At the last Moab City Council meeting of the year, the council discussed the Pack Creek footbridge, the city’s water conservation plan, the creation of a community vision and strategic action plan and general election vote canvass. The meeting was also the last for Mayor Emily Niehaus and council members Mike Duncan and Karen Guzman-Newton,
Niehaus, Guzman-Newton and members of the city staff said a few goodbyes.
“It’s bittersweet, and I’m really going to miss everybody,” Niehaus said. Joette Langianese will take over as mayor effective Jan. 3.
“Thank you for this beautiful experience. I know I’m a better citizen as a result and I’m grateful for everyone that decides to run for public office,” said Niehaus. “I look forward to being a citizen, and working with Joette in that way.”
“I want to thank the council, staff and residents so much for trusting me to be your city council representative,” Guzman-Newton said. “It was an honor, and I took the position very seriously … I did what I thought was right for the community, and I tried to make the best decisions possible with the information that we had. I have the utmost faith in our new mayor and our new council.”
“It’s been wonderful working with you these past few years,” said Carly Castle, acting city manager. “Your contributions have been very meaningful and helpful. We are all going to miss you here at City Hall, so thank you for your service.”
Despite Moab’s emphasis on sustainability, there are hardly any city policies that support sustainable practices, City Director of Sustainability Mila Dunbar-Irwin told the Moab Sun News—two of the strongest existing policies include the citywide plastic bag ban and the Water Conservation Plan, which is state-mandated. Moab has to submit an update to its Water Conservation Plan to the state by the end of 2021; the State Water Conservation Act requires that cities produce water conservation plans every five years, and Moab last updated its plan in 2016.
The updated plan states that the regional water conservation goal for the “upper Colorado River” area, which includes Carbon, Emery, Grand, and San Juan counties, is 20% by 2030, from an average of 333 gallons per capita per day (GCPD) to 267 GPCD. Moab is close to this goal with a current rate of 278 GPCD.
Moab has a more specific goal in mind though—the plan states that Moab wants to “meet and exceed the Regional Goal by setting a new baseline goal of 250 GPCD by 2030.”
“State participation in water conservation efforts are crucial to the success of an aggressive goal,” the plan states. At the regular city council meeting on Nov. 9, Councilmember Kalen Jones advocated adding this language, saying that “by having a stretch goal, we communicate to the state, and potentially anyone who reads our plan, that we’re willing to go above and beyond the base level. But we’ll go even further if we get help.”
Councilmember Rani Derasary said there may be good reasons not to surpass the state goal of 267 GCPD yet.
“I’ve definitely had to think about the strategy of surpassing the state’s per capita number, and I didn’t know if anyone else had been giving more thought to that,” she said.
Sustainability Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin pointed out that the document is non-binding, and can be updated for the city’s use before it has to be officially updated in five years for the state. Moab’s goal is a target, not a necessity.
The motion to approve the plan passed 5-0.
Community Vision and Strategic Action Plan Contract
This past summer, the city began looking for a consulting firm to help create a Community Vision and Strategic Action Plan. In the past years, Moab has been grappling with how to balance its excessive tourism growth with the needs of locals—as Niehaus described it in an interview with the Moab Sun News, where Moab is going “is a big question mark.” The plan would help Moab define its vision for the future.
The city chose the consulting firm Future iQ to take on the project. They will begin in January.
The firm is planning to create a “community project advisory committee” for residents and local stakeholders to make sure the future vision plan makes sense for Moab’s community. They will also conduct a community survey.
The firm is planning a tentative final presentation date in October 2022, and the contract will not exceed $80,000.
In Moab’s 2021 general election, three positions were up for election: the position of mayor and two positions on the city council. Joette Langianese was elected as mayor, with Jason Taylor and Luke Wojciechowski elected to the city council positions.
This was the first year Moab participated in ranked choice voting through the State of Utah’s ranked choice pilot program. Votes were counted in Utah County.
The city council race was incredibly close; the city released three series of preliminary results after a clerical error that revealed a miscount of votes. In the first vote canvass on Nov. 16, results showed that in the third round of ranked choice voting in the race for city council, Luke Wojciechowski and Josie Kovash were within one vote of each other, triggering a recount.
The recount and second vote canvass occurred on Dec. 7. It found that the election results stayed the same. In January, Langianese, Taylor and Wojciechowski will replace Niehaus, Duncan and Guzman-Newton.
Utah County is not releasing the “cast vote record,” the electronic record of a voter’s selections, as instructed by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. This is “concerning,” said Councilmember Kalen Jones.
“In a traditional election, we can observe what’s going on. I was present at the vote counting, and even though you can watch people sitting at laptops, you cannot observe the vote counting in the same way you can with a traditional election,” he said. “The cast vote record would allow at least a little bit more of that, so I find this somewhat disturbing.”
Sommar Johnson, city recorder, said her understanding was that there was a directive in 2020 that the cast vote record for the 2020 presidential election should not be released; that directive is still standing, she said.
The Moab City Council meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Moab City Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.moabcity.org