Monticello • San Juan County may have only 15,000 residents, but it’s the largest county in Utah by geography, sprawling across 5 million acres of canyons, mountains and rivers in the state’s southeast corner.
Driving from the hamlet of Navajo Mountain near Lake Powell to the county seat in Monticello takes over four hours. The towns of Oljato, Aneth, Montezuma Creek, Bluff and Spanish Valley are all an hour or more away from Monticello.
Rough roads and scattered homesites can make it difficult for members of the Navajo Nation, which overlaps with the southern portion of the county, to interact with the local government, according to some residents. Last winter, the Utah Navajo Commission and the town of Bluff passed resolutions urging the County Commission to bring its meetings south.
Those requests were heard by Willie Grayeyes of Navajo Mountain and Kenneth Maryboy of the Mexican Water area, who were elected to the county’s first ever majority-Navajo commission in November after a voting rights lawsuit, court-ordered redistricting and a special election.
Thanks to a resolution supported by Grayeyes and Maryboy, the commission will hold its regular meeting about 90 miles from the county seat in Oljato-Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation at the Monument Valley Welcome Center on July 2.
The commission will then hold every third meeting away from Monticello on a rotating basis with planned stops in Navajo Mountain, Mexican Water and Aneth on the Navajo Nation, and Bluff, Blanding and Spanish Valley to the north.
Grayeyes said the new policy will grant people more access to their county government. “It’s historic,” he said. “People are looking forward to it. [Residents won’t] be subject to long-distance travel. We’ll have a meeting right at your hogan door; that type of feeling.”
Maryboy brought forward the resolution to begin holding meetings in the southern portion of the county in February, but County Attorney Kendall Laws voiced concerns that such a resolution could violate state code. It was tabled until Maryboy brought it back to the agenda in May and it passed. Laws was not available for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
Maryboy introduced another resolution to livestream commission meetings on the county’s official Facebook page so anyone can tune in to watch the proceedings, and the service was implemented in March.
Commissioner Bruce Adams, the sole Republican and Anglo on the commission, voted against both the livestreaming measure and the resolution to rotate meeting locations. At the time, Adams worried that finding public buildings to host the meetings and transporting staff could be a problem.
But Adams has since called the livestreaming “a great thing,” and, on Tuesday, Adams said he has no objections with the current meeting schedule. “I have no idea whether people will attend it or not,” he said. “Hopefully they will.” Adams added he hopes livestreaming will be possible at all the proposed meeting locations.
A commission meeting has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20 in Bluff.
Zak Podmore is a Report for America corps member and writes about conflict and change in San Juan County for The Salt Lake Tribune.