San Juan County to vote on governance

A special election in November will ask voters in San Juan County if a committee should be formed to consider a change in county government. The election is scheduled after five county residents successfully submitted a petition. County Clerk John David Nielson said that the group submitted several pages of signatures. Signatures were verified using VISTA, the state voter database. Nielson certified the petition when he had verified 278 signatures. That represents five percent of the votes cast in the 2016 general election. The residents include Blanding Mayor Joe B. Lyman, Monticello Mayor Tim Young, Navajo Mountain resident Alexander Bitsinnie, White Mesa resident Suzette Morris, and Spanish Valley resident Wendy Walker Tibbetts. If a majority of voters approve the ballot question, a seven-member committee will study the issue and make a recommendation.

Nielson said the residents who sponsored the petition would appoint the study committee. The committee, if created, is required to include a wide range of opinions and reflect diverse community interests. The committee will consider a number of options and could recommend a change in county government. Any recommended change would be placed before voters and would require voter approval. The issue to be considered is similar to a process currently underway in Grand County. Grand voters approved the creation of a study committee in 2018.

That process was initiated differently than in San Juan County; registered voters initiated it. Questions were asked about approval of the special election. Commissioners declined a prior request to call a special election, so organizers pursued it through a petition. County Attorney Kendall Laws said that the petition was verified using state law and added, “Once the process starts, San Juan County doesn’t really have a say. It is subject to the workings of the law and San Juan County is just along for the ride.”

The San Juan County role is to verify signatures and facilitate the election. Laws said that the question would go before the voters twice before any changes could be made to county government. Nielson estimated $10,000 in costs for the special election. Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes expressed frustration with the special election. Grayeyes said, “The party advocating for this is a group that has been against certain positions of the county commission.” Grayeyes said the decision should be made by the entire county, not just one section. A study committee will be created only if the majority of voters approve the ballot question.

– San Juan Record