Lawmakers who saw fit to give justifications for gutting the state's GRAMA law last week relied mostly on hypothetical talking points.
These examples revolved around how someone's private information might get reported. Another excuse provided was how government agencies have been swamped with GRAMA requests in recent years. While there have been some examples of "fishing expeditions" cited, what has been unreported is the role government has played in the backlog of GRAMA requests.
Most members of the media agree that the Government Records Access Management Act needs to be updated to conform with the times. When it was adopted more than 20 years ago, there were no mobile devices, text messaging or even e-mail.
However, since its inception GRAMA has sometimes been misused by government agencies to make things more difficult for those seeking public information that used to be released routinely.
Some officials even use it to cover their own behinds. We've had mid-level government officials tell us to file GRAMA requests just so they can show the GRAMA form if their bosses ask them why they released the information.
A comic example of this bureaucratic bungling occurred during the legislative session when our reporter Loretta Park tried to report on threatening e-mails that Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, had received from a homeless man.
Ray was more than willing to provide us the e-mails, but apparently got caught up in the bureaucracy, and possibly the political orchestration to create a problem before HB477 came to light.
Here's how it all went down:
After a Feb. 7 interview with Ray, Loretta asked if she could have copies of the e-mails. Ray said sure, and would have an intern make copies for her over lunch.
"I waited and waited, but the e-mails never showed," she said.
When she called Ray that afternoon to inquire about the delay, he told her that he had been informed by House staff that she needed to file a GRAMA request. Otherwise, he would be obligated to give copies to anyone who asked.
"He just wanted me to go through the formal process and I didn't have a problem with it," Loretta said.
When the e-mails still didn't show up, Loretta asked Ray what was going on. He told her that the Legislative Affairs Office told him it would take a few days.
Faced with a deadline, Loretta filed a story without the e-mails, based on what Ray told her they contained.
On Feb. 28, almost three weeks after her story, Loretta received a letter from Legislative Affairs that her GRAMA request had been denied because the staff was too busy to work on her request.
After HB477 was approved, Loretta received copies of the e-mails in the mail March 4.
YOU WANT IRONY? While we just finished perhaps the darkest week for the public's right to know in Utah, we now head into Sunshine Week. This upcoming week was set aside by media organizations and other groups to combat government secrecy and bring attention to the public's right to know.
Sunday we'll run a story on an Associated Press survey that has found that efforts to boost openness in many states has been thwarted by old patterns of secrecy.
The survey was conducted before recent events in Utah. The AP article actually praises the state for its efforts to make information more accessible.
Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or email@example.com.