voters is that pay increases would take effect at the start of each new term.

In other words, for any future member of the council to receive a pay increase (besides cost of living adjustments) that the member voted to approve, the member must be re-elected. The hope of this provision is to minimize the reality or perception of a conflict of interest when the matter of compensation arises.

For more on the specifics of the plan, see the accompanying story.

The committee’s work is almost done

Now that the study committee has completed its optional proposal, little is left for the group to do, as the matter is largely out of its hands.

Members said that they had intended to hold at least one more public hearing on the matter before the election, whether in 2019 or 2020, but if officials are able to put the question on the 2019 ballot, the group’s work could wrap up well before the end of the year.

However, if Sloan finds that the committee’s plan is out of compliance, which would require the members to continue their work, more meetings would be in order.