September 19, 2016 – The Salt Lake Tribune
by Lee Davidson
An inadvertent remark Monday revealed that the Utah Transit Authority has creatively circumvented its recent vow to keep all its board committee meetings open to the public.
UTA board member Charles Henderson mentioned Monday — during a public UTA executive board meeting — that the Planning and Development Committee he heads met last week to discuss the agency’s goals for the upcoming year.
The problem is that that meeting had no public notice, and UTA had specifically told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that no committees were meeting, despite being scheduled on earlier calendars.
Soon after The Tribune emailed UTA spokesman Remi Barron asking what happened with the public notice, Henderson announced that he had misspoken. He said his committee actually didn’t meet because “we don’t do that anymore,” and instead said it was just a group of the same members having an informal discussion about goals for the agency.
In an interview after the meeting, Henderson — a Democrat running for the Utah House in District 38 in Kearns — said UTA has disbanded all its committees except the executive committee and is in a process of deciding how to restructure governance of the agency.
He acknowledged that all the former members of his committee, except one, were on the conference call. He said the agency did not break a vow to keep committee meetings open because the panel doesn’t exist.
UTA board Chairman H. David Burton — who announced Monday he is stepping down as chairman — later said the committees “are being held in abeyance” for now as the board looks at restructuring.
The agency created controversy earlier this year when it said it was going to close its committee meetings to the public, arguing such a move was allowed under Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act because members would take no votes in them. Burton at one point also said UTA closed those meetings because it did not like coverage of them by The Tribune.
Amid mounting pressure by politicians and the public, UTA reversed that position in May. Burton issued a statement then that said, “The board is announcing that future meetings will be open to the public.”
Burton said UTA is committed to transparency, but that creates problems in getting members to speak freely. “How do you get discussion and dialogue and have people feel free to have a conversation if they know it’s going to be in the press?”
He added, “There has to be some opportunity among small groups about some issues to get really true understanding. But I agree that any kind of a decision making, any kind of fact gathering ought to be open to the public.” [READ MORE]