Speak up for government transparency

5 03 2014

Want to know how your water district or local housing authority is spending your money? Citizens might have to demand accountability from these agencies to get the answers.

Utah State Auditor John Dougall has released a list of 53 local government entities that are late in filing annual budget and financial reports, which show how taxpayer money was budgeted and how it was actually spent. The late reports span 2003 to 2012 and total more than 200.

In many cases, the auditor’s office can withhold funds until the reports are updated. Some local government agencies do not get state-allocated funds or property taxes but still are among the nearly 1,000 entities — including cities, counties and special-service districts — required to file reports.

A  list of the 53 delinquent filers can be found at http://1.usa.gov/1d2Jgzv. The auditor’s office is encouraging Utah taxpayers to ask these government agencies about their late reports and the money they are unable to spend because of their tardiness.





Utahn of the Year asked tough questions to shine a light on alleged abuses of power

30 12 2013

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has worked for the past year to uncover the truth about two high profile cases — the shooting death of Danielle Willard by West Valley City detectives and allegations of influence peddling by former Utah Attorney General John Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff.

Gill has been criticized by the detectives’ attorneys and a Republican party official for his investigation of the West Valley case. His response: “At the end of the day, it is the facts and the evidence at hand that drive the situation. Nobody is above the law.”

His efforts led The Salt Lake Tribune to name Gill its Utahn of the Year

“Sim Gill is just doing his job,” Terry Orme, The Tribune’s editor and publisher, wrote. “But it is a very tough job, a very important job — one that has profound bearing on how people in power in Utah conduct themselves, one that demonstrates to all that justice will be served for all.”





Utah journalist organization backs request for release of school security recording

10 12 2013

The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has filed a court brief supporting the disclosure of a recording from a Canyons School District security camera.

Roger Bryner requested security footage of a scuffle involving his son and another student under the state Government Records Access and Management Act. The district denied the request, contending that the recording was an education record and protected from disclosure under the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Bryner challenged the denial in Utah’s 3rd District Court, which ruled that the recording was an education record. The father appealed the decision to the Utah Court of Appeals, where SPJ filed its friend-of-the-court brief on Dec. 4.

“If the school district is allowed to shield itself by incorrectly claiming surveillance camera footage is the same as a test or grading record, then the public school system can’t be held accountable for keeping students in public schools safe,” Sheryl Worsley, Utah Headliners president and KSL Newsradio news director, said in a written statement.





Salt Lake Tribune uses UTA data to pinpoint crime

27 11 2013

After a long legal battle, The Salt Lake Tribune obtained data from the Utah Transit Authority as part of a countywide crime-mapping project.

After the newspaper won a ruling from the State Records Committee saying the data was public and should be provided free, the agency filed suit to reverse that decision. The suit claimed, in part, that UTA could not access the data because it was stored inside a third-party vendor database.

A settlement last month led to release of the data, which was used in a Sunday story that looked at the types of crimes committed along bus and TRAX lines in 2012. Among the findings: Passengers are more likely to be exposed to crime along bus lines but UTA reported only a handful of the most serious offenses, such as aggravated robberies and aggravated assaults.





Introduction

14 11 2013

Hello, I am Pamela Manson, the new administrator for Utah’s Right and also a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune, covering various cities around the state.

Please send ideas, suggestions and concerns about Utah’s Right to webmaster@utahsright.com, or reach me at my own email, pmanson@sltrib.com. You can also follow us at @UtahsRight for database updates, information about open-records laws and transparency in government, as well as other news, including information about our upcoming redesign and new features.





Utah’s senators split on federal reporters’ shield law

12 09 2013

Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee found themselves on opposite sides of whether to grant journalists a qualified right to refuse to testify or hand over notes.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 Thursday to pass out the Free Flow of Information Act to the full Senate for consideration. Hatch voted in favor of the bill, which includes compromise language on who is a journalist, while Lee, the state’s junior senator voted no.

Media organizations have been pushing for a law allowing reporters to protect their sources and their notes since 2006. Forty-eight states, including Utah, have laws offering protection in varying degrees to journalists.

The sticking point on the federal law has been defining who is a journalist. Organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists have argued that rules should protect people who practice journalism. But. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., attempted to push for language that would limit the protection to “real journalists.”

Compromise language approved Thursday extends the protection to freelance journalists and bloggers who have worked in traditional media in the past.

Attempts to contact Lee for comment were not successful.





Gov. Gary Herbert nominates Marie Cornwall for State Records Committee post

10 09 2013

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is following the State Records Committee’s recommendation and nominating Marie Cornwall as the committee’s second public member.

Herbert has sent Cornwall’s name to the Utah State Senate, which will have a confirmation vote when it meets on Sept. 18. However, that is six days after the committee’s regular meeting, leaving the committee one member short for another month.

Cornwall is an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University and lives in Bountiful. The committee gave her a “soft recommendation” in June, due to only seeing her resume.

Cornwall was one of five people who applied for the newly created position. The others were Sarra McGillis, a corrections specialist with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office; James Weightman, director of internal audits at the Salt Lake County Auditor’s Office; and Sheri Bernard, a consultant who had works in health-care information management.

The position was created as part of SB94, Sen. Curt Bramble’s bill that amended the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). The bill also removed the state auditor’s seat on the body that hears GRAMA appeals and replaced it with a second slot for a member of the public.

Bramble said the change was made at the request of State Auditor John Dougall, who wanted to avoid any conflicts of interest if his office were to audit the committee. Dougall — who as a legislator authored HB477, the bill that gutted GRAMA and was repealed after public outcry in 2011 — fired the auditor’s representative on the committee, Betsy Ross.

Herbert’s previous appointment to the board was Holly Richardson, a conservative blogger and former legislator who supported HB477, as a public member.








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