Monday, August 3, 2020

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Moab, UT

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    Opinion: Government form is key local issue of 2020 election

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    Doug McMurdo
    Doug McMurdo
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    With the exception of an incredibly important ballot question for voters to decide in November, there won’t be much intrigue for Grand County this election cycle, at least on the local level.

    Attorney Gavin Anderson
    Attorney Gavin Anderson, at left, reviews documents with Bob Greenberg, a member of the governance study committee for Grand County. File photo by Doug McMurdo

    Of 13 offices or council seats up for election in 2020, only two of them are contested.

    Trisha Hedin has challenged Grand County Council Member Greg Halliday for the District 4 seat, and Stephen Stocks and Kevin Walker will vie for the At-Large seat currently held by Curtis Wells, who decided not to seek a second term in order to spend more time with his growing family.

    Wells said he’ll continue to be involved and will seek out opportunities to serve Grand County in some capacity in the future.

    Jacques Chedego Hadler is unopposed as he filed for Rory Paxman’s District 5 seat after Paxman reached his term limit.

    Member Evan Clapper is unopposed for a second term, and Gabe Woytek faces no challengers as he seeks a full term after being appointed to a vacancy created when Terry Morse stepped down.

    Chairperson Mary McGann and Vice Chairperson Jaylyn Hawks were elected to second terms in 2018. The council will serve for the next two years. A new council — or commission — will be elected in 2022.

    Grand County Treasurer Chris Kauffman, Assessor Debbie Swasey, interim Clerk-Auditor Quinn Hall, Recorder John Alan Cortes, and Surveyor Lucas Blake all are uncontested.

    Other than the Halliday-Hedin and Stocks-Walker contests, there is nothing local to capture the public’s imagination — except for November’s general election when voters will decide what form Grand County’s next government takes.

    A “yes” vote will transform the next form of government into a five-person council that will have legislative authority and a manager who exercises executive authority. The current council has seven members and has both legislative and executive control.

    The five seats will all be at-large. The current council has five districts and two seats that are at-large.

    State law mandates two important requirements for the new government: No recalls unless done through the judiciary and elections will be partisan — candidates must declare their party affiliation.

    If voters for reasons I can’t fathom shoot down the change in form of government optional plan, the council will revert to a three-person commission with control over both branches of government.

    I have a problem with three-person commissions because it’s a lot easier to pull off corrupt acts. It only takes two people to enter into a conspiracy on such boards. While I’m not suggesting all three-person commissions that ever have existed or ever will exist are dirty — I’m certain the opposite is true, in fact — history shows they can be problematic.

    For those who argue three-person commissions are the most efficient, I submit having trains that run on time isn’t worth turning over your life to autocrats with total control.

    In Nevada I covered a three-man commission. One day at a meeting I was hit with a stomach virus that kept me trapped in a stall inside the men’s room of the county courthouse.

    Lucky me, I was in there when two members of the three-person commission entered.

    They weren’t there to use the facilities. They were there to facilitate a trade: a “yes” vote on one issue for a “no” vote on another issue. There was unjust enrichment. There were greased palms. There was quid pro quo like you don’t know.

    I didn’t have paper, but I had a pen and wrote down what they said on the wall of the stall. I later took a photo of the wall and we blew it up in the darkroom when I came back to the office.

    The story led to an ethics complaint, which led to a hearing from a paper tiger Ethics Commission that had … drum roll, please … three members.

    It was a case of classic corruption, but all the bad guys received was a slap on the wrist and an admonishment not to do it again. Like they were sixth-graders who got caught sticking boogers to the back wall.

    Voters did the right thing and turned them out at the next election, but the lesson was learned. That commission now has five members and the Nevada Ethics Commission now has eight members.

    The good news is, voters don’t have to worry if the local election doesn’t have a lot of excitement. I hear there’s a presidential election that might feature Chinese fireworks and more tweets than a flock of robins.

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