Our elected Coalville City officials deserve to know what their roles are. Monday’s meeting included a hearty helping of training provided by city staff, but was it appropriate or useful for our council?
The meeting was held at the Coalville City Building. City Staff and Council attended in person, while most of the public was required to view the meeting on Zoom due to Covid-19. In person attendance exceptions were made for Wohali Representative Jim Boyden (although Wohali wasn’t on the agenda). Minutes to this meeting aren’t available on the city’s website, but a link will be added when they are posted.
The meeting agenda was published as follows, but the meeting order changed that evening.
- Roll Call
- Executive Session
- Council Training
- Work Session: Coalville City Fee Schedule Updates
The work session was held first. Staff member Don Sargent presented some suggested updates to the Coalville City Fee Schedule. It seemed most of the suggestions came from the recently updated Summit County Fee Schedule. Council members asked Mr. Sargent to spend more time looking into other local fee schedules that may be more applicable. They also committed to come back with their own suggestions as to what they would like to see changed and updated.
Training was provided by City Attorney Sheldon Smith. The webcams were focused on the members of the council during the training, although Mr. Smith was the one doing the majority of the speaking. He began by stating that it was going to be a short training because he had heard that some members of the council didn’t want him to train them. Each council member was questioned individually if they wanted the training. Some gave reasons why they would also like an outside group to train them, but conceded it was fine if the training continued.
Mayor Trevor Johnson asked the council if they could give examples of any bad legal advice they had been given by the city attorney. The mayor then brought up examples of times when the city had sought second opinions on legal issues and stated Sheldon’s opinions had been upheld. He stated if the council wanted more training, there were places they could go to find it. Sheldon Smith stated that in other jurisdictions, the attorneys do the trainings because they know the issues the councils are facing. He said, “I’m going to talk about one thing you’re facing right now. You probably won’t like what I’m going to say, but I’ll tell you what, I’m 100% sure what my opinion is. Take it to the bank – vote another way, there are consequences.”
Sheldon then admitted he was emotional, because he didn’t think he should have to validate himself. CFRG agrees! The request by the council to take advantage of additional no cost training should not create a need to review Sheldon Smith’s 15 years as city attorney.
Sheldon continued and brought up the Alan Hollow project and how, as a former city council member, he was the lone vote on the council against that project. Later, as the city attorney, he solved the issue and saved the city from bankruptcy. Multiple mink ranch issues he had helped to solve were also brought up. He told the council they should be a team and stated he shouldn’t have to worry about being “stabbed in the back” by the council. A side-story about his senior year football championship was told. He then reviewed his professional accomplishments:
- 4.0 GPA in College
- Graduated top of his class in law school
- Worked for a large law firm
- Served 15 years as Coalville’s City Attorney
The national political scene and Donald Trump were compared to Coalville City’s current situation where apparently the team is fighting against Sheldon. Later he mentioned he “didn’t have a big ego” and was willing to listen if someone had a problem with him. Members of “the group” (CFRG) were referenced as well as what he called “slander” comments. Although “slander” refers to spoken comments we believe he was referring to an email sent to the council by a member of the public – who was named in the meeting. He also explained, “If I had my way, no project would be up there. Zero development! Sorry Jim Boyden, but that’s how I feel.”
The Main Course
About 20 minutes into the training, Sheldon brought up the legislative and administrative responsibilities of the council. The legislative or “law making” responsibilities involve listening to the experts and then doing what the public wants, as long as it’s legal. The administrative duties are about applying the law to applications that are permitted. Wohali’s first application fell under the legislative umbrella because they were asking for a rezone. The council was charged with listening to the public on that one (but most didn’t). The current Wohali application is an administrative process, where the council simply needs to apply the law* in its approval.
*For a history on how Wohali influenced that law the council must now apply to the application, please see this link: timeline
He stated the council must now “check the boxes” and not listen to the public. Again, “the group” and “the slander comment” were referenced in regards to a letter where council was asked to request a new water study. Sheldon explained that Coalville can’t request a new water study of the applicant. The city has an obligation to provide water for permitted uses – and he stated that includes water for golf courses. He said Wohali could legally require Coalville City to use our 300 acre feet to water the golf course. In a very animated voice, Sheldon then shouted that if he were in the council’s shoes, “I would jump over here and I would check that box 50 times for water!! I wouldn’t even look at this!”
Apparently, after a member of CFRG brought up the issue with the Wohali Reservoir Application listing Coalville City Water Shares (Article link found here: Wohali Reservoir), Wohali has committed to purchasing their own secondary water from Weber Basin and has offered to pay Coalville City’s reserve fee on our Weber Basin shares.
Later in the meeting, Council Member Don Winters questioned that if Coalville City had to provide the water for permitted uses, wouldn’t that also apply to farmers who needed water for their alfa-alfa? Attorney Sheldon Smith said he made a good argument, but what the law said is that a city is obligated as far as they have the resources to take care of the water. He mentioned our 300 acre feet may not be enough, but we would be obligated to let them use it if they paid the fee in lieu. Council Member Cody Blonquist pointed out that the applicant could reasonably argue they are entitled to treated (culinary) water for their golf course. Hopefully this won’t end up being an issue for Coalville City and Wohali will provide their own water for their golf courses.
Council Member Cody Blonquist reminded the council that they didn’t need to become experts on every box they must check on an application. They should rely on the advice of the staff they had hired. Other council members brought up some issues with checking the boxes on the current application, such as ingress and egress for the roads where there is currently an application with the county to vacate those roads. Sheldon reiterated that once the public hearing has been held, the council has an obligation to “shut the public off”. Most of the time, what the public says has nothing to do with the issue they have to decide on.
This was the second training Sheldon provided this calendar year. The previous training was on 7/13/2020 and a recap of this training can be found here: 7/13/20
A Full Course Meal or Leftovers???
Was the training provided by City Attorney Sheldon Smith complete, appropriate or useful? That’s a question only the council can really answer. CFRG finds that it came across as emotionally charged and personal, with limited useful information for council. For comparison, research was done on prior trainings in Coalville City.
Here, in a joint Planning Commission and City Council Training provided by Don Sargent and Sheldon Smith on May 7, 2018, some real pieces of wisdom are shared. Keep in mind this was just before Don was hired as a member of the city staff. A link to the complete training can be found here, and it’s certainly worth the read: Council and Commission Training
Here are some of our favorite morsels of advice from that training:
- Don Sargent stated, “The Staff shouldn’t present an applicant’s project, but he suggested for them to explain where the project was in the process and what was required to make the application complete at this point. He stated the applicant and staff roles should be separate and defined so the public understood who was doing what.”
- Sheldon Smith stated “Because of the level of sophistication the City may start to see with development, it was extremely important to choose their words carefully and keep their personal feelings out of the decision.”
- Don Sargent stated, “It was difficult not to bark back at the public when they didn’t like something in the Code, but they should keep their cool and remember it wasn’t directed at them personally. He stated they should keep their emotions under control”.
- Mayor Trevor Johnson stated, “The City wanted Public input, but there was a need for leadership to keep the meetings civil and respectful.”
- Don Sargent reminded everyone to “disclose any conflict of interest to keep the record clean of any criticism and anything that could taint the public process.
- Don Sargent stated, “The General Plan should be updated at the same time as the Code so they complimented each other and provided the guidance needed.”
This prior training seemed to be full of advice that the leaders, both elected and appointed, could use to make good decisions on behalf of the people of Coalville. However, sometimes our own advice is the hardest, yet the most important to swallow. Here is a great quote by Tom Stoppard, ” We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.”