Phil Windley, Jason Williams to serve as public members of Utah Transparency Advisory Board

22 08 2013

The Utah Transparency Advisory Board added two new members Monday.

The board unanimously voted to add Phillip Windley and Jason Williams as public members of the board. The two were among five people vying for the two seats created under SB77 in the 2013 Legislature.

Windley previously served as the state’s chief information officer, and Williams is a technology consultant and a talk-show host on KVNU. Both served on the GRAMA working group formed in 2011 after the repeal of HB477, the bill that gutted the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act.

Also applying for the positions were Steven Bagley, general manager of the Utah Department of Transportation’s Lester Wire Library and a technical writer; Christopher Bleak, president and CEO of the Utah Association of Public and Charter Schools and former executive director of the Utah Republican Party; former Rep. Holly Richardson, who is also a member of the State Records Committee.

SB77, which was sponsored by Sen. Deidre Henderson, also expanded the board’s scope from financial records to all public records. Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican, also chairs the board.





Criminal charges, divorce filings updated on Utah’s Right

10 08 2013

Worried about that guy who’s dating your daughter?

I”ve updated the criminal charges and divorces databases on Utah’s Right, with data from Jan. 1, 1997, to Aug. 2, 2013. The data does not include people whose cases were dismissed or handled through diversion or plea-in-abeyance agreements.

I also delete criminal charges that have been expunged, once I receive a copy of the expungement order.

Even taking out those cases, the databases are still extensive. There are 883,792 criminal charges listed in the database, an increase of 5,069 since the June update.

On the divorce side, we have 146,897 cases online, which is 4,058 more than there were in June.

Bear in mind, just because you found a person’s name in the database, that is not positive identification. The courts do not provide dates of birth in the data requests. So, please verify identities with another source before basing a decision on what you see on the site.





Governor Herbert still looking for public member for records committee

23 07 2013

Filling a vacancy on the State Records Committee wasn’t on the Utah State Legislature’s agenda this past week.

While Gov. Gary Herbert sent recommendations to the Senate for 27 positions that needed advice and conset, including former LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton appointment to the University of Utah Board of Trustees and former LDS General Young Women’s President Elaine S. Dalton’s nomination to serve on the Utah Valley University Board of Trustees, there was no nominee for the records committee.

The Legislature voted earlier this year to take away the state auditor’s position on the committee and add a second seat for a public member. Four people have applied so far for the position on the body that hears appeals of records denials.

The committee gave a “soft recommendation” to Marie Cornwall, an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University in June.

Ally Isom, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Herbert will likely send a name to the Senate for its consideration in September. Isom said Herbert is not trying to drag out the process.

“It’s been a busy, busy month,” Isom said, noting that Herbert has been on a trade mission.

The new appointee would replace Betsy Ross, the auditor’s representative on the committee who was fired in December by incoming state Auditor John Dougall. Ross had opposed HB477, the bill Dougall sponsored as a legislator in 2011 that would have gutted the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

Dougall claims he axed Ross because he did not believe she was doing her job as the office’s liaison to the Legislature. He also endorsed removing the auditor’s seat, as it would allow him to audit the committee without worrying about a conflict of interest.

The Legislature did address an open-government issue during the special session. It voted to allow the House committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow to close some of its meetings and to keep its records away from the public.





Utah Legislature votes to shield portions of investigation into Attorney General John Swallow

17 07 2013

While pledging transparency, the Utah Legislature voted to place parts of its investigation into Attorney General John Swallow behind a cloak of secrecy.

The House of Representatives voted 67-6 Wednesday to approve HB1001, which allows the House investigative committee charged with investigating Swallow to subpoena witnesses, place them under oath and grant limited immunity. The Senate voted 28-0 to approve the measure, with Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, being the only senator not present for the vote.

But the bill also grants the committee the power to close its meetings by a simple majority vote to discuss strategy, obtain legal advice or to interview witnesses. It also allows the committee to declare some of its records as protected, including records of a witness interview, committee members’ impressions of the case or documents that “the disclosure of which would interfere with the effectiveness of the investigation.”

The bill states that the records would remain protected until the committee concludes its business.

“I believe the process should be as transparent as possible,” House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said. But he said there was a need to maintain confidence between the committee and its legal counsel.

Dee also claimed the Legislature went the “extra mile” by discussing the bill with members of the Utah Media Coalition, of which The Salt Lake Tribune is a member, and they were OK with the restrictions.

Salt Lake City media attorneys Jeff Hunt and Michael O’Brien represented the coalition in discussions with legislators last week.

Hunt said lawmakers were actually looking to put more restrictions on the information, and what came out in the bill was a compromise. Hunt said traditionally in Utah, criminal investigation records are typically regarded a protected records, and the legislative committee records fell into that category.

Also, Hunt noted that had the Legislature made the records private, as was originally proposed, the public would not be able to challenge the closure since private records are not subject to the test balancing the public’s interest in disclosure against the need to keep the record under wraps. Protected records, on the other hand, can be made public if the public interest at least equals the privacy concern.

But such an appeal would go through the Legislature’s own records committee and then the courts. Lawmakers exempted themselves from having to defend record closures before the State Records Committee.

Not everyone was happy with granting the committee exemptions from open-government laws.

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, said the committee should not be meeting behind closed doors, but should allow the public to see what is being done.

Jim Fisher, who has taught journalism at the University of Utah, said the investigation should be completely open, with nothing held back.

“It seems to me that there is almost nothing more public than the review of a public employee by the Legislature,” said Fisher, who is also on the board of the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “It should be public from the get-go.”

Swallow has been accused of helping indicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson attempt to bribe U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; suggesting to businessmen that contributing to then-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s campaign would give them special consideration in the event of an investigation; and violating attorney-client privilege. Swallow is already the target of a federal investigation, as well as probes by the Salt Lake and Davis counties’ attorneys.





Sen. Deidre Henderson named transparency board chair in absentia

10 07 2013

Wednesday was supposed to be Sen. Deidre Henderson’s first meeting with the Utah Transparency Advisory Board.

But Henderson, a Spanish Fork Republican who is taking the place of Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, wasn’t there. Instead, she was attending a meeting of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators in Philadelphia.

But her new board colleagues came up with a suitable punishment: They unanimously elected her as the board’s new chair, a post also previously held by Niederhauser.

“Pick on the person who isn’t there,” Henderson tweeted after learning about her appointment.

Henderson sponsored SB283 during this year’s legislative session which expanded the board’s duties to provide access to more than just financial information through the state’s transparency website. Her bill also expands the board’s membership, including adding two public seats to the board.





Louisiana makes it a crime to name concealed-weapons permit holders

26 06 2013

Louisiana recently made Utah’s restriction on access to concealed-carry permit information look benign by comparison.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press reported that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed two bills into law that make it a crime to disclose the name or address of a concealed gun permit holder. Those who do face six months in jail and or a fine of up to $1,000.

In contrast, Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act labels concealed-carry permit information as protected information, meaning the state Bureau of Criminal Identification cannot release the information, nor even confirm if someone has a permit or has lost one.

The only penalty it prescribes is for state workers who disclose such information, and it is a class A misdemeanor. But there is no penalty if, for example, one were to point out, through other sources, that Sens. Howard A. Stephenson, R-Draper, and Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, and Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, all carry concealed weapons. 

But Louisiana’s laws, passed in response to a New York newspaper’s publication of a list of handgun-permit holders, only carves out an exemption for reporting that a permit was revoked after its holder was convicted of a gun-related felony.

“There are limitations on First Amendment rights,” said Republican state Rep. Jeff Thompson, the bills’ sponsor.  “You have to balance those.”

But media advocates say the move amounts to censorship by punishing journalists for publishing information they obtained from other sources.

“The Second Amendment relates to your right to own firearms,” Louisiana media lawyer Loretta Mince said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with whether other people are permitted to know that you own firearms.”





Gov. Gary Herbert still mulling choices for State Records Committee vacancy

25 06 2013

Gov. Gary Herbert expects to nominate someone to fill the newly created public-member’s seat on the State Records Committee by next week.

Nate McDonald, a Herbert public information officer, said the governor is still awaiting recommendations on the people who have applied for the job.

Four people applied for the position, and the records committee offered a “soft recommendation” for seating Marie Cornwall on the committee. Cornwall, according to her résumé, is an emeritus sociology professor at Brigham Young University who lives in Bountiful.

Committee Chairman Lex Hemphill said the board couldn’t make a stronger recommendation because it was only going on applications and did not interview any of the candidates.

The other applicants 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 applicants’ information was obtained through a Government Records Access and Management Act request to the committee. Patricia Smith-Mansfield, the governor’s representative on the committee, did not include the applications in the board’s agenda packet for its June 13 meeting.

“I did not want it to become a public record,” Smith-Mansfield said.

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.





Betsy Ross, Chris Burbank win Utah Sunshine Awards, UTA gets a Black Hole

21 06 2013

Betsy Ross, former chairwoman of the State Records Committee was honored for her 18 years of advocating for open government.

The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists gave Ross one of its annual Sunshine Awards at a ceremony in Fort Douglas’ Officers’ Club Thursday.

Ross served on the board, which hears appeals under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), since its creation. She first served as the board’s legal counsel and then as the state auditor’s representative on the board. She did three stints as chairwoman.

During her tenure on the board, Ross was regarded as its institutional memory and conscience, always ensuring that those who appeared before the board received a fair hearing. She also used the position to push for greater access to public records.

When the Legislature railroaded through HB477, the 2011 bill that gutted GRAMA, Ross stood on the side of open-government advocates. In an op-ed column in The Salt Lake Tribune, Ross pointed out the ignorance that drove the bill, sponsored by then-Rep. John Dougall. She also invited lawmakers to come to a records committee hearing to see that their concerns about GRAMA were unwarranted.

No legislators ever took her up on the invitation.

Ross left the committee at the end of 2012, when she was fired by Dougall, the incoming auditor. Dougall claimed that she was let go because she was not spending enough time with legislators as the auditor’s director of legal affairs.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank also received a Sunshine Award for making the department’s daily watch logs available online. Previously, the logs would state that no significant events occurred, even on the night officers responded to the home of Uta von Schwedler, a University of Utah researcher who was found dead in her bathtub.

Von Schwedler, John Wall, has since been charged with her murder.

SPJ also awarded a Black Hole award to the Utah Transit Authority for its refusal to release information about former UTA CEO John Inglish’s retirement package. The Black Hole Award recognizes entities that egregiously block access to public information.

Eventually, UTA released the information, showing that Inglish’s pension was higher than what former U.S. presidents are paid.

The Utah SPJ chapter also noted that UTA continues to withhold crime data from The Salt Lake Tribune, despite a November 2012 order from the Records Committee to provide the information. The UTA appealed the committee’s ruling to 3rd District Court.

“Both of these instances reflect what seems to be UTA’s general stance that if they stonewall long enough when information is requested that they don’t want to share, the media will just move on,” Linda Petersen, Utah Headliners FOI chair said. “But this is information the public has a right to know. The media should not have to fight for it on the public’s behalf. UTA’s Black Hole Award is well-deserved.”





Unified Fire Authority, Utah Tax Commission coming before State Records Committee

12 06 2013

A Sandy man wants the State Records Committee to help him find out who accused him of illegal burning.

Larry Hartlerode had filed a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) for reports from the Unified Fire Authority related to its response to complaints that he was illegally burning in his Sandy yard. Hartlerode’s request was partially granted, with the name of the person who filed the complaint with the department being removed from the record.

“This information should be provided as per the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically the right to confronted with witnesses against him,” Hartlerode wrote in his appeal.

The department said the name could not be released because GRAMA declares people’s addresses and phone numbers as private if the person reasonably expects the information to be kept in confidence. Department officials, in their response, said the person who filed the complaint requested anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

The committee is also hearing another appeal Thursday from Harshad Desai, who asked for copies of personal property audits done in Garfield County between 2001 and 2012, along with the auditors’ names.

The commission said Desai had received some information, such as the number of audits performed, but denied other parts of his request. The commission argued that audit reports are protected information because they involve commercial property.

The commission also argued that its work records are protected, and that it cannot give out auditors’ names in connection to the audits they worked on.

The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtyard Meeting Room at the Utah State Archives. 346 S. Rio Grande St. in Salt Lake City.





bustedmugshots.com owner suing Salt Lake County for jail booking pictures

23 05 2013

The owner of a mug-shot website wants a judge to decide on whether Salt Lake County can invoke copyright to withhold booking photos.

As Mike Gorrell reports, Kyle Prall, owner of bustedmugshots.com, is going to court to overturn the county’s denial of his Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) request for 1,388 mug shots taken between Jan. 11 and Jan. 27. The county claimed the pictures were classified as protected records under the federal Copyright Act.

The move is an effort by the county to keep the mug shots off websites that publish the pictures, only removing them if the person pictured pays a fee. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder has also removed the pictures from the jail’s website, requiring those who seek them to file a GRAMA request.

Prall’s site offers to remove pictures for free for those who have been acquitted or not charged, while charging others at least $98 to take down their pictures.

Prall argues that if allowed to stand, the copyright argument could be used to undermine open-government laws.”

Federal copyright law also states that government cannot claim copyright for any documents it creates.

Prall claims the county’s move also flies in the face of GRAMA by allowing government to withhold records based on how they plan to use the documents. GRAMA does not look at the requester’s intent when weighing whether a record should be released.

County Council Chairman Steve DeBry declined to comment, citing the lawsuit.