Lawmakers seek changes to open records law
By Cathy Mckitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City), December 11, 2009
Utah's open-records law, known by the nickname GRAMA, may undergo a significant makeover, if two bills being readied for the upcoming legislative session are any gauge. One plan would make the law tougher, the other would loosen disclosure provisions.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, hopes to increase penalties for government agencies failing to comply with GRAMA.
The measure is aimed at the Salt Lake City Police Department, says the lawmaker, who has been sharply critical of the department's refusal to cross-deputize officers as immigration agents. He also complains that the department has obstructed his open-records request in trying to ferret out information showing a link between undocumented immigration and crime.
While the SLPD is clearly the target of the bill, it could hit a target closer to home for the Utah County lawmaker — putting pressure on the Provo Police Department to release the names of people arrested for soliciting sex from prostitutes this year.
Provo recently withheld those names from The Tribune as 'constituting a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'
Herrod said he didn't know anything about the Provo police situation and would have to research it. But he is frustrated to the point of action with what he says is Salt Lake's stonewalling.
'I've been trying to get information from Salt Lake City for eight months,' Herrod told The Tribune. 'They asked for a $10,000 check from me.'
Herrod sought statistics to back up — or rebut — Police Chief Chris Burbank's statement that Hispanics and undocumented residents are not committing crimes at higher rates than the rest of the population.
Burbank said his department had given Herrod everything it had.
'We've met every request,' Burbank said, 'but he does not feel that we have.'
The $10,000 charge, Burbank added, would cover the cost of staff time to construct the requested records.
Burbank bristled at Herrod's latest legislative effort.
'The fact that he's using his position to bully a local entity … is borderline unethical and an abuse of his power,' Burbank said.
A second, unrelated bill to amend the Government Records Access and Management Act, would restrict disclosure of public employee pay.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said he's running the bill at the request of Wasatch County Payroll Manager Del Barney.
'It's really hard to run an efficient department when everyone knows what everyone else is making,' Barney said.
Exact salaries of many government workers are currently posted on www.utahsright.com — information that The Tribune has gathered through multiple government records requests.
That detail engenders strife between employees, Barney said — especially when a new hire makes as much as a longtime staffer. And it also can lead to identity theft, he believes.
'Those are my main concerns,' Barney said, adding that he favors releasing a salary range rather than specific figures.
Jeff Hunt, a media attorney and open records advocate, found Powell's proposal disturbing, describing taxpayer-funded salaries as the 'bedrock' of Utah's 1991 GRAMA statute.
'It would be really tough to make meaningful comparisons between various government jobs' — such as police officers and firefighters from different agencies, Hunt said, 'if all you had were ranges.'