Spreading the workload or political ploy? San Juan County to vote on possibly changing form of government

Composite image. Inset photos L-R: San Juan County Commissioners Willie Grayeyes, Kenneth Maryboy and Bruce Adams. The county may hold a special election as the first step in determining whether to expand the County Commission | Background stock photo of Monument Valley. County Commissioner photos courtesy San Juan County Commission, St. George News

BLANDING (AP) — Voters in the southeastern Utah county where last year Native Americans for the first time took over the majority of the County Commission are expected to vote next month on the first step in possibly changing to a new form of government.

San Juan County voters would decide whether a one-year study should be launched potentially expanding the current three-person county commission, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Monday.

Last November, San Juan County Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes, both Democrats and members of the Navajo Nation, won their seats in a special election following a federal court ruling in December 2017 that the county had racially gerrymandered its voting districts.

James Adakai, county Democratic Party chairman and Navajo Nation chapter president, said the intent is to undermine the county’s first Native American-majority commission and is a blatant ploy by white Republicans to take back control.

“The county’s three-commissioner form of government was just fine and dandy while the white Republicans were in control, but now that Native Americans and Democrats are in the majority on the commission, the three-member commission is suddenly in need to change,” Adakai said. “It’s clear this isn’t a problem with the form of county government but with who the duly elected members of the county government are.”

Blanding Mayor Joe Lyman said he has supported expanding the size of the commission for decades, long before the new commissioners were elected.

In a series of op-ed pieces published by the San Juan Record starting in early 2018, Lyman has publicly argued that a five-member commission would spread the workload and provide a more represented voice to residents by creating smaller districts that would be “likely more in tune with the citizens in their district.”

In an op-ed published last week, Lyman said the claims the voter initiative was racially motivated or related to the election of Maryboy or Grayeyes are “patently false.” However, he said, the outcome of the voting rights lawsuit had undermined democratic principles.

“Currently, we have government by court order, dominated by outside parties, hardly democratic,” he wrote.

The special election would cost taxpayers $10,000, County Clerk John David Nielson estimated this summer.

This story was written by a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage, for The Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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