Vernal Express Opinion
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When Uintah County Commissioners met with officials from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and other entities on March 27, an executive session was called and the public, in essence, was shut out.
We were told that the closed meeting allowed for the private discussion about possible litigation the county is considering against the Department of the Interior regarding the amount of acreage available for oil shale mining.
When contacted by the Express, Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee quite correctly said that Utah’s open meetings rules allow executive sessions if litigation is discussed – whether pending or reasonably imminent. But we contend that although there were parts of the meeting that perhaps should have been closed, there was surely much discussion that took place the public should have been a part of.
When the Express filed a GRAMA freedom of information request on attendees, the paper received a list of names, with all other identifying information (addresses, phone numbers) blacked out. Sound familiar? A la CIA.
After reviewing the list, we could tell that some of the names were recognizable as county officials and some were lobbyists who represent major energy companies.
We know that while the energy industry received a seat at the table in the closed meeting, we don’t know if other interests were represented.
Were ranchers invited? Were air quality experts invited? Did parents of asthmatic children get a say? Were local businesses represented? Were responsible environmental interests allowed?
Or did our county host an exclusive meeting of one single interest, the rest of the public’s say be silenced? That is the risk of closing a meeting. We really don’t know what was discussed.
No one is denying that the oil shale issue is a big one, and all sides need to be heard so that an educated decision – one that’s right for the Basin – can be made.
We know that there has already been a lot of discussion about federal land control in Uintah County and the state, but there has been little discussion in the regular county commission meetings prior to this.
It is disconcerting to finally have a meeting where the public can be informed about the issue, only to have the discussion closed because the commissioners are at a point where they are considering litigation and the commitment of lots of money.
This process can’t happen in secret.
Our elected officials need to allow the participation of all the people, not just those representing what seems like big business interests.