New member appointed to Blanding Council

After nearly two hours of interviews, and two tied votes, the Blanding City Council filled their open seat with a game of chance.

The city council interviewed eight community members at the January 26 meeting. The residents applied to fill the seat left open when Logan Shumway announced his departure from the council at the end of 2020.

Shawn Begay and Kellen Nielson each received two votes from the council.

Nielson runs the San Juan Pharmacy in Blanding. He also teaches at the Utah State University campus in Blanding and has served on the Blanding City Planning and Zoning board. Priorities for Nielson included managing the city budget and planning for the future.

Begay holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Utah and works as a Public Health Director for Utah Navajo Health Systems. Begay shared he was eager to be involved and to learn, and added that being the only Native American on the council would help to give a voice to the board that might not be heard elsewhere.

After an additional question and answer session, a second vote was held.

The results were the same with Begay receiving votes from KD Perkins and Robert Turk, and Nielson receiving votes from Cheryl Bowers and Logan Monson.

While other city council ties are broken by the mayor, Mayor Joe B. Lyman explained, “By law, I can’t vote on appointment of city council members.”

Tie breaking, per state code, means a game of chance. The city flipped a coin and coming out on top was Kellen Nielson.

Council members were pleased with the available selection. The other six candidates included Levi Meyers, Lehi Lacey, Robert Ogle, Joshua Hunt and Trent Herring.

Council member Perkins stated, “I am so pleased with the diversity of experience and age ranges you all have. I am grateful this many of you have stepped up and answered this call. I truly hope that if you are not selected that you will run [in the next election] and that you will take my seat in three years.”

City Administrator David Johnson invited the seven candidates who were not selected for the seat to reach out to him or the mayor to see if there is some capacity that the city or community can use them to help serve the community.

After spending two hours on the apointment the council got back to work on usual city needs.

High on the priority list is a discussion about replacing the dirt on the city baseball fields. The discussion focused on getting a better idea of the cost, challenges, and timing, to complete the project.

The project is getting significantly more complicated – and potentially expensive – than originally thought. The question remains how much dirt would need to be replaced and how is it maintained afterward. Officials state that the price of the dirt is actually pretty fair, but the cost to transport it to Blanding is high.

City Recreation Director David Palmer said, “I am glad that [baseball field dirt] finally got brought up, as it was put on the agenda ten years ago. Happy to hear that it’s come to the forefront. However, it has been suggested that to take out one inch is just like slapping lipstick on a pig. Until we know how many inches we need to dig out and replace, determining [the actual cost] isn’t feasible yet.”

The Council hopes for a decision in late February. The priority is to have the fields available for baseball season and complete the project while the fields are not in use.

Palmer also reported he is getting updated bids for a new pavilion and shad structure.

A change has been made to the regular agenda of council meetings. Now, there will be public comment in addition to a part of the meeting reserved for discussion items. This will be a time to get ideas into the open, just not a time during motions.

Public comment at the beginning of the meeting is available for residents who want to discuss an agenda item or any other concern they have.

Mayor Lyman said, “City council meetings are an open meeting but it is not an open discussion. For example, would you go to the state capital meeting and in the middle of the meeting raise your hand and say, ‘Wait a minute, I want to comment on that?’ No.”

Council member Bowers said she is worried people will feel like they don’t have a voice.

Councilmember Perkins added, “I want people to send email or communicate someway, so that I can talk to them. So we can have open communication in a place that you can take the time for feedback, questions and better understanding. Agenda items is not that time.”

The final discussion of the evening concerns the city visitors center. A one-year contract for the Canyonlands Natural History Association to manage the bookstore was approved by a 3-2 vote. The visitor center is set to reopen on March 1 after its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the council expressed frustration that the future of the visitor center is another project that is put on the backburner due to unforeseen circumstances.

Council member Bowers stated, “This is so frustrating. We sat at this exact discussion a year ago. The visitor center loses money and we need to make a vision for it! It’s just incredibly frustrating.”

Johnson suggested that the city submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) to determine the future of the visitor center when the current contract expires. A July deadline was set to release the RFP to insure that the problem doesn’t disappear again.

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