The audit is aimed at the work of the San Juan commissioners with an outside attorney

Two former San Juan County commissioners have been faulted in a new Utah law review that concluded that the two tribesmen’s reliance on an outside attorney for advice violated the state’s transparency rules and undermined public trust in local government could have.

Not named in the review are Willie Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy, Navajo tribal members who were elected to the district commission in 2018 but did not win re-election in 2022. Prior to their election, both were outspoken supporters of the designation of Bears Ears National Monument. a divisive issue for San Juan residents.

Just before last November’s election, a spate of emails emerged detailing Grayeyes and Maryboy’s communications with an outside attorney, Steve Boos, who advised them on a pro-bono basis, according to legislative auditor August Lehman, who published his findings presented on Wednesday without naming any of the people involved.

The commissioners met with attorney frequently before regular commission meetings to undermine the intent of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, or OPMA, Lehman told the Legislative Audit Subcommittee.

“The purpose of these meetings was to ensure that they were on the same page in relation to the commissions’ agendas. The commissioners had OPMA training and were warned by the prosecutor that they may be breaking this law,” he said. “However, when it comes to the meeting of two commissioners, the law is gray and there is ambiguity in OPMA and it cannot be definitively determined that they have breached regulations.”

Boos’ arrangement with the new commissioners was hardly conventional, but was necessary given the lack of trust between them and the San Juan County government because of their history of discrimination against Native Americans, Boos told the Tribune in October.

As a candidate in 2018, Grayeyes had been the target of an unreasonable effort by the county clerk to bar him from voting, according to court records. Boos lives in Southwest Colorado and was the attorney who went to court to get Grayeyes’ name on the ballot. He had previously represented the Navajo Nation on a variety of matters, including a major voting rights case against the county that resulted in a reallocation that enabled Grayeyes’ 2018 victory.

However, the statutory audit is silent on this connection and gives little evidence that the auditors spoke to Grayeyes, Maryboy or Boos, neither of whom are named in the audit. It doesn’t even mention the commissars’ tribal affiliation.

Committee member Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, evoked the culture of distrust that has permeated San Juan County, where Native Americans make up half the population but have historically been excluded from positions of authority.

“There’s a reason this dysfunction might be occurring, and we can’t just blame it on these two commissioners because we have to look at the overall institution and structure of San Juan,” Romero said. “I understand why we’re reviewing this audit, but let’s look at the overall dynamics of government and the way the system is working out there? Because it’s a very hostile environment, depending on who you ask.”

Notwithstanding this history, the audit concluded that the Commissioners’ meetings with a private lawyer raised serious concerns and made numerous recommendations to ensure more transparency in the future.

“The commissioners’ unconventional actions put them in a potentially compromising position,” the review said. “Based on our combined experience auditing a variety of public entities, the actions of the two former San Juan County Commissioners are unique in their disregard for transparency with county residents. While we have not been able to document any definitive violations of the law, we believe the issues we have identified warrant additional action by the county to prevent similar actions in the future, restore public trust, and ensure transparency.”

Like most counties in Utah, San Juan is governed by a three-member commission, so whenever two members meet, a commission quorum is formed, increasing the need for a public meeting when county affairs are discussed.

While the auditors couldn’t conclude that the commissioners violated Utah’s open gathering laws, they raised several red flags.

“We are concerned that by hiring private attorneys instead of the district attorney’s services, the district commissioners may have reduced the transparency of commission activities and increased the potential for improper influence on commission business,” the auditors wrote.

The audit found that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Boos’ services may have been paid for by an unnamed “special interest group,” making it appear that the commission was unduly influenced.

That unnamed group is the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which its executive director says has never agreed to pay for any work done by Boos for the commissioner.

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In 2021, one of the commissioners proposed an order for the county to hire Boos to represent the county over objections from then-district attorney Kendall Laws, the audit found. The decision ultimately failed.

“The commissioner’s attempt to hire his private attorney for district work may have been influenced by the fact that he was given unpaid legal work over a period of time,” the audit reads. “Additionally, proper disclosure of this relationship would have provided more transparency.”

In an unsigned response to the audit, the new San Juan County Commission blasted Maryboy and Grayeyes, again without naming them, for secretly conducting county business. His statement goes beyond the conclusions of the audit and condemns their behavior.

“We believe that while it may seem unconventional, these were not unconventional actions, but intentional. Deliberately with the intention of hiding from the public what they were doing, hiding actions and favors for special interest groups, and hiding joint deliberations, which should always be in front of an open public environment when considering regulations, resolutions, and their language. ‘ the formal reply read.

The commissioners’ behavior has cost the county “thousands of dollars,” eroded morale and led to the departure of experienced employees, the statement said.

“Citizens should not have to shoulder the financial burden of elected leaders who choose not to obey state statute and do not comply with the law after being trained and counseled,” the response reads. “Citizens shouldn’t have to wait 4 years for elections to correct an elected official’s wrongdoing and misdeeds.”

Justin Scaccy

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