Three directors to leave county government
Directors of three departments in San Juan County have recently announced their departures.
Public Health Director Kirk Benge, Economic Development and Tourism Director Natalie Randall, and Human Resources and Planning and Zoning Director Walter Bird have all accepted offers for positions elsewhere in the state.
Public Health Director Kirk Benge accepted the same role in a larger health district. Benge will become the director at the Tri-County Health District, which serves Uintah, Duchesne, and Daggett counties.
Benge took over as San Juan Public Health director in 2017, just two years after it was created when the county split from the Southeast Utah District Health Department.
Benge’s role has been incredibly busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. He oversaw the county response to the pandemic, and weighed in on state-level response as one of 13 public health directors in the state.
Outside of pandemic response, Benge said he is proud of the department’s work to provide services to the county in a cost-effective manner.
When Benge took over the department, he said they were running a deficit of more than $500,000. He adds that during his time, they have decreased the deficit to under $100,000 a year.
“I’m really proud of the system that we’ve built to track our finances and make sure that we are able to submit for funding reimbursement whenever there is a state or federal contract that might reimburse us,” said Benge.
He estimates the department is on track to spend just $60,000 in local funds this year.
“So we’re turning $60,000 in local property tax dollars into almost $1.5 million in local economic activity, including having 13 employees,” said Benge.
“On top of that, they are professional employees who are delivering services in our community. Most of those services are targeted at people who are vulnerable.”
The departure of Benge comes as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines arrive in San Juan County. Distribution of the vaccine is being organized on a state level, with local health providers and health districts organizing local distribution. Distribution is going well in the county and is even slightly ahead of schedule (see the story on page A1).
Benge will officially begin his new role on January 18. He adds, “I’m hopeful that we can make this as smooth as possible. I’m doing whatever I can to try to ensure that we have a smooth transition.”
Economic Development and Tourism Director Natalie Randall has been in her role with the county since 2017. Randall has accepted a position as the executive director for the Utah Tourism Industry Association (UTIA).
Although Bird and Benge will be moving from the area, Randall plans to work in her new role from Monticello, with some required travel around the state.
During her time as Economic Development and Tourism Director, Randall helped build an economic strategic plan for the county.
Key areas she helped direct include expanding fiber and broadband into the county through planning with stakeholders and accessing available grants.
In addition, Randall helped in use of the rural community grant program to expand existing businesses and hopefully attract new ones in the future.
In addition to helping to create a local Community Reinvestment Agency, Randall also worked to strategize with communities regarding the Bears Ears National Monument, and its impact on the local economies.
In her role as tourism director, Randall said they worked on creating a more solidified brand and overall marketing strategy. During her tenure, Transient Room Tax and Restaurant Tax collections grew, with the exception of the months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Randall expressed her thanks for businesses, community leaders, and others throughout the county that worked with her office.
In her new role, Randall will help UTIA advocate for Utah’s visitor economy. UTIA works hand in hand with the Utah Office of Tourism, county destination marketing organizations, Ski Utah, and other industry organizations around the state.
“It is an honor to be selected as the UTIA Executive Director,” said Randall. “The Tourism Economy in Utah is a key piece to the state’s overall thriving economy. I’m excited for the opportunity to share this message and story of the industry.
“From rural to urban communities, tourism supports the vibrancy and the many flavors of all our Utah communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a state that so many people want to come and visit.”
Of the three departures, Human Resources Director Walter Bird has the longest tenure in the county. Bird first started to work for San Juan County in 2001 as a Deputy County Attorney / HR Director later leaving his role as a deputy attorney to become the Planning and Zoning Director.
Bird also worked as the Monticello City Attorney and served on the Monticello City Council.
As Planning and Zoning Director, Bird was involved with the county response to an exceptional growth period in the northern part of San Juan County. Bird said he enjoyed working with many great employees and residents of San Juan County that make the area such a great place to live.
Bird will work for the City of Spanish Fork as a city attorney.
In addition to his work in the county, Bird and his wife Becky write the Bird Scoop column for the San Juan Record covering Monticello high school sports. The Birds plan to write the report through the end of the current season.
The new year also marks a change in some elected roles in San Juan County. County Assessor Rick Meyer and County Recorder Cindi Holyoak both begin in their new roles this month.
Both won office after defeating opponents in the June Republican primary election before running unopposed in the November general election.