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San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is a federal convict, but now he is also Utah's 2015 county commissioner of the year.
The Utah Association of Counties voted to give him the award at its recent fall convention, after Lyman was convicted in May of misdemeanor charges for organizing an illegal protest ride by ATVs into artifact-filled Recapture Canyon near Blanding.
"The commissioners kind of respect when someone takes a stand or takes action," Lyman said Friday. "They appreciated what I did."
Lyman added, "I was very humbled by that vote. When it's coming from your peers, it means a lot. And it certainly has meant a lot to me, especially given everything else that I'm dealing with and the battles I'm fighting."
"Phil has been a great public servant," Kerry Gibson, Weber County commissioner and president of the Utah Association of Counties, said in a statement. "He's proven his love for the citizens he represents and is committed to standing for something his colleagues across the state support and believe in."
Gibson is a former state lawmaker who served in the House from 2005 to 2011.
Lyman led a ride through Recapture Canyon, on what he contends is a county dirt road, to protest what he says is too-restrictive federal land regulation. In 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management closed the canyon to motor vehicles after it concluded ATVs were damaging archaeological sites there.
A federal jury convicted Lyman of misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving on lands closed to public vehicles. Court records filed Friday show that he is set to be sentenced Dec. 18. U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby recused himself after Lyman's attorneys raised questions about his friendship with a Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney.
Since then, Judges Jill Parrish and David Sam have also recused themselves from the case. Chief Judge David Nuffer is currently assigned to the case.
Lyman said his new honor from fellow county officials likely came because of more than just the Recapture Canyon protest. "I've been really involved in a lot of issues, but most of them are about public lands."
For example, he said he has been helping U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, work on proposals about which public lands to protect and where development may be allowed. "I headed up a citizens advisory group on that, and have been involved in the negotiations."
Also, "I'm kind of controversial, even on the commission side of things," including opposing Proposition 1, which would raise sales taxes for transportation. "I would rather see government live within its means."
While he says he opposes that tax hike, he favored putting the issue on the ballot because "the people should choose."
The new honor is not the first time that fellow elected officials have supported Lyman. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, earlier this year made a pitch for Utah's Constitutional Defense Council to set aside $100,000 in taxpayer money to help defray Lyman's legal bills.
That did not happen. But during a hearing on that proposal, several elected officials pledged donations to help the county commissioner, including a promise of $10,000 from Gov. Gary Herbert, a former Utah County commissioner. Several other officials donated between $100 and $1,000 each to Lyman during that hearing.