Still smarting over Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan’s rejection of their optional plan, members of the study committee tasked with creating a new form of government for Grand County might go back to the drawing board with five months left to conclude its work.
The committee met with Sloan on Friday, Sept. 27, to discuss the four elements of the plan that she previously found failed to comply with Utah law or the Constitution, effectively ending any shot voters would be able to vote up or down the plan in November’s election.
The committee will convene again Oct. 18.
While Sloan had four concerns, none were nearly as controversial as her decision that the study committee is precluded from drawing voting district maps – only that it has the authority to specify that there will be districts. In this case, the committee settled on two districts, one mostly rural and one urban, with three seats at large. They also approved a five-person manager-council form of government, with executive authority vested in an appointed manager while elected officials legislate.
Sloan defended her findings, saying it is clear the Constitution gives state legislators the power to redistrict, and lawmakers in turn ceded that authority to counties. “You guys are the recommending body,” she said, saying the remedy would be to recommend the county council adopt the redistricting plan.
“I feel strongly it is illegal,” she said, adding that she appreciated the effort put forth by the committee and that she likes the districts proposed.
Sloan also noted that precinct maps must also be redrawn. Those maps, along with four of the current five districts the county council and Grand County School District use, are quite out of compliance with federal Voting Rights Act guidelines. The precincts, which haven’t been updated for at least 27 years and perhaps as many as 40 years, are likewise out of whack.
Member Walt Dabney challenged Sloan on whether the committee is merely advisory with no real authority, saying voters approved the creation of the committee as a “legislative body” last November.
Member Jeramy Day, easily the most vocal critic of Sloan’s when the committee first discussed her findings earlier in September, argued that state law clearly prohibits the current council from interfering in the process.
Sloan agreed that the study committee has power, but “no express right to put in districts.”
There was discussion on whether to wait until a new council is elected before redistricting is addressed, but that wouldn’t work because Grand County Clerk-Auditor Chris Baird would not be able to run an election without the districts in place.
“Were at the impasse point,” said Day. “That’s where we’re at.” He said the study committee would have to “go out on a limb” and hope the current council would approve the redistricting maps. Member Cricket Green said the maps were drawn in the interest of fairness. “I’m selling this with a guarantee that (everyone) would have someone to represent them.”
Member Bob Greenberg said, “I’m very confident we can successfully convince the [current] council to act favorably on our recommendation.”
Chair Steve Stocks said the committee is in the position of hoping “the people in power now do what we recommend. My concern is what we spent money on what may not be what happens.” The committee earlier this year paid a national redistricting expert to draw the two district maps.
Sloan recommend the committee meet with the current council.
Members next meet at noon on Friday, Oct. 18. Members will submit areas of the plan they might want to reconsider, effectively beginning the process anew. No matter what, its work must be done by early March at the latest.