Back on the grind. God I need to figure out the email programming.

County Commission overview

This is better late than never. Also see Liz Thomas’s overview of the meeting at MADAR. Here’s the packet for the meeting. Here’s the 3.75-hour recording. In order of importance:

COVID-19 vaccination and case rate update

Brady Bradford, who directs the Southeast Utah Health Department, provided an update about vaccinating locals and case rates that largely repeated information I have previously reported on this subject.

The nugget that stuck with me is that the test positivity rate locally is skewed. According to Bradford, the denominator in that calculation is the number of positive tests on a given day or week. The numerator is the number of people who got tested, minus people who were tested previously.

That’s… crazy to me. I know of instances where a person gets two or three, maybe four tests in quick succession because they are a close contact and monitoring for the virus or something, but I think even in those cases, throw all of those tests into the denominator.

Test positivity is an indicator of how much testing we are doing; if we have the capacity to repeat tests on people, give credit for that. It certainly does not make sense to exclude people from the denominator if they have ever been tested. There are so many people who get asymptomatic testing every four weeks; they should be counted in the denominator.

Grand County will likely get a redistricting consultant.

Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker, at the tail end of the long meeting (when the item was scheduled), pitched the commission on getting a consultant to help with drawing five voting districts for the Grand County Commission. Apparently, the voting districts have been the same for 30 years, which is a bad thing on many levels.

Chris Baird seemed to get on a contrarian kick in the discussion. He did the same with me when I posted on Facebook a few weeks back about redistricting. His thing seems to be that the purpose of districts seems to be nebulous or ill-defined. He also seems put off by claims that this or that district is gerrymandered — claims he sees as weak or ill-supported.

The thing is: There is an objective measures of gerrymandering, and there are many objective processes for drawing fair districts. The essential idea is this: Draw a bunch of maps that are compact and follow pre-existing boundaries that divide populations, like mountain ranges, roads, county lines and the sort. There are even algorithmic ways of generating many such maps, and you can accept submissions from political parties.

Once you have a bunch of maps, you assess the partisan advantages granted by each. We know that manipulating the boundaries of maps can give an advantage to one side or the other, and we also know that some populations simply must be districted to the benefit of one political party (see Massachusetts as an example).

Once you have assessed the partisan advantage granted by the full spectrum of maps, the gerrymanders are easy to identify: They are the maps that are on one side or the other of the spectrum of partisan advantage. The maps in the middle — the maps in the center of the bell curve of partisan advantage granted — are the ones that are fairest. So pick one of them.

It’s a straightforward, well-defined process, even if my explanation of it was confusing. The point is: There is an objective manner in which to draw districts, and that’s what Walker is proposing to do, and according to Baird, the county has a $10,000 budget for doing so, which should be sufficient.

The next phase of the Creekside Estates Planned Unit Development passed.

This got a 6-1 vote of approval with Trisha Hedin, who represents the rural-ish district of Grand County, voting against. The discussion was from timestamps 1:01:48 to 1:43:20.

Hedin seemed to parrot the complaints of neighbors of the project, with what I could only see as classic NIMBYism and a slieu of rationales that all the other commissioners — including the rookies — batted down convincingly.

I’m not in the weeds on this development because I tend to opt out of getting caught up in matters where the objections seem chiefly NIMBYish. Strawburb came up repeatedly as an example of a bad project to have approved, with some commissioners like Kevin Walker appearing to try to split hairs over what housing projects are and are not worth legislative approval, but… I don’t know, let people build houses. Let the neighbors cry.

This is why I love seeing Utah legislators propose bills that preempt local authority on land use planning and zoning, particularly when it comes to opening up the possibility for building housing. A blunt instrument that local governments deserve to be hit with when they deny these kinds of projects, though they did not deny the project in this case.

The commission asked for the legislature to establish Utahraptor State Park at Dalton Wells.

To nobody’s surprise, this got unanimous approval. It could have gone on the consent agenda.

This came up in the 2020 Utah legislative session but got stopped, reportedly, because of funding limitations. The commission is back on trying to make it happen this year because it would have the effect of providing additional protections for the Dalton Wells area.

Grand will stay in the Utah Association of Counties this year.

Grand County had discussed the prospect of leaving the Utah Association of Counties over complaints that the group lobbies against local interests in some cases, particularly on public land management. There is also some lore around how Curtis Wells and UAC teamed up against Grand’s form of government in 2018, but Wells disputes the claims, and I don’t have the time or will to litigate the matter. I’m calling it water under the bridge for now.

Anyway, the commission decided reluctantly to stay in the association. Evan Clapper voted against paying this year’s dues, but he said he was doing so just to send the message to UAC that there was dissent on the matter. So, the action passed 6-1.

Grand thanks Mitt Romney for his political courage.

We all know that Sen. Romney has made some pretty brave political decisions during the Trump administration. He also endorsed Trump for president and campaigned with him, but that’s far enough in the back of our collective memory that it doesn’t matter.

The Grand County Commission voted to send a letter to Sen. Romney thanking him for his “resolve in this difficult time,” and “actions and words standing up for our democracy.” It doesn’t get into the specifics of Romney’s more recent condemnations of Trump and historic vote to convict (!) the president of abuse of power following his first (!) impeachment (!) trial.

Other items

Other items included a thank you to the San Juan County Commission for basically helping Grand County keep Rally on the Rocks 2021 from happening.

The commission approved the cancelation and abatement of some minor tax charges; it approved an improved set of standards for the Canyonlands Regional Airport; it extended COVID-19 sick leave for county employees; it approved a contract to switch to leasing county vehicles instead of owning them (which basically leverages the county’s taxing authority to save a lot of money while turning its fleet over regularly to always have nice, new vehicles); and it did a bunch of other important stuff that isn’t (to me) as important as the other stuff I mentioned.

Further reading

I think I’m going to start linking to big stories that I have read that I think are important or relevant to Moab but that appeared in other publications. This will force me to keep reading stories, which is something I need to do more often.

I have a programming project ongoing to track every story that various publications (The Moab Sun News, KZMU, The Salt Lake Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, …) and journalists (Zak Podmore, Kate Groetzinger, Molly Marcello, …) put out about Moab so that I don’t miss anything that goes through those channels. I’m hoping to use that to ensure complete coverage. It’s not too much work to actively check those websites every day, but that to me sounds like a job for a robot.

For now, here are some random stories I read since my last newsletter:

Exclusive: Utah leaders went rogue in early coronavirus response, emails from health experts showThe Salt Lake Tribune

The powerful state budget managers who controlled key parts of Utah’s initial coronavirus response were skeptical about the value of medical expertise in handling the crisis and made repeated attempts to resist or subvert health officials, according to records obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Census Bureau to miss deadline, jeopardizing Trump plan — The Associated Press

[Former Census Bureau director John Thompson] said in an email that missing the Dec. 31 target date “means that the Census Bureau is choosing to remove known errors from the 2020 Census instead of meeting the legal deadline.”