Monticello • David Everitt has spent most of his government career working in urban Salt Lake City, but for the next two or three months, he plans to bring his experience to San Juan County, a sprawling patchwork of private, public and Navajo Nation lands with only 15,000 residents.

The San Juan County Commission hired Everitt as the interim county administrator on Tuesday at a tense commission meeting in Monticello. He previously served for eight years as chief of staff to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and later as chief operating officer for Salt Lake City. In 2016, Everitt took a position as interim city manager for Moab, which is set to expire in August.

Everitt told the standing-room-only crowd that he is prepared to step down from the Moab position to work in San Juan County. He identified three goals for the short-term contract: to assist with the search for a full-time administrator, to help run meetings in an efficient and transparent manner and to facilitate communication.

According to Commissioner Bruce Adams, the longest serving and only Republican on the commission, communication has been an issue since Democratic commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes were sworn into office in January. Adams recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that Maryboy and Grayeyes have had “zero” contact with county staff outside of commission meetings, which he suggested may have led to the vacant administrator position that Everitt has been selected to fill.

On April 25, Kelly Pehrson, who worked as the county administrator for six years, gave 48 hours’ notice that he was resigning his post to take a job as the state’s deputy director of agriculture.

Maryboy complimented Pehrson’s “unique talents” and wished him well in his next venture, but also said Pehrson had not been responsive to directives from the county commission. The resolution to hire Everitt, presented by Maryboy, states, “Mr. Pehrson did not complete most of the assigned tasks [to him]” and that his “abrupt resignation” left the county in a difficult position.

Maryboy called for an emergency meeting to fill the vacancy last week, but Adams was unable to attend and the hiring was pushed to the regularly scheduled meeting. At the meeting Tuesday, Adams continued to defend Pehrson’s tenure, stating that Pehrson “made every effort to fulfill what was asked of him.”

In an email from Pehrson to Maryboy on April 26, Pehrson recommended promoting two county employees to replace aspects of his job on an interim basis. “The Commissioners need to approve these appointments right away so they can let Staff and Vendors know the point of contacts,” Pehrson wrote.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Adams cast the sole vote against hiring Everitt, after objecting to what he said was an unnecessarily expedited decision that “borders on being illegal.”

“When you’re dealing with taxpayer money, you need to have a competitive process,” Adams said after the meeting. “I have nothing against [Everitt], but we have a process, and we’ve got to use it. We should have offered it in-house — to see if somebody in-house could have done it — that’s usually our process.”

Maryboy told The Tribune that he thinks bringing a new face to the county could help alleviate some of the tensions and address communication issues. “We need to start moving on this thing,” Maryboy said. “These good old boys want to hire someone locally again. They keep saying the Navajo Nation is disorganized, but at least there’s a policy in place where you can’t hire your own relatives.”

Grayeyes said, “This is not going to be a permanent position,” suggesting that different hiring standards are in place for interim employees.

For his part, Everitt said he is looking forward to sitting down with county staff and the commissioners to help them achieve their goals, including finding a permanent administrator. “Sometimes it’s just about bandwidth and being able to call people on the phone and have conversations,” he said.

He added that he has experience stepping into governments in transition. After Becker was elected in 2007, Everitt said, “There was angst around the new mayor coming in — what does it mean? Trying to really be sensitive to that and working with people and help them understand that they’re not being threatened and [that they’re] trusted to do their jobs is key.”

San Juan County citizens shouted questions and comments from the audience throughout the meeting and the sheriff asked one Monticello resident to be silent on two occasions.

“I knew there was going to be a bit of controversy, and I get that,” Everitt said. “I just hope people at some point recognize that from where I sit, I’m not interested in trying to fix everything all at once.”

Becker said by phone Tuesday that San Juan County is lucky to have Everitt’s expertise, which includes a law degree from the University of Utah. “David is a really good guy,” Becker said. “He’s incredibly capable as an administrator, in his ability to work with people and his ability to get things done. He his pretty much unflappable, which is a testament to his personality and character.”

Mike Duncan of the Moab City Council attended the commission meeting and said Everitt’s hiring in Moab was “universally regarded as a breath of fresh air.”

A copy of a draft contract posted online shows a suggested salary of $5,800 paid twice per month until a full-time replacement for Pehrson can be found, a process Everitt expects to be wrapped up by August. As a contract employee, Everitt would receive no benefits.

According to the Utah Transparency website, Pehrson received a compensation package of $125,000 in 2018, including benefits, or $4,800 bi-weekly.

Multiple residents questioned whether meetings are being held in accordance with the Utah code. Kim Henderson of Monticello told the commissioners that the resolution to bring Everitt on as administrator was passed in violation of the Utah open meetings law since it was listed on the agenda during the work session, not the regular commission session.

Maryboy and County Clerk John David Nielson went back and forth over the agenda’s wording. Maryboy said he directed Nielson to advertise the hiring resolution six days earlier, but Nielson replied that he was never sent the proper language to do so. Later in the meeting, Nielson clarified that this was a “poor excuse" on his part, but that he was trying to follow proper procedure.

Everitt identified meeting management as one of his priorities as interim administrator. “I’ve seen so much questioning around the process from all sides that I think they could benefit from some transparency,” he said.

Grayeyes and Maryboy, who were elected after a suit under the Voting Rights Act led to a court-ordered redistricting of the commission districts, also voted 2-1 to pass a resolution Tuesday to occasionally hold commission meetings outside of Monticello, including in the Navajo Nation.

Clarification: A revised description of debate over the legality of the vote on a new interim director was added to this story to provide additional detail.