Blanding Council opposes voting district plan
by Kara Laws
The Blanding City Council took a solid stand against the proposed re-districting in San Juan County at the November 14 council meeting.
Federal Judge Robert Shelby ordered that the commission and school districts be redrawn as part of a lawsuit between the Navajo Nation and San Juan County. The judge ruled that the current districts are “unconstitutional”.
The court proposed three preliminary conceptual plans for redistricting commission districts. All three options split the Blanding area into the three voting districts.
Councilman Taylor Harrison questioned whether the proposed re-districting is ethical, as the only numbers shared publicly about each district are the percent of Native American voters.
When Blanding City and San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws was asked if the new districts are evenly divided by population, Laws reported that the judge issued a gag order on that information, and he was not allowed to answer.
The city council unanimously voiced concern over the three proposed districts for three reasons.
One: Blanding City Council is confused and worried why the only notable concern in each redistricted area is a racial one.
Two: Council is concerned about the population in each area and why it is a forced secret.
Three: Council questioned if the re-districting fell within the guidelines of “good government”, as it appears to be intentionally splitting the voice of the community of Blanding.
Blanding City Council is also confused as to why no public hearings were held in Blanding, which is the only community to be split by the new districts.
Council members discussed that the only factor that seems to be considered in the re-districting is Native American population and wondered why Blanding is not its own district with smaller communities like White Mesa and Montezuma Creek to help increase the Native American voice.
According to the 2015 American Community Survey, Blanding is home to 2,822 Anglo residents and 590 Native American residents, including members of the Navajo and Ute tribes. If Blanding were its own district, and all districts are required to have an equal number of white and Native American voters, the Blanding district would need to include the six closest reservation communities.
The Council unanimously voted to read a letter at both of the public hearings and to issue a press release. The statement is that Blanding is not in favor of re-districting that divides it citizens and limits their voice.
In other news, changes to Residential 2 (R2) zones within Blanding city limits were changed at the council meeting. Prior to the meeting, the only businesses allowed in R2 zones were limited to essentially medical and dental clinics.
At the request of Councilman Joe B Lyman, the council unanimously agreed to add the terms “such as but not limited to medical and dental clinics, law, insurance, architect, and accounting offices” to R2 zone regulations. This means that more professional office-type business owners will be allowed to have a place of business within any of the R2s zones in the city.
R2 zones are more common in Blanding City than any other zone. Allowing low key businesses a few more options of where to build, start, or grow a business will take some stress away from small business owners.
Lyman said that it makes more sense to allow businesses such as a consulting office to set up in an R2 zone if the city is allowing things as big as the hospital to build there.
The Event Sponsorship Policy was also passed in council. This policy outlines events the city would consider making eligible for city sponsorship.
Councilman Robert Ogle reminded council that sponsoring any event is not what he feels is the role of government.
Lyman said he agreed, stating that he hopes the policy will help future councils at least have guidelines for their giving and make sure events sponsored by the city benefit the citizens and not just one group or organization.