High Desert Hoofbeats
Disclosure and governance...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Oct 31, 2013 | 1338 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The relatively few campaign signs sprinkled about Moab belie the fact that there are some important decisions for local voters next Tuesday.

Three people are running for two at-large Moab City Council seats, and four people are running for three spots on the Spanish Valley Water and Sewer Improvement District board. Mayors will be elected in Castle Valley and Moab, while two people will be seated on the Castle Valley Town Council, leaving a third seat vacant because there weren’t enough candidates to fill the three positions when the filing deadline occurred.

As voters look at their ballots they will see a lot of familiar names. Incumbents Kyle Bailey and Jeffrey Davis have been in their posts for well over a decade, as has Mayor Dave Sakrison who is running unopposed. With all the national clamor about term limits in Congress, it’s puzzling as to why these discussions don’t trickle down to the grass roots level. There are pros and cons.

Some of our elected officials have been in office for so long, making decisions with appointed officials who have likewise been at their desks for so long, that it sometimes seems nepotistic. On the other hand, those seasoned politicians have local experience and they often have statewide clout.

If past elections hold true to form, Heila Ershadi, a six-year resident of Moab, has a fighting chance to edge out either of the incumbents. City and county boards have seen new transplants get elected and appointed to important positions, simply because they have been brave enough to put their names and visions out for public review.

The Spanish Valley water board handles some critical issues that often don’t make for interesting headlines. Candidates in that race have differing views about how the precious water resources of our valley should be administered. Two incumbents, Mike Holyoak and Gary Wilson, have ties to the farming industry and bring practical needs to the table. Tom Stengel has served on the board for nearly 10 years. Spanish Valley resident Bill Love, a political activist of sorts for resource protection and controlled growth in Moab, is seeking to gain a seat on that board. All told, Love has probably attended more local meetings as an observer in the past decade than the other three combined, and if elected would certainly bring a lot of discussion to the table.

There have long been interesting parallels the public should be aware of among those who hold elected and appointed positions here. Such crossovers are common in small communities, where civic participation is minimal and where entrenched political and societal networks might keep potential candidates from running.

Stengel and Wilson both work for the power company. Does that matter? Probably not. On the Grand County Council, which has no election this year, there are some familial connections with other boards. Council member Elizabeth Tubbs, who I think is doing a great job, is married to David Tubbs, who holds a seat on the Grand County Planning and Zoning Commission (that board’s recommendations are forwarded to the county council for approval). He is also the Grand County Justice Court judge. The two Tubbs, relatively new to Moab after working in some high-profile jobs across the globe, are assets to Moab and I don’t seek to be critical of their work. But it might be prudent for Mr. Tubbs to step away from the planning commission while his wife is on the council. City government cronies Bailey and Sakrison, both of whom I admire, were business partners decades ago. But their public service to this community has been immeasurable, if a bit familial.

In education circles there was potential conflict of interest when Deb Hren was on the school board and her husband Stephen became principal of the high school. Both have logged many extra miles for the betterment of our schools, so asking either one of them to step aside was awkward. But last election Deb declined to run for another term, allowing some space for a new candidate.

In Castle Valley, which has a dearth of candidates, incumbent Mayor David Erley is being challenged by Oscar Duncan. Jazmine Duncan is seeking a four-year term on the town council, and is a complete shoe-in because there are only two candidates for three open seats. She is Oscar’s sister. Could that be a problem? Hopefully not.

Conflicts of interest can arise around every bend. Appointed boards, such as the recreation board and health care special service district, are comprised of volunteers who receive no salary or benefits, unlike elected board members. But both elected and appointed governing officials are often business owners who may benefit from county projects, such as construction of the new ball fields in Spanish Valley, or the sale of real estate, such as the old hospital or vacant school district property. The public needs full disclosure on matters that involve public funding. I’m not convinced that disclosure is always made.

The ties that bind us together as a community can and do cross the lines of family, finance and friendship. Even when officeholders recuse themselves from matters, there can be discomfort and cloudy transparency.

So with those issues in mind, I hope there will be robust voter turnout on Tuesday, Nov. 5, and that ensuing elections will result in more candidates and more open governance.

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