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.





U.S. Border Patrol wins IRE’s first-ever award for withholding information

11 07 2013

The Society of Professional Journalists and its Utah chapter are not the only groups using “awards” to spotlight agencies that withhold information from the public.

Investigative Reporters and Editors has created a “Golden Padlock” award to highlight government agencies and officials that stymie efforts at open government and transparency.

IRE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving investigative journalism, awarded the first Golden Padlock to the U.S. Border Patrol, for holding back details on shootings involving its agents along the border with Mexico that resulted in several deaths.

“The U.S. Border Patrol’s resounding silence on fatal shootings involving its agents epitomizes the kind of intransigence for which this award was created,” IRE President David Cay Johnston said in a statement issued by the group. “Accountability is an essential element of any public agency, but all the more so when its agents are empowered to fire weapons that kill. The Border Agency appears to have forgotten that duty.”

Other nominees for the award included the New Jersey Transit Authority for giving reporters a completely blacked-out copy of its hurricane-response plan; and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which took five years to produce a requested document on Lyme disease.

IRE also added the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder for revelations that the department was monitoring journalists’ phone records.





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.”





Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

13 06 2013

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money.

The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

The city charges 25 cents per page after the first 10 pages, whether the information is photocopied or scanned for emailing, along with billing for the employee’s time to prepare the files. Colorado’s records law, like Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, allow people to inspect public documents for free.

So far in Utah, it’s perfectly legal to take pictures of the documents without having to pay a fee. Even HB477 didn’t try to outlaw that practice.

City Clerk Amy Phillips told the paper that city workers will consolidate documents for a records request, and expect the person to come in and pick which ones should be copied.

“[B]ut we’re finding out now that people are able to come in with a phone and just (photograph) the copies,” Phillips said. “Then we don’t retrieve the money we spent.”

Along with a photo ban, the city is also proposing a $30-per-hour fee to for gathering the documents.

The proposal goes to a City Council vote on Tuesday.