Commission approves four new policy resolutions
In a continuation of the trend of setting policy through resolutions, the San Juan County Commission approved four new resolutions at their March 5 meeting.
By a 2-1 vote (with Commissioner Bruce Adams voting no), Commissioners signaled support for a bill currently before Congress to expand Bears Ears National Monument to 1.9 million acres. In addition, they approved setting up live video and audio streaming of Commission meetings.
Two additional resolutions were approved, even though county officials state they require actions that are already in place.
By the same 2-1 vote, the Commission requires that the county administrator create an organizational chart and that the county attorney provide an analysis of proposed commission resolutions.
County Administrator Kelly Pehrson has already completed an organizational chart.
Regarding the requirement that the County Attorney review Commission actions, Kendall Laws said it is already a part of his job description, adding, “State law already requires that I do it.”
Commissioners opposed two additional resolutions that were under consideration, including one that stated county officials or employees could only represent policies or positions that had been reviewed and approved in a formal resolution of the Commission.
Commissioner Grayeyes said the resolution “would defeat the purpose of what we as representatives are.”
Commissioner Adams said, “I agree 100 percent. The Commission cannot tell another elected official what they can and can’t say. I think that it is illegal, and I think that we are asking for legal trouble on this.”
Commissioner Maryboy said he agreed.
By a similar 3-0 vote, the Commission opposed a resolution to oppose a bill before the Utah House of Representatives. The bill would have made changes to the process of splitting a county.
Commissioners stated that HB93, regarding county formation, had been adjusted and was specific only to counties with larger populations.
“This has nothing to do with San Juan County,” said Commissioner Adams.
The bill has since been defeated in the Utah Legislature.
A motion to approve the resolution died for lack of a second and was eventually opposed.
A resolution to document the procedures used by the Commission in the consideration of official actions was tabled. Commissioner Grayeyes said he wants more information on it before deciding.
In addition to the resolutions that were action items on the agenda, the Commission discussed three additional resolutions. They may be considered as action items at the March 19 Commission meeting.
Two proposed resolutions were introduced by Commissioner Bruce Adams.
Adams read a resolution to support a proposed solar power project, on the benches north of Bluff, on land owned by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
Adams expressed concern about the impact of the solar project on existing grazing leases in the area.
In addition, Adams read a resolution that would support oil and gas leases in San Juan County on areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Commissioner Maryboy introduced a resolution that would require the County Administrator to prepare and post supporting materials for each item on a Commission agenda.
A number of county residents provided input during the public comment period of the meeting.
Blanding Mayor Joe B Lyman said he had particular concern about the proposed resolution to restrict county officials and employees from discussing anything that had not been approved by the Commission.
Lyman said, “The bottom line is, it is their job to speak on behalf of the county. That is what we hire them to do.”
“The Commission has no authority to determine policy for other elected officials or their staff,” said Lyman. “Elected officials do not work for the Commission, they work for the people.”
“None of them would be able to act in their office until they had received specific formal authorization from the Commission as to what they could say. So, the government would cease to exist; it would cease to function.”
In closing, Lyman suggested it is “beyond ironic that you would refuse to disclose the author of a resolution calling for transparency.”
Blanding City Councilmember Cheryl Bowers expressed concern about the resolution to support a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, stating it is 600,000 acres larger than the monument created by President Barack Obama.
“Please don’t support this resolution,” pleaded Bowers.
Monticello resident Kim Henderson asked Commissioners who was involved in writing the resolutions that are under consideration. She stated that a request for information, filed through the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), has been submitted and had not yet been returned.
Commissioner Maryboy stated that County Administrator Kelly Pehrson or County Attorney Kendall Laws should respond to the GRAMA request.
Maryboy expressed frustration, stating that the questions “are saying that you are too dumb to write the resolutions.”
Henderson said it is “absolutely not” what she said. “I simply want to know who wrote it.”
Suzette Morris requested that a translator be available for comments that are given in other languages, explaining, “I would like translation so people can understand.”
Vaughan Hadenfeldt, of the Friends of Cedar Mesa, said he is “not against the solar development, but it needs to be done responsibly and in appropriate places.”
Hadenfeldt said the proposed project is within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and said SITLA should not lease anything there until the boundary questions have been decided.
Brant Murray, a member of the Bluff Town Council, said the community was surprised by the solar farm. “There was no notification to Bluff,” said Murray, who asked the county to “consider Bluff when you are making Bluff decisions or talking about things that will happen in Bluff.”
“It really hurt our feelings,” said Murray.
Murray said he wanted to speak against the solar project, saying, “Raised panels will be unsightly and will hurt the economic value of our county if things are thrown up willy-nilly.”
In other matters at the March 5 Commission meeting, Roseann Fillmore, of the US Forest Service, approached the commission seeking recommendations for members for the local Resource Advisory Committee.
The committee determines how the funds from the Safe Schools grant are used. The grant is similar to the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program of the BLM and is spent in rural communities with Forest Service lands.
Gary Torres was introduced as the new BLM Field Manager in Monticello. Torres, a San Juan County native, has had a long career with federal agencies, mostly with the BLM. He returns after spending the last decade in other assignments with the BLM, including Farmington, NM; Washington, DC; and – most recently – Vernal, UT.
Torres said he is “honored to be a public employee and to be in public service.”
The BLM and county officials discussed a variety of issues, including the BLM management process related to oil and gas leases.
Torres outlined the leasing process, from initial granting of leases to the development of the lease through drilling and production.
“There are several opportunities [for public input] in the process,” said Torres. “With lots of consultations with tribes and other entities.”
If the lease is developed, Torres said there is “aggressive oversight of drilling.”
Lance Porter of the Moab office of the BLM said, “Come and take a look. This is a fairly open public process.”
BLM officials hope the Commissioners will participate with the Bears Ears Commission, which was set up to help develop a management for the new Bears Ears National Monument.
The Bears Ears Commission has not been active, due in large part to the political controversy surrounding the monument.
Commissioners approved a retail beer license for Ticaboo Management at the Hite Outpost.
Kirk Benge, Executive Director of San Juan Public Health, reported to the Commissioners. Benge said the agency has met the state performance standards for past two years.
Several issues were discussed, including disease management efforts.
More than 100 people in the Blanding area were recently exposed to tuberculosis. Benge said that of 105 people who were potentially exposed, 44 were children under the age of five.
There were 24 who were treated with antibiotics, with 20 children given skin tests and chest x-rays, and skin tests on another 20 people. In total, screening was completed on 85 people.
Benge also reported that the local Public Health unit works with the Utah State Department of Environmental Quality. “We are the state’s boots on the ground,” he said.
Benge reported that San Juan Public Health crews were first responders to a “relatively small” oil spill on March 1. An estimated 168 gallons of crude oil spilled into the San Juan River.
“The environmental impact of the spill has been completely mitigated,” said Benge.
Benge said the San Juan County General Fund has been covering some expenses of the department for the last two years. He would like the Commission to consider adjustments to the public health levy, which is currently split with the mental health and substance abuse programs.
Jerry McNeely, the San Juan County liaison in Spanish Valley, reported on several issues related to the northern portion of the county.
McNeely said the county is working with School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) on a recreation trail from the Grand County line to Ken’s Lake along Spanish Valley Drive.
McNeely reported that the Pandora Mine complex near La Sal is closer to being opened to mine vanadium.
McNeely reported that the Forest Service recreation area at Geyser Pass is experiencing heavy use and is “overflowing” on busy weekends. Tempers flared recently after tickets, up to $130, were issued for parking violations.
A new membrane roof on the public safety building in Monticello would cost an estimated $190,000, according to County Facility Director Monte Perkins.
The current roof is 30 years old and needs to be replaced. The county budget did not include funding for the replacement.
Perkins reports that the project could be split into two projects and would include a 20-year warranty.
Commissioners approved a scanner, licenses and training for an upgrade to the computer system for the Recorder’s office. The total cost of the expenditures is $11,240.
Commissioners also approved a boundary adjustment for the Tait subdivision north of Blanding.
Two new employees were approved, including Alex Goble as the Deputy County Attorney.
Goble has been working at the office of the Utah Attorney General in Moab.
County Human Resources Director Walter Bird said there were four applicants for the position, and three were interviewed.
Commissioner Willie Grayeyes questioned the case load for the position and asked, “Do we need an assistant?”
County Attorney Kendall Laws said the Deputy County Attorney will handle 250 felony cases a year, 1,000 justice court and administrative cases, “plus lots of other things.”
“The work load is pretty substantial,” said Laws. “Yes, we do need a Deputy County Attorney.” Goble replaces Matthew Brooks, who recently accepted a position in Grand County.
Kalynne Pincock was approved as an Assistant County Librarian in Blanding.