Election ballots arrive in a couple of weeks! They will contain three ballot propositions that will let voters determine our future plan for Grand County’s government. Since we started the process to change our county form of government nearly two years ago, it’s worth briefly reviewing the history.
In 2018, the state legislature passed HB224 which required Grand County to change our form of government by the end of 2020 to remove three provisions: non-partisan elections, recall elections and term limits. Non-compliance would trigger a mandatory three-person commission form of government.
State law provides two methods for modifying our form of government: adopting an alternate plan for government and amending our existing plan. Grand County has taken advantage of both paths, which has resulted in more options for voters.
The first process created a study committee that eventually recommended a council-manager form of government with five at-large seats (very similar to Moab City’s government). Proposition 10 on the ballot asks voters whether they want to adopt this recommendation.
The second process amended the existing plan of government. This process formally began in early August with a request for legal review; the proposed plan was discussed at the Aug. 18 County Council meeting; and was passed at an Aug. 21 special council meeting. In addition to removing non-partisan elections, recall elections and term limits as required by law, the amendments also clarified that Grand County’s governing body holds (and has always held) all executive power in the county (though that power may be delegated). The amendment also changed the name from “council” to “commission” to match modern usage of those terms in state law. In 1992, the term “council” was used to mean any legislative body with more than three members; in modern statutes, the term refers to a legislative body that lacks executive power. This amendment has bipartisan support on the council and passed unanimously.
Additional amendments were passed to give voters a voice on two other important issues: the number of commissioners on the governing body and whether commissioners will be elected by districts or at-large. By law, these two amendments require voter approval and thus appear on the ballot as Propositions 16 and 17.
So what does all of this mean? Grand County’s governing body is currently a legally conforming seven-person commission elected to a mixture of district and at-large seats. We’re no longer non-partisan and do not have recalls and term limits. Nothing’s really changed except the name. This essentially continues our long-time form of government and removes the threat of the unpopular three-person commission form.
There have been questions about the timing of the plan amendments. In hindsight, I wish we had started earlier. Some ask, “Why now? Why not two years ago?” The simple answer is that HB224 is confusing and we were slow to realize that there was more flexibility than originally thought.
We were told by the prior Grand County attorney that our options were limited and we began what we thought was the only course available — the study committee process. We later determined the amendment option was a feasible means and had to act quickly because of ballot deadlines. There was no intent to put it off to the last minute — that’s the way the timing worked out. In fact, we declined to vote on the amendments at the first meeting they were discussed because we wanted to give citizens an opportunity to weigh in. At the next meeting, we took public comment from all interested citizens. In any case, the voters will have the final say.
The commission’s motives have been questioned. Did we do this to undermine the study committee’s proposal? Absolutely not. The study committee’s proposal is on the ballot as Prop. 10. If a majority of voters prefer that option, then it will take precedence. However, Grand County voters deserve a choice between their existing form of government (now in compliance with statute) and the study committee plan.
My motivation is really quite simple — compliance with the statute and increased voter choice.
The County Commission’s actions take the default three-person commission option off the table; that’s a very good thing in my opinion. It’s simply too easy to experience abuse of power in that scenario. The actions also give more than 5,500 voters a chance to weigh in and have a say in how they want local government to run.
I don’t speak for the entire Grand County Commission, so I don’t assign the same motivation to my fellow commissioners. But I suspect that if you spoke with each of them individually, most if not all would share similar thoughts. I proudly stand behind my votes in the amendment process and my rationale for doing so.
Jaylyn Hawks currently serves as the vice-chair of the Grand County Commission. These are her own views and do not necessarily represent those of the Commission.