Salt Lake City, Utah – Today, Colorado Common Cause, Alliance for a Better UTAH and a Utah open government activist and resident of Vernal, Utah, joined together to contest Uintah County’s decision to hide documents that would shed light on a closed-door meeting between county officials, Governor Herbert’s Administration and oil shale lobbyists on March 27th. An appeal with the Utah State Records Committee asserts that commissioners’ attempts to keep the records sealed are in violation of the state’s open records laws. This action is the latest in a series of condemnations of the meeting and attempts to inform the public of what really happened during it.
Colorado Common Cause Executive Director Elena Nunez, Alliance for a Better UTAH Executive Director Maryann Martindale and Utah attorney Sandra Hansen filed the appeal today. It contests the commissioners’ claim that minutes from the March 27th meeting in Vernal, Utah, are “protected” documents. According to the appeal, the commissioners have failed to meet the standards for “protecting” documents laid out in either the Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”) or the Open and Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”). The appeal argues that Uintah County must therefore disclose all documents in its possession concerning the March 27th meeting, including the complete and unabridged minutes.
“We made a simple request,” said Executive Director Nunez. “This is a meeting of public officials that was held in a public building. Industry lobbyists were invited to it, and then the doors were closed, locking the public out. We believe taxpayers have a right to know what happened behind those doors, and it’s disturbing that Uintah County commissioners are going to such lengths to keep it a secret.”
Colorado Common Cause first asked for the records from the “closed door” meeting on May 1st, when it filed an open records request with Uintah County. Records not withheld by Uintah County prove that language was discus sed for a “joint resolution” condemning the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to alter its Oil Shale and Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement ). Those records also reveal that oil shale lobbyists influenced the wording of the “joint resolution,” versions of which were later passed by each of the counties that attended the meeting.
“Uintah county officials are trying to keep their meeting with oil shale lobbyists and Governor Herbert’s representatives secret,” said Executive Director Martindale. “There’s no reason for Uintah commissioners to keep what happened during the meeting secret unless their actions violated the public trust. They may have broken one set of laws by having the meeting, now they’re twisting another as part of a cover-up.”
Sandra Hansen also filed a lawsuit on Monday in state district court, charging that Uintah County Commissioners Darlene Burns, Mike McKee and Mark Raymond broke state law by hosting the meeting.
Vernal meeting continues to inspire public outrage
Since news of the Vernal meeting broke, the public and the media have condemned its secretive nature. The Standard-Examiner and Salt Lake Tribune both editorialized against the “clandestine” nature of the meeting. The Examiner went so far as to call for the Utah Attorney General to open an investigation into what really went on at the meeting.
Joel Campbell, an associate journalism professor at Brigham Young University and a Tribune columnist, joined the Examiner in calling for an investigation into the meeting.
Colorado Common Cause ran print ads in the Vernal Express and Uintah Basin Standard to inform the area’s residents of their commissioners’ action. The government and industry watchdog group, The Checks and Balances Project, went so far as to run online newspaper ads and a web video informing the public of what occurred in Vernal and encouraging them to let county officials know their displeasure.
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