Wednesday, December 22, 2010

County Administrator Seeks to Protect His Job

by Michael Orton via MicroBureau West
all rights reserved

Richfield --

Sevier County's chief administrator and economic development director fears for his job.

At the commissioners' meeting on this date, Malcolm Nash requested that the commissioners approve an "employment agreement" that would provide unprecedented employment guarantees and a potential "golden parachute" of nine months salary (approximately $53,000) if he's ever terminated by the county. In addition, the proposal submitted by Nash includes a financial commitment for "all accrued and unused vacation leave not to exceed 240 hours and 1 day per month for each full month of employment performed prior to termination, beginning the date of the original appointment, as accrued severance benefit not to exceed a total of 40 days..."

In the event of any termination, that would add another $5800, giving him close to a year's salary for the privilege of finding another job. (source: Utah's Right to Know <-click here)

Demonstrating a defensive, beligerent demeanor to the county residents assembled for the last meeting of the year and refusing to respond to any questions, Nash defended his guaranteed employment request by angrily addressing the public. He stated that, "when an election cycle turns personal, and my name is mentioned specifically as a target for an election process, that raises the level of awareness in my mind that no other employee in this county is subject to... nobody. In this last election cycle, I was the only one that was mentioned as a target."

The heat of the kitchen.

Or, as some observed, the white-heat of the public policy combustion chamber championed by Nash who has little else to show for his efforts during the past decade. While leaving retail economic development to be headed by the Greater Richfield Chamber of Commerce, a large commercial center in Salina still awaits a major tenant and business to be anchored there. The transportation sector is in focus by Washington, D.C. lobbyists hired by the state's Six County Association of Governments, of which Sevier County is a major part and contributor. In years past, Nash has declined to participate in efforts by the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, a major business recruiter active in the state. He has also denounced the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development which has the ability to direct businesses who could locate in Sevier County. All of this makes Nash vulnerable to mounting criticism and concerns about his future performance.

Conducting today's meeting was Commissioner Gary Mason, who responded to Nash and his angry contract statement. "When we made that appointment, I don't know that we clarified that [your status] changed. As far as I know, it didn't change... Dale [Eyre, the county's attorney] has advised us that there are two appointed positions in this county: The chief deputy, under the sheriff, and yours, so yes, we need to look at... Dale?"

Interruption for clarification on Nash's present status was then offered by the Sevier County attorney, "Well, you [commissioners] could make his position an appointed position, at this point there's only one that I'm aware of and that's the chief deputy in the sheriff's department." The future of Nash's contract proposal then became uncertain, leaving many to wonder if this would become a "backroom deal" negotiated without the transparency or public input which was a specific election issue the previous month. An "economic development plan" was promised during the election season, but at this point it still hasn't been delivered to the community.

Commissioner Mason indicated that there would be no need to debate Nash's self-serving agenda item further, since the commissioners weren't ready to "move forward," with it, at which point the matter was tabled. The next opportunity for the county to consider Nash's proposed contract guarantees will be January 3rd, when G. "Tooter" Ogden is sworn-in, taking the commissioner's seat lost by Ivan Cowley in the Republican primary. Mason was also re-elected and will then commence another four-year term.

Community Offended

Observers immediately denounced Nash's public tirade as further proof that Nash is still eager to mistreat the people who struggle to pay for his lifestyle. "He's a 'target' because of the poor job he's done with the county's economic development," said Dick Cumiskey, a county resident and community organizer. "Malcolm Nash and I are far apart, ideologically," offered Richfield resident and physician Dr. Richard Crimin. The doctor described a confrontation instigated by Nash earlier in the year about a tense hypothetical situation offered by Nash who demanded a response.

Sevier County and its "Executive Administrator" have been under attack for the amount of time and money devoted over ten years to advocate the failed coal-fired power plant proposal and there's no indication that the pressure will abate soon. Developers of the power plant recently succeeded in their application with the county but only after scaling back their design and changing it to less-polluting natural gas as a combustion source. The reality and other approvals of that project now rest with the state's Department of Environmental Quality permitting process, the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency and the developer's ability to get an industrial-sized natural gas line connected to their proposed generating site in Sigurd, Utah. Funding sources have yet to be identified as well, making the entire power plant project a non-starter so far.


Sources have come forward indicating that Commissioner Topham spent the hour before today's public meeting defending Nash and his request, offering the view that Nash "does so much for the county." Those Topham was addressing are still not convinced, noting that while Nash may run many errands for the commissioners themselves, the county's economic development has still has gone lacking. In addition, many wonder if Commissioner Topham thinks he'll have an easier time defending Malcolm Nash in the coming years, given that Nash has offended many who understand how public policy should be pursued, i.e.: with a broad base of public support rather than only the privileged few of Sevier County's elite.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post Election Primer

Richfield, Sevier County, Utah --

Perhaps the real story to be told on this page is how a democrat running for county commissioner in central, rural, red state Utah was able to garner 43% of the vote and nearly defeat the Republican nominee in the midst of tea party prominence. This is a post-election night tale of intrigue and suspense, with some of the cast of characters still unidentified and retreating into the post-election shadows.

Monte Turner, a democrat who secured 2498 votes of the total 5805 cast in the "B" seat commissioner race, is a self-described, soil conservationist working for the federal government in Sevier County. Turner (not to be confused with the Constitution candidate, Scott Turner, who ran for the same office) had disavowed any affiliation with mainstream democratic party leaders, and had sent mixed signals during his campaign that confused some people and incensed others in this central Utah county of just over 20,000 people. During the campaign, when asked why he hadn't registered as an independent candidate, he cited his last-minute filing on a Friday afternoon, and election requirements that would have had him furnish 150 signatures to do so as an independent candidate. He also seemed to dismiss the primary process by attempting to confuse party delegate approval with the primary election, stating "I didn't want 200 people determining if I could run or not."

That didn't confuse republican party organizers involved in the Sevier County election.

Speculation within some circles seemed to point to some irrational fear by the county's de facto ruling class that their lifestyles would be upended if the actual republican candidate were to prevail. Garth "Tooter" Ogden, a lifelong resident, dairyman and entrepreneur was able to hurdle past a Republican primary challenger who was a major player in Richfield City's economic development effort. At that point, the race really began.

Mid-campaign the dynamics were interesting and convoluted. The "A" seat commissioner race mainly involved fourth-term republican candidate Gary Mason, who had championed a coal-fired power plant as the county's chief economic development plan earlier in his political career. Mason's challenger was a woman who had organized a successful grassroots effort in opposition to the power plant proposal, Sevier County's "Proposition 1" which went on the November 2008 ballot after one of the swiftest decisions in the history of the Utah Supreme Court. That ruling struck down statute that would have disallowed the referendum, and on the wake of that referendum victory, Elaine Bonavita took her place on the ballot as a Constitution Party nominee, thus averting a primary challenge. Her greatest contribution would be to get some of the campaign controversies out into the daylight for the first time.

The final part of the campaign trail would prove to be a web of intrigue.

On Sunday, August 22nd, the Salt Lake Tribune published a story referring to an objection raised by Bonavita when she was officially denied the ability to campaign and distribute literature at the Sevier County Fair. Mason (her opponent and incumbant commissioner at that time) was there, giving away free hamburgers (allegedly paid for with county funds), to the public. Sheryl Allen was also present, campaigning for gubernatorial candidate Peter Coroon and was unchallenged in her efforts.

A mailing, from republican Mason and his influential, "insider" supporters, went out in the last weeks of the campaign which endorsed the democrat, Monte Turner. At that time, the bare-knuckle, retail politicking was in full swing. In the end, it proved to be too little, too late for the democrat Turner who was never able to overcome a sizeable lead by Ogden, manifest early when the returns began coming in. Poll watchers were left wondering about those involved with the pseudo-democrat's last-minute campaign, and speculation still exists that many whose livelihoods are built on political patronage were the first to jump in against the republican Ogden and for the career bureaucrat, Monte Turner.

Ogden secured 51% of the final vote with the Constitution candidate as an also-ran with only 5% (the last fact prompted Ogden's supporters to note that even if Scott Turner's votes had gone to the democrat Monte Turner, it still wouldn't have been enough, thereby negating any "spoiler" claims).

With warnings from Ogden's senior campaign volunteers that he would be told what would be expected of him as the "junior commissioner," Ogden attended meetings with Mason on the Wednesday following the election. Ogden confirmed the informal and private effort was underway to have him understand how the county commission really worked and what would be expected of him as the newest member of the three seat commission. (Ogden will replace stockman, school board member and former water commissioner Ivan Cowley who was denied a re-election bid during the republican primary nomination, like Utah's senior Senator Bob Bennett).

In a county where median household income hovers at the poverty level, public works projects look to preliminary Community Impact Block Grant funding efforts, recently finalized under Mason's signature on October 27. Others wonder about the last-ditch participation of those players surrounding the offices of the Six County Association of Governments, whose director (Russ Cowley) is a major power player in central Utah but is not elected and accountable to very few.

Political observers assembled in Salt Lake City who were dissecting the win in Utah's second congressional district (by Jim Matheson, a blue-dog democrat in a strenuous re-election effort) recognized that party affiliation is not the end-all, be-all in Utah, red-state politics. At the studios of the University of Utah's KUER, it was observed that the candidate's personality and experience, that of the candidate's opponent, effective campaign messaging and the political climate at the time of the election are the most potent factors in a Utah election. Matheson was re-elected as the renegade democrat in red-state Utah, but unlike Sevier County's Monte Turner, has always been and has worked with fellow democrats since his first election to congress in 2000. Even with opponent republican Morgan Philpot's signage showing up in ultra-red Richfield, (which is not in Matheson's second district, but rather in Jason Chaffetz' third district) the political chicanery was left to those in Sevier County who understand how public policy really works, (or doesn't, in the case of the doomed power plant issue).

Thus it was in this little rural valley surrounded by mountains, which may yet be destined to become a major transportation hub at the intersection of Interstate 15 and Interstate 70.

Depending on the politics, of course.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sevier County Election Update

Richfield --
licensed via Creative Commons

At the October luncheon of the Greater Richfield Chamber of Commerce, an opportunity to share platform information by the registered candidates for county commissioner turned into a major fact-checking event. Gary Mason, who is seeking a third term as a county commissioner from the northern part of the county, emphatically stated that the town of Sigurd was not planning to annex property owned by a holding company for Sevier Power Company. Sigurd Mayor Chad Houchin and town councilman Mike Roberts indicate that the town is indeed looking into possibilities for annexation of the property, and that the Sigurd town attorney has been directed to present options for consideration. Mason also told those assembled that he has "always been for the power plant," when in a previous interview with ABC4's Terry Wood and Matthew Lee, he said that he was "undecided." Mason made an exuberant announcement that the county would be the location for the power plant earlier in the decade. In ensuing months, citizen's opposition has brought more facts to light, and the residents approved a 2008 referendum requiring any coal-fired power plant construction be approved at the polls.

Monte Turner, registered and running as a democrat for one of the two contested commissioner seats, told the audience that he "didn't vote for Clinton or Obama" in prior elections. Since none of his current campaign signs or posters indicate any party affiliation, many in the county believe that Turner is being less than truthful with either the democratic party or the republican voters he's wooing. "I'm an environmentalist," he declared at Wednesday's lunch, before warning that his experience with public lands as a federal soil conservation official has allowed him to understand that environmentalists are "formidable foes."

The efforts of Sevier Power Company (formerly NEVCO) to build a coal-fired power plant in this high mountain valley has been met with opposition and grassroots organization that has polarized the community and ultimately changed the plans of the original permit application. While original plans have been remanded to the state's Department of Environmental Quality, Sevier Power Co. announced in March that they will redesign the plant to burn natural gas. Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water, the organized opposition to the development, has requested that any natural gas approval by the county's planning and zoning commission disallow any future plans that would use coal. The negative response by incumbent commissioner Mason has fueled speculation that the industry may still pursue the ability to burn coal at a future Sigurd plant.

The election is scheduled to conclude on November 2.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sevier Power Company Dumps Coal

Richfield, Utah –

After a meeting of the Sevier County Commission today, representatives from Sevier Power indicated that they had solicited bids from two companies to furnish natural gas to their proposed energy generation facility in Sigurd, Utah. The move effectively left the support of the county’s coal mining industry in the dust. Rod Clark and Bruce Taylor, spokesmen for Sevier Power, entered the county chambers just before noon with Ken May, president of Arch Coal’s Sufco mine operations in Salina.

At the February 1st meeting, Commission chair Gary Mason of Aurora expressed surprise that Sevier Power was a “no-show” after being placed on the county’s agenda then. At that time, Commissioner Mason indicated that he was sure that they would be in attendance at the commissioner’s very next scheduled meeting also during February. Opponents of the plant were surprised that Sevier Power Company was even in existence since vacating their Richfield offices last summer.

“We are trying to get a sense of where we’re at,” said commission chairman Gary Mason as he opened the agenda item, “A lot of things have happened. We know that a zoning lawsuit has been dismissed so that we can move forward. There was a [state of Utah] Supreme Court decision but at this point, none of us knows exactly where the permitting process is at.” Mason continued, “We would like to move forward. We have a valid permit [application] before us,” at which point Commissioner Mason called upon Mr. Clark.

“We don’t know what the supreme court decision means,” began Clark, “We need to let you guys figure out what the next steps are. We think we’ve done everything you’ve asked us to do and we are waiting for a county permit.”

In the light of the state’s Supreme Court decision, Mason asked Clark to take 30 days to come back with options that are appropriate for their current plans. Clark responded to the commissioners, stating, “If that’s a good faith request, we’ll try to get back to you in two weeks with some clarification.”

The Sevier County commissioners were asking Sevier Power to clarify the company’s intent with all of their options, which Mason theorized were: moving forward with the current permit, converting to another fuel source instead of coal or dropping the permit application entirely. In November 2008, a citizen’s initiative was put on the county ballot after clearing a state Supreme Court hurdle which allowed the voters of the county to approve a coal-fired power plant permit. Representatives from the county’s Right to Vote committee were in attendance at today’s commission meeting. Elaine Bonavita, one of the initiative’s organizers said, “They’ve still got to get past us if they’re going to use coal for power generation.”

With a resumption of the permitting process now calendared for the commissioner’s April 5th meeting, more input from Sevier Power Co. as well as Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water and the Right to Vote Committee is expected.

It was after the county meeting that Clark confirmed rumored plans to switch to natural gas for their facility’s fuel source. When asked how they proposed to get a gas line that would furnish sufficient capacity for a 500 Megawatt plant from Scipio to Sigurd, Clark quipped, “Very carefully.” The closest natural gas line with that capacity roughly parallels Interstate 15 and would require easements and rights of way through 33 miles into Sigurd. Clark did not disclose the cost for that kind of infrastructure support, but indicated that Sevier Power Company had obtained two estimates from companies other than Questar to provide the pipeline. “One was very high,” said Clark, gesturing above his head, “and the other one we’ll have to investigate further.”

Clark confirmed that his company has no contracts to furnish power to the grid as a merchant plant since Sevier Power is independent of Rocky Mountain Power or its parent, PacifiCorp. He said that no contracts from rural power cooperatives had been obtained either.

Opponents of the coal-fired plan were in attendance at the commissioner’s meeting and were interested in the details of the fuel source change. Their spokesman had remarked that Sevier Power’s switch to natural gas would forsake the miners who had vigorously defended the 240 MgW coal-fired plan. With several legal and application hurdles to overcome regarding coal use, the natural gas plan may prove easier not only with the EPA but at the local level where the 2008 citizen’s initiative would not apply.

Dick Cumiskey, the managing director of Sevier Citizens for Clean Air and Water said, “Before they begin an application for a natural gas plant, we would ask the county commissioners to have Sevier Power withdraw their coal permit application. These guys haven’t been able to complete any of their obligations in the permitting process.” Clark said that the power developer wouldn’t withdraw their coal permit before obtaining a permit for using natural gas, leaving a potential impasse for the county commissioners to sort out. It was clear from their comments made today that Sevier Power had already begun plans to switch from using coal to natural gas which the locals viewed as a significant development.
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