Plurality of voters disagree with the county commissioners’ closed-door meeting in Utah

According to a new bipartisan poll, Garfield County voters are deeply divided over their county commissioners’ recent actions on several oil and gas drilling and oil shale issues.

The poll examined three controversial decisions made by the county commissioners, whether voters believe the oil and gas industry has too much influence with the county commissioners, and whether voters approved of the county commissioners’ job performance.

One of the topics polled – a closed-door meeting with oil shale lobbyists held in Vernal, Utah – has been condemned in the media. Commissioners recently rescinded a resolution that was at least partially drafted during that meeting.

“Whether it’s giving oil shale lobbyists preferred access, firing the county’s industry liaison in response to lobbyists’ complaints, or spending tens of thousands of dollars on out-of-state energy consultants with partisan ties, this poll shows a greater number of Garfield County voters disagree with the county commissioners than agree with them,” said Ellynne Bannon, spokesperson for the Checks and Balances Project.

“Far from having a mandate, Jankovsky, Martin and Samson fail to generate even a plurality of support for their decisions,” continued Bannon. “The commissioners have divided voters down the middle on oil and gas and oil shale issues.”

The county commissioners’ decision to use taxpayer funds in hiring a Texas consultant firm with ties to a partisan advocacy organization was the most controversial decision. The commissioners had hired the firm to influence the federal government’s approach to protecting land and water important to the greater sage grouse from development. Voters disagreed with the decision by a nearly 2 to 1 margin (51 percent to 27 percent).

More voters (43 percent) disagree than agree (31 percent) with the Board’s decision to fire the county’s oil and gas industry liaison. Among unaffiliated voters, even more people disagree than agree (45 percent to 29 percent) and more Republican women disagree (38 percent) than agree (33 percent) with the firing of the county’s liaison.

Overall, 46 percent of those polled disagree with the Garfield Board of County Commissioners’ decision to hold a meeting in Utah closed to the public, compared to 42 percent who agreed. More unaffiliated voters disagreed with the Board’s decision to hold the meeting than agreed (48 percent to 41 percent).

The county is evenly divided on whether the oil and gas industry has too much influence with the county commission. Among respondents, 45 percent of said the oil and gas industry has too much influence and 46 percent of voters said the county commissioners are balanced and industry. Notably, 50 percent of unaffiliated voters say that the industry has too much influence.

The survey results show that Commissioners Tom Jankovsky, John Martin and Mike Samson have all failed to earn a majority job performance rating, though the commission as a whole received a 53 percent overall job performance approval.

Democratic polling firm Peak Campaigns and Republican polling firm Bellwether Research & Consulting conducted the bipartisan public opinion poll of 405 registered voters in Garfield County Colorado September 9-13, 2012.

“We thought it was important to get an honest assessment about how residents felt about controversial positions the Garfield County Commissioners have taken on energy,” said Bannon. “The poll questions presented strong arguments for both sides, and the poll was drafted and conducted with input from respected Democratic and Republican polling firms.”

Click to download the polling memo, topline, and crosstabs.