Blanding City Manager and city engineer resign, council approves payment for dispatch

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the Blanding City Council received the resignation of the city manager, approved payment for dispatch services, and discussed Independence Day celebrations at their latest meeting.
City Manager Dave Johnson tenured his resignation at the July 25 meeting of the Blanding City Council. In his resignation statement, Johnson thanked those in the community who had welcomed his family after he took the role starting in December 2020.
“It’s not easy to come in as a new city manager. Within my first 18 months, four of the five city council members and the mayor turned over. Also, eight long-term staff members were within a few years of retirement or may look to make career changes for retirement purposes.
“I am unsure of what the future held, however we were able to work together as staff, city council, and mayor to move the city forward in a positive direction.
“When changes occurred we hired new and equally capable staff and recently established a five-year staffing plan to ensure the continued success of Blanding City.”
Johnson also thanked Mayor Logan Monson and former Mayor Joe B Lyman for their support, mentorship and commitment to Johnson and the city.
Johnson highlighted projects during his tenure, including grants received to build pickleball courts, recreation shade structures, updating the general plan and other projects in the city.
“Together we were able to secure more than $1 million in under three years in county, state and federal grants for planning, recreation, tourism, infrastructure, design work and an additional $5 million for the Blanding City portion of the deep well project.”
Johnson added that he had hoped to be a part of Blanding’s future but said he understood that priorities change.
“I’m willing to support and assist in the transition if desired and I’m even willing to return if desired. But I understand that there’s a different direction that the city would like to go and I respect that and I respect each of you for your efforts and I want that to be clear publicly.” 
Several citizens voiced support of Johnson during public comment, with Johnson adding clarification that he had not asked people to come speak in support of him but if they did to keep comments positive.
Joe B. Lyman was the Mayor of Blanding when Johnson was hired. Lyman offered written comments.
“It is better to talk with people than about people, it is better to work with people, than against people.
“I’ve had a few conversations with David Johnson over the past months, he hasn’t said much about what has been going on. He has expressed some frustration but has always been respectful and professional.
He has never said a derogatory thing about the Mayor, any member of city council, city staff, or the citizens of Blanding. It saddens me to say that from my observation his behavior has largely not been reciprocated.”
Five other Blanding residents offered support or thanks to Johnson for his work as the city manager.
At the meeting, the council also received word that City Engineer and Public Works Director Terry Ekker would leave the city.
Ekker shared his thanks to the Mayor, council and the community for the opportunity to serve as city engineer for the last 20 years. 
“We’ve had an opportunity present itself that’s going to be awesome for our family. I’ll be moving on and we’ll miss Blanding a lot. We hope to be back here in 10 or 12 years to retire.”
Speaking in public comment, Scoot Flannery of Jones and DeMille Engineering offered his thanks to Ekker.
“It’s good to work with people that genuinely care about the community. I’ve seen that in Terry. I’m sad he’s leaving. I’m happy to take over his hunting spots.”
Flannery also shared his thanks to Johnson for his work, and noted that Blanding City staff has been excellent to work with on projects.
At the meeting, members of the Blanding City Council also agreed to pay for 9-1-1 dispatch services now out of Price, UT. 
Last year, San Juan County moved dispatch services to a center in Price. When San Juan County ran its own dispatch center, the Blanding City costs were absorbed into the county.
With the move to Price, the city is now required to pay a proportionate share for the services.
While the cost Blanding incurs will be based on volume, with the city in its first year of payment an estimate of $32,000 was incorporated in the recently passed fiscal year budget.
Since that time, the city received an updated estimate of $39,000 annually but an agreement was reached that the city will not pay more than $32,000 in this first year as the costs are figured out.
Speaking at the city council meeting, Blanding City Chief JJ Bradford offered his support of the outsourcing of the dispatch center to Price. Bradford noted the previous San Juan County dispatch was located in the county safety building where dispatch would also watch inmates and take care of work in the jail. Bradford says the Price center is solely dedicated to dispatch.
“They’re there to answer the phone to take calls and send out people for help. I’ve been called out twice in the last couple weeks, at 5:30 in the morning for domestic violence related issues and dispatch is still on the line with the victim when I get there, which is pretty impressive.”
Bradford reports the Price dispatch has been professional and proactive about receiving feedback and addressing local law enforcement questions and concerns.
When asked by council if the dispatch has been able to provide directions without being familiar with Blanding, Bradford reported that wasn’t a problem. “If they don’t have an exact address, they can give us a coordinate so we can punch it in and be right there.”
Bradford recalled that recently law enforcement responded to a woman who was camping and had become stuck on a washed out road. Law enforcement was able to find the woman using coordinates provided by dispatch.
Council approved the agreement to pay for dispatch services received from the Price dispatch center, with the center agreeing to honor the budgeted $32,000 for the first year.
At the meeting, Chief Bradford also reported that the police department has received seven applicants for the new city position, partially funded by Blanding schools, to bring a resource officer into the schools.
Bradford reported Officer Palmer will serve as the school resource officer at the start of the school year as the city goes through the hiring process.
At their latest meeting, members of the city council also approved a new firefighter personnel policy. The updated policy follows previous conversations to move the department from volunteer to an hourly rate. City staff hopes that the policy change will incentivize more committed firefighters.
At the meeting, members of the council also heard from Blanding resident Kendall Laws regarding the draft resource management plan for the Bears Ears National Monument.
Cooperating agencies, including the City of Blanding, have received the 700 page administrative first draft document. Cooperating agencies are given an advance issue of the draft to provide private feedback on proposals for the management of the monument.
At a later date, the draft will be made open and will provide opportunities for the public to comment on the draft management plan.
Laws works for the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office, which is also a cooperating agency in the monument process and thus has access to the draft. Laws offered to speak with city council or staff in the context of his job regarding the plan.
“There’s some stuff in there that the city should be really concerned about with regards to their infrastructure, their watershed, some things like that. It’s pretty serious, and now is the time for the city to either get involved and make themselves heard more than they ever had as a government entity or get steamrolled.”
Other cooperating agencies include San Juan County, Monticello, Bluff, Grand County, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Department of Energy, National Park Service, 32 Tribal Nations, including the Navajo Nation and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and others.
The first public draft is anticipated to be available in November
At the meeting, members of the Blanding City Council also received a report on the Independence Day Celebrations. Economic Development Director Ben Muhlestein shared thanks to all the volunteers that helped make the events possible.
Muhlestein also shared that Bears Ears Farm reported more than 4,000 attendees at their event, and the new Grayson Music Festival met goals with great turnout and provided more days for vendors in the park.
Muhlestein also noted improvements that would be discussed at a July 27 meeting. Council member Erik Grover shared concern about safety with kids coming far out into the road to grab candy during the parade.
Mayor Logan Monson shared the sentiment, saying that while it’s been an issue in previous years, he shared this past year may have been the worst they’ve seen. 
Johnson shared that concern and other public safety concerns will be addressed. 
Members of the council also approved a resolution to act as a pass through for a Utah Division of Wildlife Resource project at Recapture Lake.
The agreement will allow the city to provide an assignment through Jones and DeMille on behalf of the DWR, who will fund the project.
The funded project will be to create design for recreation improvements at Recapture Reservoir, including design work for better boat access, parking, restroom facilities and possibly other facilities. 
The layout work would proceed, with eventual construction of improved facilities at recapture funded by the DWR.
At the meeting, Mayor Monson also recognized Andrea Jeppson as the Outstanding Citizen of the year, as well as the royalty selected from the first annual Little Miss Blanding pageant.
Royalty includes Kennedy Bingham as the Inaugural Little Miss Blanding with Chezney Ivins 1st attendant, Emri Black 2nd attendant, and Navy Nieves 3rd attendant.

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