I did not begin this process for the express purpose of returning to a three-person commission. I began it because there are huge legal concerns to our county and we must take steps to safeguard ourselves.
I would like to say that I have been pleased with the people who have served in county government. My problem is with the system itself.
To understand the problems, we must first understand how county governments work in relation to state governments. The 50 United States are sovereign. In essence, there are 50 partners working together for common purpose under a national government that can and does make laws that apply to all. Counties are not sovereign – they are subdivisions of a given state. Laws enacted at the state level have precedence over those laws passed at the county level.
Opponents of this measure claim our county government is “grandfathered in.” If that were true, then we would have protection under the law against lawsuits challenging restrictions. If we are protected, why has our county attorney advised our county council about possible lawsuits and the likelihood of the county losing those lawsuits?
Our current form of county government is at odds in many ways with state and federal law. First is our term limits. While I agree with the idea of rotation to give us new leaders and a needed protection against corruption, in 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton that, with the exception of the U.S. President with a constitutional amendment, term limits are unconstitutional.
Second is recall elections. Utah is one of 12 states that does not allow recall elections in its state constitution. There was an effort to include a recall provision in 2000, but that effort was unsuccessful.
Third, and most complicated is political parties. Let me say that I am just as fed up as most Americans with the extreme partisanship in Washington. Many of our elected officials would rather rant and complain than work on the people’s business. This divisive attitude has led to a great logjam at the national level, and until the people hold those officials accountable, it will continue. Both major parties are responsible.
Now, with that being said, I must say that parties are necessary. Parties exist in Grand County now. This would just make it official, and make it harder for a candidate or elected official to misrepresent themselves to the population. Having “official” parties would not force Grand County residents to suddenly stop working together. The whole idea is absurd. Would I suddenly no longer respect an official if I found out their party was different than mine? Of course not, and it’s insulting to our common ties as Grand County residents.
The biggest thing political parties would contribute to Grand County is representation. Not just locally, but statewide. Our council people go to functions throughout the state, and because they are non-partisan, they are mostly ignored. Essentially, they are told to go and play while the “grown-ups” take care of business, and when finished they will come and get the “kids.” Our opinions carry less weight than other counties. This can no longer continue. We have a population of about 9,300 residents in a state of 2.8 million people. We must have every opportunity to have our voice heard at the state level. Right now, they not only don’t listen to us, we don’t even have a seat at the table.
Replacement of county elected officials is another concern. This is done through parties in Utah. Currently, if an elected official is unable to complete their duties, there is no way to replace them in Grand County under state law.
Finally, let me address a misconception that has been cited by the opposition. They claim we have great flexibility with our government because we can be either a seven-member commission or a council/appointed executive style of government with the council administrator. This is not possible. The tragedy is that current and former county council people have made this claim. The council administrator is not a county administrator, and in the job summary on the Grand County website it clearly states: “The Council Administrator… has no independent executive authority.” Frankly, this claim troubles me greatly.
There are many possible governments that must be studied, including our current one, if the residents of Grand County are to have the best chance of a responsive, responsible government that will represent us all.
Jeramey McElhaney is the author of Grand County Proposition 1.