The Utah attorney general is prepared to issue a formal opinion on allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest in Grand County government, a spokeswoman said this week.
Farah Mahi, of the solicitor general's office, said this week that issues raised in recent letters from the county attorney and the Grand County Democratic Central Committee could be addressed formally by the attorney general within two weeks of a request.The county attorney first must request clarification of the state's position in earlier correspondence that addressed a specific question of nepotism, Mahi said.
Chris Steinmann, secretary to the solicitor general, said last week that the attorney general had yet to receive a request for clarification on the issue, which involves Commission Chairman David Knutson and his father, Ollie Knutson, chairman of the Grand County Special Service Road District control board.
Commissioners Knutson and Manuel Torres recently reappointed Ollie Knutson to the road board, despite continuing objections from Commissioner Mary "Sam" Cunningham.
Cunningham maintains that David Knutson should not have been allowed to vote for his father because state law prohibits public officials from appointing relatives to positions that are compensated.
The road district functions and receives revenues independently of the county. However, the county commission is the governing authority over the special service district and makes all appointments to the road board. The five members of the road board receive $35 per diem for attending meetings.
Cunningham opposed Ollie Knutson's reappointment and cited the law to block his son from voting when the issue first came up last February. The appointment was tabled pending an opinion from the attorney general.
"We responded in a letter (Feb. 21) and stated that it is appropriate for the Grand County attorney to advise the commission and issue his opinion, and if there are problems and a need for further clarification, he needs to request an official opinion from us," Steinmann said.
County Attorney Lyle Anderson prepared a four-page opinion on the road board issue. Cunningham then insisted on a review of Anderson's opinion by the attorney general.
Meanwhile, road district administrator Jimmie Walker complained to commissioners about the vacant board positions. He said decisions were being held up because of lack of a quorum at meetings. In response, Torres and Knutson voted April 15 to reappoint Ollie Knutson to the road board.
That appointment prompted protest from the Democratic committee, which last week issued a statement questioning the ethics of "local elected officials." Travis Trittschuh, former committee chairman, said the statement was directed at county commissioners.
The committee also complained to the attorney general.
"We outlined the alleged infractions, of the conflict of interest. And we pointed out the nepotism," Trittschuh said.
Mahi said the solicitor-general and an assistant to the attorney general had been prepared to address the nepotism issue in an informal opinion. Then the committee's letter arrived.
"There seem to be some concerns . . . about some issues that weren't addressed by the county attorney," Mahi said.
"What they are going to do is have the Grand County attorney submit to us a request concerning issues that will be slightly different and broader than the original issues in his first request," she said. "Once we receive this request, we will commence preparation of a formal written opinion.