By Curt Nettinga
An agenda item, referencing the discussion of the soil farm referendum appeal caused the Fall River County Courtroom to be standing room only with interested parties, for Thursday’s regular County Commission meeting.
Fall River County State’s Attorney Jim Sword held a short executive session with the commission prior to the discussion in the open meeting, bringing those in attendance up-to-date on actions taken by his office thus far and why he advised County Auditor Sue Ganje not to count the votes on the referendum in last Tuesday’s election.
Sword said that his hope in filing for the stay with the Supreme Court was that there would be clear language ordering the votes to be counted in the matter, but allowed that was not the case.
“I was told before that if there is any question on a matter like this – even a 1 percent chance of being wrong – you don’t want to get your client in trouble with the Supreme Court,” Sword told the large crowd. “That is why I decided not to have the votes counted on Tuesday.”
High Plains Resources, LLC, presented a resolution for a ‘land farm general permit’ at the March 25 commission meeting. That resolution was approved, but a question of whether open meetings laws had been violated with an inadequate agenda description led the commission to later rescind its March 25 passage and to approve a virtually identical resolution on June 19.
The difference in the resolutions was that Commission Chairman Mike Ortner requested that language calling for “an appropriate bond” be added. That resolution was referred by petition and the commission set the matter for public vote. High Plains appealed the right of the commission to rescind its March 25 resolution and Circuit Court Judge Robert Mandel agreed, stating in an Oct. 31 hearing that passing the second resolution did was start the clock for a referral.
Sword said that the stay, signed by Chief Justice David Gilbertson, did do was set a timeline for a response from High Plains Resources in the matter within five days.
He said that the appeal he filed was with Judge Mandel’s decision that a writ of prohibition was the proper manner to decide the question of whether the referendum votes would be counted.
Counting the votes may even short-circuit any additional legal action, Sword said.
“Without the votes being counted, we don’t know if we even have a dispute,” Sword said. “I mean, if the votes are counted, they (High Plains) may like the outcome.”
“What we are attempting to do is find a clean way to do this,” Sword said. “We have appealed, we will make our two arguments – that the writ is not the proper procedure and that the election contest statutes actually apply – and then let the Supreme Court decide.”
Commission chair Mike Ortner said he was disappointed that Sword had gone directly to the Supreme Court, but when the commission members were posed with the option of making a motion on the appeal, Commissioner Joe Allen made a motion to have Sword continue to pursue the matter, which died for lack of a second.
Donna Behrens, who was the lone candidate for Fall River County Coroner in the Nov. 4 election, was surprised at the meeting, when she was appointed to the office as an emergency action, in the wake of current coroner Jeff Shannon’s resignation, which was effective immediately. Behrens reported on a recent Mass Casualty Incident Management she has recently attended to become better prepared for her new duties.
During a brief break in the meeting, Behrens was given the oath of office by Clerk of Courts Carol Foster.
In other action, the commission:
Appointed Jeff Grill to the Provo Water Board, effective Jan. 1.
Moved its first meeting of 2015 to Jan. 6, as the regular meeting would fall on New Year’s Day, set a hearing for property omitted for the 2014 taxes, for 11 a.m. on Dec. 4.
Learned that longtime sheriff’s department secretary Pat Logue has tendered her resignation effective at the end of the year. She will be replaced by Michele Jensen, who is transferring from the Auditor’s office. County Auditor Sue Ganje noted that she will be hiring a replacement for Jensen in her office.
Approved wage increases for deputy Jason Blessing and jailer Adam Evans, per the union contract.
Approved a proposal by Emergency Manager Frank Maynard to stripe off two parking spaces in the parking lot near the Extension Building, so that access to the alley is not blocked during days when several vehicles are using the lot.