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After public scoffing, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman a federal convict awaiting sentencing has decided to give up his new award as "County Commissioner of the Year" from the Utah Association of Counties.
"I hope that my declination will remove an unnecessary diversion from focusing on the duties and functions that are most important to UAC as an organization, to the commissioners and council members who faithfully serve their counties, and to the citizens who rely on us," he wrote Thursday to the organization.
Last month, county commissioners at a fall conference voted to give Lyman the award after the San Juan official was convicted in May of misdemeanor charges for organizing an illegal protest ride by off-roaders into artifact-filled Recapture Canyon near Blanding.
Lyman later told The Salt Lake Tribune, "The commissioners kind of respect when someone takes a stand or takes action. They appreciated what I did."
At the time, Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, UAC's president, said Lyman has "proven his love for the citizens he represents and is committed to standing for something his colleagues across the state support and believe in."
But the award led to plenty of criticism in editorials, cartoons and letters to the editors. Leaders in Salt Lake and Summit counties also questioned the award and whether it was worth spending taxpayer money to belong to UAC which lobbies the Legislature for counties and provides training if it slants to such rural viewpoints.
On Thursday, Lyman wrote, "This nomination by my esteemed peers is meaningful to me and will always remain so. I truly understand the dilemma that this nomination and vote has created for some of them [county commissioners] and for certain other members of UAC."
Lyman was scheduled to formally receive the award next month at the UAC annual convention in St. George. He asked the group to choose another recipient from among others who had also been nominated, "each of whom are very deserving of this recognition."
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 lands.
Lyman is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 18, and a hearing about restitution in the case is scheduled for Oct. 28.
Sentencing was delayed because Judge Robert Shelby recused himself after Lyman's attorneys raised questions about his friendship with a Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney. Later, Judges Jill Parrish and David Sam also recused themselves. Chief Judge David Nuffer is currently assigned to the case.
The Commissioner of the Year 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.