New form of government: Committee tosses districts; elections, will be all at large

Walt Dabney sides with the majority in doing away with proposed voting districts during a meeting of the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee on Friday, Nov. 15. File photo

Not willing to put their trust in the current Grand County Council and desirous to give voters certainty, members of the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee voted 6-1 to further change the optional plan and do away with districts. Instead have each of the five seats be at large

The vote came at the end of a lengthy discussion Friday, Nov. 15, and despite the fact a majority of survey takers earlier this year favored a mix of at large and by district seats. The committee originally settled on three at large seats and two that would be by district – one rural and one mostly urban – but Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan in her review determined the committee had no right to draw district boundaries, but could only establish that there would be districts. That duty, she said, is clearly in the hands of elected county governments.

“I don’t know if I trust this council, or the next council,” said member Cricket Green in explaining her qualms about putting the district plan in a list of recommendations the current council – or the one that will be seated following the 2020 election. She said putting public pressure on the current council likely wouldn’t work.

The initial plan called for one district to be comprised of the City of Moab and the other to take in the remainder of Grand County, with a slight number of city residents included in order to meet Voting Rights Act requirements that call for districts to have the same number of people – or as close as is practical.

Member Bob Greenberg, participating by telephone from South Africa, said he thought two districts was “silly” when the committee settled on that number months ago, but the public was fond of the idea. “It’s clear the public wants at least some districts,” he said. “We need to put our faith in voters. I do have trust in the long term that things work out.”

Greenberg a few minutes later said he couldn’t understand “where the paranoia with elected officials was coming from,” but the push to change Grand County’s form of government has been “political from the beginning.”

And in what has become a painfully recurring theme, state laws governing how counties change the form of government in Utah are “so unhelpful.” That’s the opinion of Gavin Anderson, the Salt Lake County civil attorney the committee hired to draft the optional plan. “There’s no statutory direction,” he said.

With that in mind, Member Jeramy Day made a motion to drop districts altogether and have candidates for all five seats run at large. That won’t happen until voters approve the form of government in 2020. A Grand County Council election under the current form of government will also be held in a year.

If voters approve the new form of government – council-manager with shared duties and authority – the new council will be elected in 2022 and take their seats in January of 2023. If voters reject the new form of government, Grand County by default will revert to a three-person commission with both legislative and executive power.