No government form question on 2019 ballot in Grand County

Significant portions of this article are taken from a Times Independent story by Doug McMurdo

Voters in Grand County will not weigh in on a proposed new form of government in the November general election.

The plan to put the issue on the ballot was dashed on September 5, when Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan determined that several provisions of the proposal may violate Utah statutes or the state and U.S. constitutions.

In 2018, 70 percent of Grand County voters approved a ballot question that asked if a committee should be formed to recommend a new form of county government.

After the election, a committee was formed.  After months of work, the committee recommended that a five-member county council be put on the November ballot.

With the decision by Sloan, the issue will not be on the upcoming ballot.

The situation in Grand County is similar in many ways to the 2019 election in San Juan County, when voters will face a similar question to that asked of Grand County voters in 2018.

If the majority of voters approve the ballot question, a committee similar to the Grand County committee will be formed in San Juan County.  This committee will be asked to investigate a new form of county government, which would be placed on a subsequent ballot.

After the decision was announced in Grand County, County Attorney Sloan faced both withering criticism and lavish praise when the Grand County Change in Form of Government Study Committee met to discuss her findings. 

In the end, the committee deemed all but one of her findings relatively minor.

Sloan cited several statutes and a variety of case law in determining that the plan’s establishment of two voting districts, “…illegally usurps redistricting power that is reserved to the State Legislature in the Utah Constitution and delegated to the county council by Utah statute.”

In other words, the responsibility for redistricting lies with the current council, according to Sloan – a contention virtually every member of the study committee vehemently disputed. 

In San Juan County, the question was put on the ballot after five county residents collected several hundred signatures from county residents. 

The signature route was taken only after the county commission declined a direct request to place the question on the ballot.

According to the Times Independent, the ultimate question in Grand County may be which entity gets to control redistricting. In this case, it’s the question behind the question that matters: How much authority is vested in the study committee?

Sloan sees the study committee as no more than an advisory committee, while members of the study committee believe their authority goes beyond an advisory capacity – with the only higher power in the hands of voters who would approve or reject the plan.

Following Sloan’s decision, voters will vote yes or no on the optional plan in 2020, with the first elections in 2022. 

If they vote no, the form of government will automatically revert to a three-person commission, which means those three people would have executive and legislative control over county government, a form that was unpopular with residents who took the committee’s surveys.

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