Utah County's commissioners appeared to come with the best of intentions as they called together the residents of the Manila township Wednesday night.
But their attempts to bring a swift and peaceful solution to the enmity between members of the township and officials of Cedar Hills and Pleasant Grove ended - after nearly three hours of discussion - with basically the same situation that has prevailed for months in the northeastern end of Utah County and led to litigation and frustration for all sides.As commissioner Jerry Grover attempted to summarize and close the meeting, Manila Township chairwoman Cindy Boyd called for residents to sign a petition renewing Manila's plea for annexation by resolution to Pleasant Grove. There are 72 homes in Manila.
Pleasant Grove Mayor Ed Sanderson said the issue is not one of fairness but of freedom of choice. He said he sees the last-minute involvement from the commission as a side with Cedar Hills that paints Pleasant Grove as the bully.
And Cedar Hills Mayor Elizabeth Johnson declared that as long as people cast her in the role of a Satan, no one will give any credence to what she is really trying to say.
Johnson said Cedar Hills is not trying to force people to annex but at the same time the city must preserve its opportunity to offer critical services.
Cedar Hills City Councilman Brad Sears said Cedar Hills will sign an agreement promising not to annex anyone against their will for 50 to 100 years if necessary.
"We are happy to provide services to nonresidents at resident rates," he said. "I'm not trying to be a used-car salesman here. You have my guarantee. You have my word."
Sanderson said Pleasant Grove is going to be left with a sizable legal bill and nothing to show for it if the commissioners step in on the side of Cedar Hills.
He said he's been told Cedar Hills officials will pursue litigation all the way to the Supreme Court - litigation that is supposed to stop annexation of the township to Pleasant Grove.
He said Johnson's involvement with HB355 in the current legislative pipeline raises questions about her real intentions.
HB355 would restrict communities from annexing property that is already more than 50 percent bordered by another municipality, explained Utah County deputy attorney Kent Willis.
Sanderson told Manila residents that Pleasant Grove would be happy to welcome them into the community but is not interested in forcing the issue. "We have nothing to gain by forcing you to live in Pleasant Grove," he said.
Grover presented the results of a telephone survey he conducted that showed 77 percent of the unincorporated area residents want to remain in the county and not be annexed to either city.
However, a show of hands called at the meeting indicated that if given the choice between Cedar Hills and Pleasant Grove, most would choose Pleasant Grove.
"We know we are not the winners of the popularity contest. That's been made clear," Johnson acknowledged. "The town still has service obligations we take very seriously and if we feel we cannot fulfill our obligations, then yes, we would have an issue with you (Manila residents) being in Pleasant Grove."
Grover proposed a solution to the problem that would involve calling off all protests and litigation procedures and the three communities agreeing to an interlocal truce of sorts for 50 years.
Residents in the unincorporated areas would be allowed to hook up to the nearest city services and the cities would work together to prevent having to duplicate services and utility systems.
Part of the proposal suggested that once hooked up to one of the cities, a resident could not then annex to the other municipality.
Many residents said that basically would bind them to eventually annex to Cedar Hills whether they wish to do so now or not.
Others feared staying in the county would only delay the inevitable and probably limit their choices as Cedar Hills continues to grow.
Commissioner Gary Herbert said it's unfortunate that the very emotionally charged issue has neighbors viewing each other as enemies.
"The reason the County Commission is here is really by invitation. We'd like to see peace to the issue and we've tried not to take any side. I think we see our role here as the only representatives the unincorporated area residents have. We would be the facilitators to a solution," he said.
Grover said without a different solution, Pleasant Grove would feel a large amount of burden when they meet on March 18 to determine whether to accept Manila's request for annexation by resolution.
"I think the concept of people being in control of their land and their lives is essential," commissioner David Gardner said. "We hope to keep the dialogue open."