Separate town hall meetings address simmering controversies in San Juan

Tension continues to rise over the political situation in San Juan County, and it spilled over at two town hall meetings in the past week.  

Separate and independent town hall meetings were held in Monticello and Mexican Water. Both meetings had a similar agenda: a discussion of issues of local concern.

An estimated 120 people attended an August 21 meeting at Monticello High School, and a smaller group – approximately 25 people – attended a meeting at the Mexican Water Chapter House on August 22.

Shanon Brooks, who helped organize the meeting in Monticello, expressed his frustration with meetings of the San Juan County Commission.  

Brooks stated that since the county meetings “provide no means to facilitate a public dialogue,” his group wanted to “create a public forum.”  He described the town hall meeting as an attempt “to create an environment to discuss these issues at length.”

Like the majority of public meetings, Commissioners allow three minutes of public comment during a limited portion of their twice-monthly meetings.

In contrast, a town hall meeting can focus extensive time on specific issues.

Benjamin Burr, who previously served on the staff of U.S. Senator Mike Lee, helped facilitate a portion of the meeting.

The meeting had a wide-ranging agenda. Over more than two hours, issues discussed at length include the judicial nomination process, the host of lawsuits related to various county issues, the county governance ballot initiative, and a proposal to split the county.

Facilitator Burr and organizers Brooks, Kim Henderson, Cheryl Bowers, and Nicole Perkins participated in the discussions.

Officials who participated in the meeting include Blanding Mayor Joe B. Lyman, San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams, State Representative Phil Lyman, and Greg Hughes, who is a former Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.

Approximately 15 local residents asked questions during the meeting.  

Many speakers expressed frustration with a variety of issues, including federal and state judges, environmental organizations, and entrenched positions on both sides.

Although local residents at the meeting may have represented a wide range of viewpoints, in general the comments at the meeting were in-line with the organizer’s perspective.

The meeting in Mexican Water had a similar wide-ranging agenda, with discussion planned on water rights, transportation, health care, Bears Ears National Monument, and other matters.

However, the meeting quickly deteriorated.  

Attendees included several south county residents who have opposed positions of the new commission and a number of Blanding-area residents who were involved in the meeting in Monticello. 

During a discussion about water rights, Mark Maryboy made a number of increasingly inflammatory comments, including statements that “racist, red-neck Mormons, probably Ku Klux Klan” are behind the recent ballot initiative.

The ballot initiative will ask county voters in November if a committee should be formed to study a possible change in county government.

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