Something in the Desert – Sept. 5, 2019

The Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee members, from the left front counterclockwise: Judy Carmichael, Marcy Till, Steve Stocks, Bob Greenberg, Walt Dabney and Cricket Green, along with Grand County Administrator Ruth Dillon. Not pictured is Member Jeramy Day. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Just when it seemed we all lost our collective mind, along comes the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee to remind us that people with diverse backgrounds and political ideologies can still set aside those differences for the good of the whole.

The country is divided, Washington, D.C., is swampier than a bayou, social media is nothing if not antisocial and everyday people are losing friendships and severing family ties over the man living in the White House.

Politics unusual, to say the least.

But here in Grand County, Judy Carmichael, Walt Dabney, Jeramy Day, Cricket Green, Bob Greenberg, Steve Stocks and Marcy Till very early in the process set aside all that separates them and focused instead on creating a form of government that would be acceptable to the most citizens. They struck on that theme early. Nobody was shy. Everyone was heard. The vibe was positive. The only thing awkward about this group is its name.

To a person they seemed to realize they were part of something bigger than any one individual, any one party, and especially any specific political dogma. There were no aspersions cast. No insults hurled. Snarky comments were not entirely absent, but they were used with judicious discrimination.

Transparency was the rule of the day. Members did all they could to gather public comment short of resorting to torture. They got along fine. They respected one another. They even took turns sharing snacks and even lunches during their lengthy Friday meetings.

This metaphorical singing of Kumbaya does not mean there weren’t bones of contention to pick through. Debate was robust, and sometimes agonizingly lengthy, particularly when it came to the biggest question the committee had to ponder: Should Grand County’s next governing board be a council or a commission? The answer turned out to be council in the only 4-3 vote the committee took.

We can’t allow this irony alert to pass without comment: One of the reasons Grand County has to change its form of government was the belief a commission would be more effective and responsive to the people than is a council because commissions have both legislative and executive power. But for more than 25 years the Grand County Council has operated like a commission because its executive has always been an administrator rather than a manager, a position that doesn’t have the broad executive powers managers enjoy.

Attorney Gavin Anderson literally wrote the book on how counties can change the form of government in Utah and he’s the one who advised the study committee early on that the council has acted like a commission.

One of the smartest actions the committee took was to unanimously agree to hire Anderson to draft the ordinance that will dictate the rules of the new government. It’s likely Anderson’s subject matter expertise will prove sufficient for Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan, who must give the ordinance – known as the optional plan – a thumb’s up or down by Friday, Sept. 6, in order for voters to get to decide the issue in November.

The second smartest action the committee took was to hire William Cooper to draw up two voting districts, one consisting primarily of the City of Moab and the other the remainder of Grand County. Cooper is a nationally recognized expert in drawing district maps that strictly adhere to the constitutional doctrine of one person, one vote. He drafted the new district maps currently in use in San Juan County on behalf of the Navajo Nation and they passed muster with a federal court.

The third smartest action was electing Stocks to chair the committee’s meetings. This is partly because Stocks is the youngest member of the committee who represents the under-35 demographic, but also because he’s a practicing attorney who learned early how to keep meetings on topic and moving forward.

Greenberg represented the Democrat side quite well while Day and Green held up the banner for Republicans. Dabney, Till and Carmichael were sometimes left and sometimes right. Collectively, the committee strived to meet in the center.

I don’t know if they made the right choices and it isn’t my place to make that call, but I do know we all owe a debt of gratitude to each of them – along with Grand County Administrator Ruth Dillon and her staff. Dillon will retire next spring, but she went above and beyond the call of duty as the committee’s facilitator, knowing all the time it was her job that would go away when all is said and done.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman