The Grand County Democratic Central Committee announced plans last week to compile a list of nominees for county commissioners to consider in replacing chairman Merv Lawton, who has resigned.
Lawton resigned from the four-year post effective Tuesday, Oct. 16, for medical reasons. He submitted a letter of resignation Wednesday to the county clerk after announcing at a special meeting Tuesday with Utah Lieutenant Governor Val Oveson that he planned to leave office on the advice of his physician."It was a difficult decision to make," he said Thursday in an interview.
Lawton, 68, was elected to a four-year term on the three-member commission after joining the Democratic party in 1988, the same year he retired as president and manager of Rio Algom Mining Corp.
He said health problems stemming from high blood pressure became serious last May and he was hospitalized after a suspected heart attack. "So my doctor advised, for my health's sake, that I should get out of the political arena, because of the stress and stuff.
"That was what he advised, and I will take his advice on it. I think one's health is just a little bit more important than other things," Lawton said.
Although disappointed at having to leave office prematurely, Lawton said he feels that he did his share of public service to the county and "made some satisfactory decisions."
The resignation came as a shock to fellow commissioners and the Democratic party, which issued a statement Thursday commending Lawton for dedicated and tireless service as commissioner and commission chairman the past two years.
Democratic Commissioner Ferne Mullen said Thursday she was surprised and sorry to hear Lawton was leaving office. "We're going to miss him. He's been a hard worker," she said. "I thought he did a very good job. I had no complaints. Maybe he took on a little more on himself than he should have."
Said Republican Commissioner David Knutson: "It's just so abrupt, you know. The shock was not so much his resigning, but to think that his health was that fragile. It had to be, or Merv wouldn't resign."
Travis Trittschuh, chairman of the Grand County Democratic Central Committee, said most members first learned of Lawton's resignation Wednesday afternoon from the local weekly newspaper, the Moab Times-Independent.
"It was, of course, a shock. We had little anticipation of such an event," he said.
Trittschuh said the committee is accepting applications through Nov. 2 of county residents interested in filling the commission post. From those applications, six endorsed by the committee will be submitted to commissioners to consider in appointing a new Democratic board member.
According to state law, the governor is to appoint someone from the list if the commission fails to fill the vacancy within 30 days of receiving formal nominations.
Potentially, Grand County could have an all-new, Democratic commission after the election this fall, if incumbent Knutson fails in his bid for re-election to a four-year term. Mullen decided against running for re-election, and Democrats hope to hang onto that four-year post as well.