Rep. Dee: GRAMA, open meetings adjustments done with care

Jul 19 2013 - 11:40am


SALT LAKE CITY -- Legislative leaders continue to insist most of the meetings of a special committee investigating the alleged wrongdoings of Attorney John Swallow will be held in the open. Their assurances come despite a bill approved this week adjusting some of the rules of the Government Records Access and Management Act and some amendments to the Open Meetings Law.

Those changes, enforced in House Bill 1001, allow some records and information the committee may garner in its probe of Swallow to be temporarily classified as protected, if that information would negatively impact the committee's investigation. The bill also would allow a relaxation in Open Meetings Law requirements if the testimony of witnesses would interfere with the ongoing criminal investigations.

Still, House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, R-Provo, said the intent will be to have as many meetings of the group open to the public as possible.

The bill also grants the state's legislative general counsel the ability to grant immunity in cases where any testimony given before the committee could be used against that witness in a criminal proceeding.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, said the adjustments in GRAMA and Open Meetings requirements were done in careful consultation with a coalition of Utah media and the Utah Press Association.

Douglas Foxley, an attorney representing the Utah Press Association and the Utah Media Coalition, said the groups he represents supported the changes. The Standard-Examiner is a member of the Utah Press Association.

"I believe we have come up wth a very delicate balance of what should and should not be private," Foxley said.

"I believe this process should be as open and transparent as possible," Dee said during floor debate Wednesday. "I think it's important that all of this information, or much of the information, be subject to open meetings law."

He said access was a big consideration in setting up guidelines for the committee.

"I'm not sure we've ever had their (media) blessings, but we've gone the extra mile in addressing their concerns and crafted as best we could a very good piece of legislation," Dee said.

Not everyone was so sure.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said the committee's amendments to GRAMA and the Open Meetings Law should expire when the committee is dissolved after the Swallow matter. He said he wanted more media input on the process, despite Foxley's assertion.

Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, voted against Dee's bill, arguing the public's business should be done in the open.

The Alliance for a Better Utah also released a statement echoing concerns urging caution in how the committee deals with openness in the process.

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the alliance, said:

"John Swallow is a public figure, and his actions while working for the state should be scrutinized in

public view."

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