Grand County commissioners, accused by Democrats of unethical behavior and abuse of public process, have denied any intentional wrongdoing.
The denial was in response to allegations made in a statement released to media and government officials last week.Travis Trittschuh, chairman of the Grand County Democratic Central Committee, said the statement issued April 19, was meant to bring public attention to what the committee described as "a disturbing trend . . . of growing conflicts of interest and self-serving decisions on the part of local elected officials."
The committee also sent a letter asking the Utah attorney general to look into the allegations, Trittschuh said.
Commissioners Manuel Torres, Mary "Sam" Cunningham and chairman David Knutson were not named in the single-page statement, but Trittschuh acknowledged in an interview that it was directed at the three-member body.
An article about the statement in the weekly Moab Times-Independent referred only to recent actions by Knutson and Torres, noting that both are Republicans.
The headline said local Democrats are upset over actions of GOP commissioners. But Trittschuh insisted the statement was not politically motivated, as the committee is also concerned about certain actions of Democratic commissioner Cunningham's.
"We're not upset as Democrats. We're upset as citizens of the county," Trittschuh said.
Cunningham, a member of the Democratic committee, was absent April 17, when the group unanimously approved public release of the statement. She said an earlier version had named commissioners and was "far worse" than the final statement.
The statement that was released said the Democratic central committee is uncomfortable about a "situation that opens public officials to charges of wrongdoing." It referred specifically to "appointments of relatives to paid board positions, bidding on public contracts by public officials and public employees who are also elected officials and supervise their own bosses, all without the minimum protection of disclosure of conflict of interest."
"We considered it a disturbing trend when, within two months - and now, four months - of a new commission, there have been incidents involving all the commissioners that have been questionable, of varying degrees," Trittschuh said in an interview.
The statement said the economy of a small community is best served by using local contractors, professionals and suppliers. And no one should have to give up a job or livelihood to serve in public service.
"But it also isn't good for the community when we get confused about whether an elected official is making a decision based upon the public's needs, or upon his/her own personal interests."
Allegations of conflict of interest began to surface in Cunningham's case in February when the commission disbanded the hospital board and took over the governing role until a new board is named. That put Cunningham, a medical technologist at the hospital, in a position of authority over her boss, said Trittschuh.
Cunningham says she does not vote on the hospital board. "I seconded a couple of things, or something like that. Before I did anything, I consulted with our attorney."
Old charges of conflict of interest and nepotism involving Knutson were revived recently when he voted as a member of the county governing authority to reappoint his father, Ollie Knutson, to the administrative control board of the Grand County Special Service Road District.
The Knutsons are partners in an oil field service business. Two years ago, Commissioner Knutson voted to name his father to the road board.
Torres, a masonry contractor, most recently came under fire for voting to award a bid to a business partner, Lyle Palmer, for construction of an addition to the county road shed. Commissioners ultimately withdrew the bid because it came in after deadline.
Torres did not disclose his business connection to Palmer before voting to award the bid. Torres says he had nothing to gain by Palmer getting the job, because it is not masonry work.
But Beth Klaus, licensing specialist for the Utah Department of Commerce, said Palmer's general contracting business and Torres Masonry cannot be regarded separately. Palmer is the "qualified managing employee" who took the exam for Torres Masonry to obtain a general masonry license, Klaus said.
Torres has also recently been criticized in connection with the resale of bricks to a private contractor to build a commercial quick-change oil station downtown from surplus from the equestrian center project.
Critics contend the surplus was tax-free government property the recreation district bought and owned, and that Torres wrongfully resold the bricks and did not pay a sales tax on them. Torres says he owns excess materials he orders to do a job, and that was spelled out in the contract. He also says he paid sales tax on the bricks.