High Desert Hoofbeats

Who is Gabe Woytek? Aside from being the newest member of the Grand County Council, I don’t know much about this person. I’m sure he’s a great guy, having served as a VISTA volunteer in Moab and then moved on to work for the nonprofit Youth Garden Project organization, both of which exist due to public funds and private donations.

grand county courthouse
Photo by Doug McMurdo

But his name isn’t all that familiar in the local political realm. And perhaps that’s OK. A lot of us have had a gut full of career politicians and unlimited terms. But having just seen a fairly close race in our city council, it’s clear that there are people in our community who are willing to make their colors known to the public before they take a seat at the dais of public control. It’s also clear, by the fairly close margins of some of the city council races, that our community is diverse and needs thoughtful representation.

In the city election, good incumbents maintained their positions, and some good candidates lost their races. One of those candidates applied for the newly vacant county council seat, along with several other familiar folks. But they were all passed over for Woytek.

I certainly would have liked to see Ken Minor considered more closely for the county council. He’s a longtime Moab resident and business owner who has experienced the evolution of Moab and has rolled with the punches. His determination while campaigning is indicative of the service he may have had to offer. But I don’t think he had a chance. I think a majority of the county council had a candidate in mind when Terry Morse finally decided to exit the board.

Morse, if you recall, was a council appointee himself. He did not have to go through the hard knocks of an election process when he took over for Patrick Trim, who moved away.

Morse’s resignation was not a surprise; he had threatened to leave his seat when the county council in a surprise but temporary vote, agreed to not to place a moratorium on overnight lodging development.

Morse’s inclination was made final when he moved out of District 1. Legally, he had to step down from his seat. Legally, the county had to accept applications for the empty seat. And legally, they could select anyone they wanted. Recent votes by the council on a range of matters have been by margins of 5-2. So there was probably an easy consensus when it came to filling the empty seat. The remaining four of the majority picked someone who would vote their way.

The appointment process, similar to the recent change of governance effort, is not unlike gerrymandering, which is a historically devious way of creating voting districts to strategically ensure that certain political groups maintain power.

Old-school politicians in Grand County have long bemoaned the olden days here when there was a three-member county council. That type of regime was thrown out in the late ’80s when Grand County moved to a seven-member council. In spite of our community’s repeated affirmations to maintain that type of council, it is now illegal in the eyes of state leaders, so we are muddling through the formation of a new county power structure.

Woytek will be among the last new members of Grand Count’s seven-member council, barring other resignations or departures, as the last election for the current form of government takes place a year from now.

In spite of the fact that other applicants had deserving attributes and were more familiar to the general public, Woytek may be just the man for the job. He has worked with Community Rebuilds (the project of Moab’s mayor,) and has ties to other nonprofits in Moab. I hope he has the business sense to understand how the private sector works, and to help our county figure out how to pay its bills without increasing the tax burden on landowners.

I wish him well on what is one of the last configurations of our seven-member county governing board, and I thank Terry Morse for his time of service and hope he enjoys his new neighborhood. The new makeup of the county council is one small gyration in what is likely to be much greater change as a new form of government unfolds. I look forward to the day when we can vote on our county leaders, which is the only fair method to weigh the conscience of a community.