San Juan County Commission seeks out-of-county applications for county attorney
San Juan County Commission opened up applications for out-of-county Utah attorneys to apply for the county attorney position, a legal opinion sought by county administration stated the opinion that the act was illegal. The commission also approved an application for an overnight accommodation overlay zone for Spanish Valley.
The Commission passed a resolution to allow Utah attorneys that live outside of the county to apply for the acting county attorney open position at their April 19 meeting.
The former San Juan County attorney, Kendall Laws, resigned as of March 28, 2022. As an elected position, the county attorney seat is up for election this coming November.
The county must fill the vacant county attorney position with an acting county attorney until the attorney elected in November takes office on January 1, 2023.
Republican candidate Alex Goble will run unopposed in November as he was the only attorney to file for candidacy in the upcoming election.
According to state code, a vacant county attorney position in a county where less than 15 licensed attorneys reside, the county clerk must send a letter to all attorneys in the county informing them of the vacant position, invite them to apply, and inform them they have ten days from the day after the letter was sent to apply.
If three or less attorneys in the county apply for the position, The commission can choose to consider attorneys who do not reside in the county.
County Clerk, Lyman Duncan sent a letter to the five attorneys who reside in the county informing them of the open position and inviting them to apply stating, “You have 10 days from the date of this letter to submit your declaration of candidacy.”
Four of the five attorneys, including Goble, responded to Duncan declaring their interest in candidacy for the role by the deadline of March 26, 2022.
Some applicants sent no more than one sentence expressing their interest, which met the requirements set by Duncan.
Pursuant to state code, the county clerk then must submit the applications to the county central committee of the same political party of the previous officeholder to choose the acting attorney.
As Laws was elected as a Democrat, Duncan sent the names of the four attorneys to the Democratic Party to be reviewed.
The party then asked each attorney for a letter of interest and their current curriculum vitae (CV). Three of the four candidates provided a CV by the party’s deadline of April 4, 2022.
The Democratic Party county leadership sent a letter to the San Juan County Commission stating an insufficient amount of “bona fide” applications were received for the position, thus the county may allow attorneys that reside outside of the county to apply for the position.
Duncan responded to the email stating, “The Clerk/Auditor’s responsibility was to ensure that those who applied met the requirements and applied in a manner he requested.” Meaning, the requirements of an application to be considered are set by the county clerk.
Commissioner Willie Grayeyes noted lines of the state code that mention applications be submitted and questioned why a one sentence notice of interest would be counted as an application.
County staff requested the legal opinion of Kane County Attorney Robert Van Dyke concerning the matter and resolution.
Van Dyke responded with a letter stating, “If the county were to proceed with this process and appoint an attorney outside of the four original applicants, the action would be unlawful and likely would be void.”
Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy made a motion to pass the resolution before it was presented to the commission. Following County Administrator Mack McDonald’s presentation of the resolution, Commissioner Grayeyes seconded the motion. Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes voted in favor of the resolution, Commissioner Bruce Adams voted against.
At the meeting Monticello resident and chair of the San Juan County Republican Party Kim Henderson said that on advice of the Lt. Governor she would be reaching out to the Utah Attorney General regarding the action.
Following this vote, the commission appointed Alex Goble as the interim county attorney until the position is filled.
Commissioners Grayeyes and Adams voted in favor of the appointment, Commissioner Maryboy opposed.
The Commission also approved an application to attach the Spanish Valley Overnight Accommodations Overlay to a subdivision in Spanish Valley. The planned subdivision, located just off of Highway 191 will feature 95 residential units. With this overlay, the units may be used as a nightly rental.
At their March 10, 2022 meeting the Planning Commission voted to recommend the application from Curtis Wells’ be granted with a number of conditions. Those conditions include water conservation efforts and keeping all roads within the subdivision private, and no parking allowed on county roads or Highway 191.
A public hearing was held concerning the issue, three residents of Spanish Valley made comments regarding the application and concerns about community benefits from the overlay zone.
Ann Austin of Spanish Valley questioned whether the developers were meeting the proper conditions to qualify for the overlay, specifically the condition that developers give back to the community.
To receive the benefit of the overlay zone developers are supposed to offer additional benefits to the area such as providing affordable housing, creating parks, community centers, or even providing a cash payment instead.
Well’s addressed the council estimating the project would bring in $250,00 to $300,000 in Transient Room Tax annually in addition to sales and property tax. Wells noted the Commissions approval would mark the end of the second of three approval phases.
Wells said the community benefit would be solidified in the third phase but the developers have been in favor of providing direct contribution of funds to the county to allow the county to best decide how to benefit Spanish Valley through using the funds for one of the above mentioned community benefits such as a park or community center.
Commissioners Grayeyes and Adams voted to approve the overlay, Commissioner Maryboy voted against the overlay.