Grand County commissioners and the acting county attorney are wrangling once again over Chairman David Knutson's desire to vote for the appointment of his father to the local road board.
The issue, which generated some controversy two years ago when commissioners created the Grand County Special Service Road District, was tabled recently pending consultation with the Utah attorney general's office.Commissioners asked Lyle Anderson, acting county attorney, to get an opinion from the attorney general on a law prohibiting public officials from appointing relatives to positions that are compensated.
Members of the road board are volunteer except for the $35 per diem they receive for attending meetings.
Anderson said the question seems to be whether such "nominal" per diem qualifies as compensation and whether Knutson would be considered a direct supervisor over his father, Ollie Knutson.
"Obviously, the intent of this law is to stop patronage, to prevent people from using political influence to get jobs for relatives without regard for merit," Anderson said.
"I don't think the problem with Ollie Knutson is he gets a cushy job with lots of money."
Anderson left a commission meeting briefly to check on the issue, returning with his assessment that Ollie Knutson's seat on the road board is a "position," and payment he receives for meetings probably is "compensation."
"If he's willing to work without being paid, he may be exempt from this. If he is not paid, I don't think the statute is triggered," Anderson told commissioners.
Commissioner Knutson said he would ask his father about declining payment. But Anderson said there is also the supervisory question.
The road district functions and receives revenues independently of the county. However, as commissioner, David Knutson is a member of the governing authority over the special service district.
"Probably you have a direct supervisor situation here because . . . you can pull the plug (on the road board)," Anderson said.
Commissioners also asked Anderson to determine if the two members whose terms have expired can continue on the board until successors are named. Ollie Knutson has been serving as road board chairman.
Among projects of the district is the proposed Book Cliffs highway. Commissioner Mary "Sam" Cunningham, recently appointed to fulfill the unexpired term of former Democratic chairman Merv Lawton, argued that the road board is overweight with proponents for the project and someone unbiased with a background in finance and business management should be on board.
It was her move to block Chairman Knutson and Commissioner Manuel Torres' recommendation to reappoint Ollie Knutson, citing Utah law. "You're ineligible to vote on your father," she told Knutson.