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.

Records committee wants log, time to examine Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s personnel file

10 01 2013

Sandra Senn will have to wait a month to find out how much of a Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s record she can look at.
The State Records Committee unanimously agreed to continue Senn’s appeal of an open-records request denial by the Utah Department of Public Safety, as the committee reviews the files to see how much can be released.
Senn is seeking information such as disciplinary records, employment records, training records and other personnel data on Trooper David Wurtz, who pulled over one of Senn’s friends in Park City in 2012. The friend, Rande A. Lee, is charged with driving under the influence, going 30 in a 25-mph zone and not staying in a single traffic lane.
“Even though this case involves a criminal case, I am not jumping on the Trooper [Lisa] Steed bandwagon,” Senn said, referring to the former Utah Highway Patrol trooper accused of falsely charging people with driving under the influence.
Rather, she said it was looking at the dashboard video of the traffic stop that raised questions about Wurtz. She said from his actions, and how she said Wurtz had to ask his supervisor for help with things she said a five-year highway patrol veteran should have known,, that he may have had some “personnel issues.”
When Lee’s attorney, Greg Skordas, didn’t pursue looking into Wurtz’s background, Senn stepped in and made the requests. Skordas is also representing Steed.
Lana Taylor, the assistant attorney general representing the Department of Public Safety, said some of the information that Senn sought was actually with the Department of Human Resources Management. She said Senn did receive paperwork indicating that Wurtz was disciplined in 2009, and some training reports, but she said other information was deemed protected. She said the law protects disciplinary records where the accusation was not proven or the appeals have not run out. She said some of the reports would also expose the names and contact information of witnesses, as well violate Wurtz’s right to privacy.
“He is a [highway] trooper. He has no expectation of privacy,” Senn said. “Anything that deals with his job performance or credibility should be an open book.”
After reviewing the records in a closed session, the board voted that performance reviews were private records and couldn’t be released, but chairman Lex Hemphill said the board would need more time to review the rest of the documents. He chided Taylor for not providing a log explaining which documents were being denied and for what reason. He also said that if there were any documents that could be released to Senn, the state should do so.

Lawyer wants disciplinary records on Utah Highway Patrol trooper

9 01 2013

The State Records Committee will decide tomorrow whether a defense attorney can see a Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s personnel records.

The committee will hear an appeal from Sandra Senn, an attorney representing Rande A. Lee, who was charged with driving under the influence, failing to operate a car in a single lane and driving 30 mph in a 25-mph zone in early 2012. Senn sought personnel records on Trooper David Wurtz, including disciplinary and training records, which she said could help her client.

The Department of Public Safety released a 2009 disciplinary report on Wurtz, showing he received a three-day unpaid suspension for deleting 36 incident reports without completing them. Probationary reports from 2006 and 2007 also noted Wurtz’s problems with spelling and grammar in reports,  driving in a less-than-safe manner to a fatal accident, putting himself in danger by not asking someone he pulled over to remove his hands from his pockets, and bluntly asking a driver he pulled over if she had been drinking.

But the department held back other records, citing a provision in the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) that says the records are protected, except for disciplinary reports where the discipline has been upheld and the appeals have been exhausted.

Senn, in her filing with the records committee, compared the UHP’s refusal to hand over the disciplinary records to the patrol’s reluctance to release information on recently fired Trooper Lisa Steed. Two judges had found that Steed lied on the witness stand and a memo surfaced accusing her of falsifying a report in a DUI case.

Steed is being investigated by the FBI, and some of those she had pulled over are suing her and the UHP, claiming they were falsely accused of driving under the influence.

“It is entirely possible that in the Lane DUI case, materials concerning Trooper Wurtz’s background are being withheld for an improper purpose, the same as they were withheld in Trooper Steed’s case. Or maybe not,” Senn wrote. “But the state has refused every attempt to have someone other than UHP employees or a UHP lawyer make the decision about what should be produced.”

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.

Records Committee to hear from another inmate seeking records

12 12 2012

Another Utah State Prison inmate is seeking the state’s help to get records.
Robert Baker is appealing the Utah Department of Corrections’ denial of his request for the department’s medical operations manual. The State Records Committee will hear his appeal tomorrow morning.
The department recently instituted a policy of only waiving fees for the first 100 pages of documents inmates request under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). Inmates are required to pay fees for requests that exceed that amount.
Corrections officials say the change is needed to deal with inmates who have made a “hobby ” out of requesting public documents.
In November, the records committee ruled that the department did not have to waive fees for inmates, but said it had to provide inmates with better access to records. GRAMA allows people to inspect records at no charge.
The committee will also hear an appeal from Salt Lake City Weekly reporter Stephen Dark, who is seeking a performance audit and email from the Department of Human Services.
The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtyard Meeting Room of the Utah State Archives, 346 S. Rio Grande St