County Commission confirms interim county clerk, approves final CARES Act fund spending

The San Juan County Commission confirmed a new county clerk/auditor, received a report on the final spending of CARES Act funds, and discussed the federal appointment of the director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at their August 3 meeting.

At the meeting, the commission confirmed Monticello resident Lyman Duncan as the interim clerk/auditor for the county. 

In July, Republican elected official John David Nielson resigned from the position of clerk/auditor to accept a job in Spanish Fork, UT. 

With the position open, the San Juan County Republican party was tasked with finding a replacement for Nielson.

At the August 3 meeting, County Republican party chair Kim Henderson presented Duncan’s name to the commission.

In presenting the name, Henderson pointed to Duncan’s years of service in health care, including years working with Utah Navajo Health System. Henderson also pointed to Duncan’s experience with budgeting, accounting, and staff management. 

“We interviewed several excellent candidates and were impressed with the general quality of those seeking the office,” Henderson said.

“As our choice for interim clerk/auditor, we are confident that Mr. Duncan will go above and beyond the technical expectations of the office to truly serve the needs of San Juan County, improve the function of the office he will see, and effectively and professionally address elections, budgets, and other fiscal matters with the utmost expertise.”

The appointment will last through next year, with an election for the clerk/auditor position to be held in November 2022.

At the meeting the commission also discussed federal funds. With $274,000 in CARES Act funds set to expire if not spent by the end of the year, the commission received a report on the final allocation for the remaining funds.

The largest amount of $75,000 will go towards the COVID Long-term Economic Development Recovery Impact Grant.

County Chief Administrator Mack McDonald explained the grant program would aid businesses in the south end of the county, “especially those that have continued to be under COVID guidelines and restrictions where they were unable to open businesses; where tourism continued to be closed – especially down around Monument Valley where that continued to be closed for such a long time.”

An estimated $57,000 will go to digital assets, including paying the 2021 bills for the county email host Gmail and the public notification software Municode. Just over $24,000 will go to upgrade the county GIS system, which will allow residents to look up county parcel maps and ownerships online.

An additional $57,000 will go toward digital road warning signs. Similar signs have been deployed in Grand County to alert travelers of mask mandates. San Juan County could use the signs for similar public health announcements and also to alert travelers about other issues in the county. 

An estimated $42,000 would go toward upgrading HVAC systems in the county at the Abajo radio and TV communication building, in the computer server room, and in the county clerk and economic development offices.

Additional projects include $5,300 for COVID sheltering cots, $5,200 for tourism marketing with the San Juan Chamber of Commerce 101 Ways to Experience San Juan County, $1,500 for a Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway sign update, and $1,700 for wireless microphones in council chambers. 

The commission approved the plan unanimously.

The county received an estimated $2.1 million from the Federal CARES Act, and an additional $2.9 million may be distributed through the Federal American Rescue Plan Act.

A resolution opposing the nomination of Tracy Stone-Manning as the national director of the Bureau of Land Management and asking the U.S. Senate to reject the nomination was considered by the commission.

The resolution was brought to the agenda by Commissioner Bruce Adams. The resolution opposes Stone-Manning’s confirmation on a number of points.

One point discussed her Senate confirmation hearing and emphasized Stone-Manning’s involvement in a 1989 tree-spiking incident in Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

Tree spiking is an eco-terrorist action that involves driving metal spikes into trees intended to be logged. The spikes deter logging by making the trees dangerous to cut.

In 1989, Stone-Manning wrote and sent an anonymous letter on behalf of an environmental activist warning loggers and land management that the spikes existed.

In connection to the incident, Stone-Manning received immunity from the US Department of Justice in order to testify against the activist who spiked the trees. The person was found guilty and sentenced to 17 months in prison.

Adams explained he is also troubled by Stone-Manning’s 1992 University of Montana graduate thesis, which called for an advertising campaign to bring awareness to environmental issues. The thesis proposed a campaign that would – among other things – advocate for Americans to limit their families to two children.

Stone-Manning also re-tweeted an article her husband wrote about wildfires in the western US. The article discusses how houses built in wildland urban interface areas are at increased risk of wildfires and suggests instead of fighting those fires, perhaps they should allow those homes to burn.

Resolutions similar to the one Adams brought have passed in Garfield, Wayne, and six other Utah counties.

“[Stone-Manning] absolutely is not in step with San Juan County, and there are vast amounts of BLM property in this county,” Adams said. “She’s completely out of step with it and that’s why I support this resolution and urge the other two commissioners to support it as well.”

While the item was on the agenda, it was not voted on due to a lack of a second when the motion was made to pass it.

Commissioner Willie Grayeyes said Stone-Manning was never convicted of a crime, and he viewed the move to oppose her nomination as “party gaming.”

Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy also expressed his opposition to the resolution.

“Beating up on one tree with a bunch of nails, that’s sad,” said Maryboy. “But on the other hand we are pumping the crap out of the earth almost every day, extracting whatever we want just for the mighty dollar.”

During public comment at the meeting, four San Juan County residents spoke against the resolution, as did a woman from Salt Lake County and a man from nearby Sweetwater, AZ.

The Stone-Manning confirmation before the full senate is pending as of this report.

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