Bee on a thistle at Loyds Lake.  Kirk Benge photo
Bee on a thistle at Loyds Lake. Kirk Benge photo
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Judge: No attorney fees on Grayeyes residency case
Jun 25, 2019 | 986 views | 0 0 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Bill Boyle
San Juan Record Editor Seventh District Judge Don M. Torgerson has ruled that Blanding resident Kelly Laws will not be required to pay more than a quarter million dollars in fees to the attorneys who represented Commissioner Willie Grayeyes in a residency case. Lead Attorneys Steven Boos and Eric Swenson sought $271,271 for their work representing Grayeyes in the complaint filed by Laws. The total included $17,069 in costs and $254,202 in attorney fees. The attorney fees are based on 630 hours of work over four weeks. Laws filed a complaint in the Seventh District on December 28, 2018, arguing that Grayeyes had not met the residency requirement to serve as San Juan County Commissioner. Judge Torgerson heard more than eight hours of testimony on the matter during a marathon hearing on January 22. On January 29, one week after the trial, Judge Torgerson ruled that Grayeyes was a Utah and San Juan County resident and that he was eligible to serve as county commissioner. The residency ruling states, “The Court has no problem concluding that Grayeyes maintains his principal place of residence in San Juan County.” It adds, “He is connected to San Juan County as deeply as any resident of the County.” In his ruling, Judge Torgerson stated that the attorneys would “be awarded reasonable costs” but after the briefs were filed, the judge did not award any fees or expenses. Torgerson wrote on June 21, “There is no basis to award attorney fees in this case.” Attorneys for Grayeyes argued that attorney fees should be paid by Laws for several reasons, including that the entire action by Laws was based on bad faith. Torgerson stated that Laws had justification to file the action, based upon his understanding of state law regarding residency. He writes, “Laws’ claim had merit… The proof Laws presented at trial supported his belief that Grayeyes was not a resident of San Juan County. And although his proof was ultimately outweighed by other, more compelling evidence in the case, it does not diminish the overall merit of his claim.” Attorneys for Grayeyes had also argued that fees were justified in the interest of justice and equity because Grayeyes is the first Native American Commissioner for the second commission district in San Juan County. Laws and Grayeyes were the two candidates for the Second District of the San Juan County Commission on the November 2018 ballot. Grayeyes won the election and secured the position with approximately 53 percent of the vote. He is the first Native American to represent the district and is part of an historic shift to a county commission with a Native American majority. However, regarding the justice and equity claim, Judge Torgerson stated, “This is not a civil rights case. Instead this case is specific to one person and his qualification for office based on his residency. Evidence about his cultural background was marginally relevant to the question of residency.” The ruling on the residency of Grayeyes has been appealed by Laws to the Utah Supreme Court. The most recent ruling on attorney fees by Judge Torgerson opens up the way for the appeal to be heard by the state Supreme Court. The appeal will focus on the process used by Judge Torgerson in making his decision. Attorney Peter Stirba represents Laws in his initial complaint and in the appeal.
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Monticello City Council reduces property tax rate, adopts budget, amends residential zoning regulation
Jun 25, 2019 | 367 views | 0 0 comments | 119 119 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Rhett Sifford The Monticello City Council reduced property taxes by nearly .3 percent for fiscal year 2020 during their meeting at the Hideout Community Center on June 18. The move comes as a result of city growth and is expected to generate approximately $270,000 of revenue. The state-certified rate, of .002661 for 2020, is .000007 lower than the current rate of .002668. The state-certified property tax rate is a revenue-neutral tax rate adjusted each year based on growth, not inflation. In other financial business during the June 18 meeting, the city council unanimously adopted a 2019-2020 budget. The council approved a tentative budget in their May 21 meeting, following a report from City Manager Doug Wright explaining that the city needed to correct the way it accounted for some expenditures. He said some payments that came from the general fund needed to be taken from the enterprise fund instead. Also in his May report, Wright said the city will continue into 2020 with basically the same budget it has used in the past. The goal in developing the 2019-2020 budget, he said, is to minimize expenses and bring it more in line with city revenue. No changes were made to the tentative budget between the May and June meetings. The city council approved an amendment to city zoning regulations that will allow city residents to maintain up to two animals on their property for agricultural purposes within city limits. Wright explained that the ordinance modification was reviewed by the Monticello Planning Commission, which recommended that the city council make the adjustment. During discussion on the proposed amendment, Councilman George Rice said that people who want to live without animals in their neighborhood would have their rights infringed upon if the regulation was changed. He proposed that the council should respect the letter and spirit of the law for what was intended in an R-1 residential zone. He added that if the amendment was approved, an already overburdened city staff would be forced to be respond to more complaints. Mayor Tim Young pointed out that some residents already maintain agricultural animals on their city property even though it had not been included in the regulation as a permitted use, and permitting animals could cause a bigger problem. Councilman Blaine Nebeker said the language presented by the Planning Commission was positive, and added that he doesn’t consider lambs and goats a bigger problem than dogs. He explained that the regulation amendment is narrowed down to a specific purpose and will boost the Junior Livestock program. The initial proposal allowed for up to four animals on one property, but the city council reduced that number to two and approved the zoning regulation amendment with a two to one vote. During public comment at the June 18 meeting, Linda Lewis expressed concern about trees that have been removed in front of the Monticello Mercantile. She said the Monticello Parks and Beautification Committee has worked hard to make the city look nice and it is discouraging to have the trees cut down. Mayor Young said as a business owner, he understands the frustration some of the trees are causing but agreed they are beautiful. Lewis reasoned that there should be a system for approval to remove the trees. Councilman Rice said there are many other varieties of trees that may not cause the problems that the Honey Locusts caused. Carol Van Steeter reported on several activities involving the Parks and Beautification Committee, including Main Street flowers are out, awards will be given for landscaping, and there will be a gala fundraiser event on September 7. She said many trees acquired through the Tree City USA program have died due to a lack of care. Van Steeter said she would like a procedure in place for removing trees. She also presented an idea for purchasing container trees and showed pictures of the trees displayed on Main Street in Cortez, CO. City Manager Wright reported that “No Camping” signs for Loyds Lake have been ordered. Several residents have been pointing out heavy camping traffic at the lake in recent weeks. Wright said a fence that was torn down at the Ball Park has been fixed. In addition, providing free dump vouchers during the annual Spring Cleanup greatly reduced city expense.
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A gift from SE Utah
Jun 25, 2019 | 390 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Utah Governor Gary Herbert and his wife Jeanette recently met with Pope Francis in the Vatican City while on an economic development tour through Europe. They had a brief visit with the pontiff and presented him with a gift from Utah. If you look closely, you will see that the gift is handpainted Native American pottery from southeast Utah. Photo courtesy Utah Governor’s Office
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