Bill would require three day’s notice of meetings, but no penalties for violation

27 02 2013

The House Political Subdivisions Committee unanimously approved a watered-down version of Rep. Kraig Powell’s bill requiring meeting agendas be posted 72 hours in advance.

The committee voted Monday to send out HB207 after the Heber Republican altered his original provision that only “unforeseen” items could be added to the posted agenda up to 24 hours before the meeting. Now, any item can be added to the agenda up until the day before the meeting.

Also, the bill states that the state could not take action against a city council, school board or other public entity subject to the Open and Public Meetings Act for failing to comply with the 72-hour notice rule. The bodies’ actions would still be subject to being overturned if they violate the current 24-hour deadline for posting meeting notices.

Instead, Powell said it would be up to the public’s moral indignation to enforce the 72-hour rule.

“But there would be political pressure if [a public agency] did that for a couple meetings,” Powell said. “The people would be asking, ‘What are you hiding?'”

Powell made the changes after the Utah League of Cities and Towns objected to the original text of the bill. Lincoln Shurtz, the league’s lobbyists, told lawmakers at the first committee meeting that since “foreseen” was not adequately defined, cities would be open to lawsuits for adding an item to the agenda that someone believed did not come up at the last minute.

Lynn Pace, a member of the league’s board of directors and a Holladay City Councilman, said the ULCT appreciated Powell’s willingness to amend the bill.

Powell said the bill’s intent is to increase transparency. He said many cities already have agendas ready three or more days before a meeting.

The additional time, Powell said, allows people to become better informed about issues in their communities.

The bill is now awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.



Public will get to know who’s in running for University of Wyoming presidency

23 02 2013

The Student Press Law Center reported Friday that the University of Wyoming will release the names of the candidates for the University of Wyoming Presidency.

Chad Baldwin, the university’s director of institutional communications, said the university was dropping its challenge to a lawsuit filed by Wyoming media to see the names. The university had sought to conduct a secret search for the new president, but a district judge ruled in January that the finalists’ names were a matter of public record.

That ruling inspired a bill to make the searches private. On Feb. 8, the bill became law without Gov. Matt Mead’s signature. Mead did warn the Legislature not to further erode Wyoming’s open-records law.

University officials had argued that the secrecy was needed to get qualified candidates for the job. But the news organizations maintained that a public search would attract high-quality candidates, as well as promote public involvement in the selection process.

Wyoming governor allows bill shielding University of Wyoming presidential candidates to become law without signature

22 02 2013

Unlike their neighbors in Utah, Wyoming residents won’t know if the best man or woman was chosen to head the University of Wyoming.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead chose to let HB223, which made the names of candidates for college and university presidencies secret under the state’s open-records law, become law without his signature on Feb. 8. Wyoming law requires the governor to act on a bill within three days of receiving it.

“By not affixing my signature to this bill I wanted to express my concern about creating another exemption from disclosure under the Public Records Act,” Mead said in a statement issued by his office. “I did, however, want the search process at the University of Wyoming to play out under the conditions established for the applicants who put their names forward. I do not want to change the process midstream.”

Wyoming news organizations went to court to get access to the list of the finalists for the University of Wyoming presidency. After a court ruled the names and applications were public records, Wyoming House Majority Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, introduced the bill.

The Casper Star-Tribune noted in an editorial that Mead had little choice in letting the bill become law. It had passed with more than enough votes to override a veto, which would have wasted Mead’s political capital.

But the paper said legislators should heed the governor’s warning and not try to expand exemptions to the open-records law.

“Good government doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Anyone who believes otherwise usually gets the luxury of being behind those closed doors when it comes to making a decision,” the paper wrote.

The Society of Professional Journalists also weighed in on the issue, with a letter urging the bill’s veto. In the letter, SPJ National President Sonny Alborado and Linda Petersen, SPJ’s national FOI chairwoman, evidence from around the country suggests that open presidential searches do not scare off quality candidates.

The SPJ leaders noted that Utah, which has made the names public for more than 10 years, has not had problems finding qualified people to preside over the state’s universities and colleges.

“It is hard to evaluate if someone is truly the best if you don’t know who they were being compared against,” Alborado and Petersen wrote in their letter. “Opening the process allows the public to see whether the final selection was made on the individual’s merits or as a political favor.”

Sen. Bramble pushing to remove auditor’s seat on Utah records committee

21 02 2013

While everyone was heaping praise on Sen. Curt Bramble’s SB94, which would create an online site for the public to see lawmakers’ email, one major change went by virtually unnoticed.

The bill removes the Utah State Auditor’s representative on the State Records Committee, and replaces it a member of the public nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Utah State Senate.

Bramble said the change is being made at the request of the new state auditor, former Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland.

Dougall said he does not want his office to have a conflict of interest should he decide to audit the committee, which hears appeals of records-request denials under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

This comes after Dougall fired Betsy Ross, the auditor’s legislative liasion, who also served as a member of the records committee for 18 years. The committee honored Ross’ tenure at its February meeting, praising her for her advocacy of open government.

One immediate effect of Bramble’s bill is that Ross’ seat will remain vacant on the committee at least until the bill’s fate is resolved. As of Thursday, it was still on the Senate’s second-reading calendar. Records committee members said in their most recent meeting it could be almost a year before the vacancy is filled if the bill passes.

When GRAMA was drafted and the records committee formulated, the intent was to have the auditor’s representative provide expertise on records retention schedules, the timetables showing how long government must hold on to documents.

Patricia Smith-Mansfield, the governor’s designee on the records committee, said that duty will likely be handled by the state archives.

Dougall’s request to take Ross off the committee has raised some concerns. An editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune notes that Dougall was the sponsor of HB477, the 2011 bill that would have eviscerated GRAMA had public furor not forced the Legislature to repeal it before it could take effect.

The editorial noted that Dougall’s firing of Ross didn’t pass the “smell test.” Dougall claimed that he “dismissed” Ross, who still works for the state Treasurer’s Office, because he couldn’t find a legislator that knew her. Ross was an opponent of HB477, and had invited legislators to come to the records committee to see that their concerns about GRAMA abuses were groundless.

The editorial also warned that Dougall could use his ability to audit the committee as a way to undermine GRAMA by harassing the committee.

State Records Committee lets redactions to Cedar Hills lawyer bills stand

18 02 2013

The State Records Committee ruled Thursday that Cedar Hills officials were justified in holding back some information from legal invoices sought by local gadfly Ken Cromar.

Cromar, a former City Councilman and representative of the group Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government, had filed a request under the state Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) to see the city’s lawyer bills. Cromar made the request in October after city officials, in the city’s newsletter, accused Cromar’s group of costing the city thousands of dollars in legal fees because of the group’s GRAMA requests.

Eric T. Johnson, Cedar Hills’ attorney, said he has a $2,000-a-month contract with the city for providing administrative assistance to the city. But he charges $150 an hour for litigation, and said appeals that went to the records committee were considered “a form of litigation.”

The city did provide copies of some of the invoices. After an earlier appeal by Cromar to the records committee, the city provided he rest, but with information about dates, times and names redacted from the records.

The committee, after looking at the original documents, ruled that the deletions were justified.

Bill shielding UTA trip information heads to governor’s desk

15 02 2013

The first bill of the 2013 legislative session to earn a “lights out” rating from the Utah Media Coalition is on its way to the governor’s desk.

SB12, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, would make trip data from the Utah Transit Authority private records under the Government Records Access and Management Act, commonly known as GRAMA. It puts the data in the same category as Social Security numbers and certain medical records.

Van Tassell, a Republican from Vernal (which is not served by the UTA), said the legislation was necessary given the UTA’s move to the a “tap-on, tap-off” system for paying fares with credit cards, cell phones or other devices. The UTA is looking at “distance-based” fares where people will pay based on how far they ride.

Van Tassell said the legislation would prevent a “free-for-all” for the data, as well as discourage divorcing parties from using transit data to track a philandering partner.

The media coalition, which includes The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, KSL, Valley Journals and other Utah media outlets, gave the bill a lights-out rating, meaning that it restricts government transparency, leaving the public in the dark.

“It is entirely proper to protect customer credit card information,” the coalition’s statement reads, “but this bill is overly broad, written to include trip information and other data that the public can use to analyze the transit agency’s efficiency without exposing transit customers.”

Joel Campbell, associate professor of print journalism at Brigham Young University and an open-government advocate, questioned whether there was a “crying need” for restricting access to the data. He said Van Tassell’s divorce scenario was “the most off-the-wall reason to close a record I’ve ever heard.”

Campbell said there are already provisions in GRAMA to protect truly private information, such as credit-card numbers. However, Van Tassell’s bill would make it impossible to access any information that could benefit the public.

The data can be used to show UTA efficiency, as well as which routes get the most riders at different times of the day.

To see how to contact the governor, click here.

Occupational licensing disciplinary records updated on Utah’s Right

5 02 2013

Looking for a new plumber, barber or a doctor? You may want to look on Utah’s Right first.

We’ve updated our database to the end of January 2013. The database lists disciplinary actions taken by the state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing against licensed professionals in the state.

The database, which goes back to October 2008, lists 1,889 professionals who have received some sanction from the state. The sanctions range from public reprimands to revoking licenses. The list includes 786 construction contractors, 272 nurses, 139 pharmacists or pharmacies, 85 physicians, 80 cosmetologists and barbers, 77 massage therapists and hundreds of records on other licensed professions.

Among the more notorious entries in the list are Dr. Dewey Mackay and Dea Milerberg.

Mackay, a Brigham City physician, was convicted on two counts of distribution of a controlled substance that resulted in death, , three counts of use of communication facility in a drug trafficking offense and 35 counts of distribution of a controlled substances. Prosecutors said Mackay prescribed more than 1.9 million hydrocodone pills and 1.6 million oxycodone pills between June 1, 2005 and Oct. 31, 2009.

Millerberg, a nurse, is charged with desecration of a human corpse and drug possession, in connection with the death of 16-year-old Alexis Rasmussen in September 2011.