Label: City Council
At their regular meeting on Sept. 28, city council members heard a presentation from the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks, voted to move forward with Utah Department of Transportation projects, and heard updates from acting city manager Carly Castle about the search for a new city manager and new city attorney following recent resignations.
The council also heard public comments concerning police conduct and Braydon Palmer, assistant police chief, spoke about the police department’s body camera policy. [See our coverage “Police bodycam misuse ‘swept under the rug,’ former prosecutor alleges” in this edition. -ed.]
The search for a City Manager and City Attorney
“It may be a few months before we have a permanent city manager in place,” said Castle, acting city manager. Ben Billingsley, finance director, was appointed to be the acting deputy city manager until a permanent city manager is appointed.
Mayor Emily Niehaus said she would like both the current council and the new council and mayor, who will be elected this November, to have a say in the recruitment process for a new city manager. She wants there to be a collaborative hiring effort between the outgoing and the incoming.
“We can go ahead and post the position, and we can start to receive applications, but not close the position until after the election,” she said.
Once the position is closed, a hiring committee that includes current and new council members, and the mayor that is elected, will interview the candidate. The candidate will also interview with staff. The last time the city recruited for the city manager position was in 2015, and the position was posted for four weeks.
Jones wondered if now was a good time to begin advertising for a new city manager because of recent media attention in Moab.
“If applicants are doing their due diligence and they read about the recent changes to staffing, and the national focus on our police department, I worry a little bit that that might scare some otherwise viable candidates off,” he said.
Danielle Guerrero, human resources director, pointed out that reviewing the job description will take a few weeks, so hiring won’t begin straight away. She also suggested the city use an “open until filled” approach to posting the City Manager position.
“I don’t feel like we’re in an emergency situation right now,” said Councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton. “There feels to be or there seems to be some stability right now with staff, and some calm. I’d like to be judicious and take our time with this process.”
Councilmember Mike Duncan agreed that he feels there is little rush. Niehaus suggested, twice, that this process will hopefully encourage internal applications.
The search for a city attorney will continue as well. Historically, the city has contracted out legal services. However, two years ago legal services were brought in-house to lower costs. Staff reported that it still makes sense for the city to hire a dedicated attorney. After the Sept. 14 meeting of the city council, the body held an executive closed session to discuss “reasonably imminent and/or pending litigation,” suggesting that attorney services in some fields may be needed directly.
The attorney’s salary and benefits will total an estimated $197,432 at an hourly rate of $112. Ben Billingsley, acting deputy city manager, predicted that hiring a contracted attorney would cost the city an additional $19,831.
However, the city will have to contract specialized legal firms for specialized issues—unique situations include the Walnut Lane affordable housing project, the hotspot funding and programming, and UTV noise.
City attorney services include human resources, police department, planning and GRAMA requests.
The search for an in-house attorney will take a while, Castle said, but the city is currently in a position where it can be patient. Any current issues that require an attorney will be contracted out.
“We have the luxury of time to be specific about the skillset [we’re looking for],” Castle said.
Arches National Park Timed Entry
Patricia Trap, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group National Parks, which includes Arches and Canyonlands national parks and the Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments, presented to the council about a plan to introduce timed entry to Arches National Park.
“Our goal is to distribute visitation, not limit it,” she said of the plan.
Arches National Park will introduce a pilot timed entry system next spring. The park has been discussing a timed entry system since earlier this year, and held two virtual public meetings on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10 to discuss solutions to congestion.
The Southeast Utah Group also conducted a visitor use study, which found that the majority of visitors visit Delicate Arch, the Windows, and Devil’s Garden—“no matter what we try to do to encourage them elsewhere,” Trap said. Second, the study found that visitors are arriving earlier than they ever have, with peak arrivals between 8 to 10 a.m., and that visitors stay for three to five hours.
Third, the study found that visitor’s experiences are being diminished—more and more visitors say that they will not return to the park due to overcrowding. Arches has been experiencing massive growth for the past decade—from 2009 to 2019, visitation to Arches National Park grew over 66%.
The hope with the timed entry system is that annual visitation will remain the same, but will be more spread out throughout the year, Trap said.
“In addition to our timed entry pilot, we are also considering several strategies to address congestion within the park, including a mandatory shuttle system, a voluntary shuttle system, and site specific reservations,” Trap said.
“We want to ensure that we collaborate with the local community,” Trap said. To submit a public comment about solutions to congestion or your thoughts on the timed entry system, go to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/ARCHvisitoruse. The last day to submit a comment is October 5.
Dispersed Parking and Transit Pilot Utah Department of Transportation Agreements
In 2017, Moab and Grand County received “hotspot” funding—funding for transportation improvement in heavily congested tourism and recreation areas—from the Utah Department of Transportation. The funding was for three projects, two of which came before the council at the Tuesday meeting.
The three projects were finalized last winter, following months of deliberation. At one point, the council was considering constructing a parking garage downtown, which was a highly unpopular project.
One of the projects is for “dispersed parking,” or the construction of 188 on-street parking spaces on 10 existing paved streets. Some of the spaces would be added off of Emma Boulevard, which will require part of the street to be paved. Paving that street will come at a cost of $400,000 to the city, but the $400,000 has already been set aside in this year’s budget.
An employee for Poison Spider Bicycles, which is off of Emma Boulevard, came to the meeting to express their thanks to the council for considering the parking project.
“Parking has become a major issue,” they said, citing dangers of parking on the highway that the bike shop is unable to control.
Councilmember Rani Derasary asked the council if they understood the price tag of the project—“I understand the benefits to those businesses that have lost parking, but I also understand that this is 400,000 dollars,” she said. “I find, either way, there are winners and losers.”
“We’ve been talking about this for a really long time,” Niehaus said. “I’m grateful that this cooperative agreement is in front of us to move forward. And let’s stick to it! Let’s stick to this one.”
Per the agreement, UDOT will reimburse the city up to $5,715,000 for the construction of the parking spaces.
The motion to approve the agreement passed 4-1, with Derasary dissenting.
The transit pilot agreement was originally dismissed by UDOT as being too expensive to be a realistic candidate for funding, but UDOT has since agreed to running the project as a “micro transit” that will operate for five years at the cost of $500,000 per year.
Per the agreement, UDOT will fund the first three years and will reimburse the City up to $1,585,000, and the city must pay for the next two years.
The transit system will be similar to an Uber or Lyft.
“There is some route flexibility built into the proposed design; the objective of course is to get residents and visitors to use it and therefore reduce congestion,” wrote Duncan in a city council preview. “There will be a learning curve; there always is.”
The motion to approve the agreement passed 5-0.