State Senate To Forgo Committee Hearing on Appointment to State Records Committee

Salt Lake City – State legislators have decided to ignore the public’s right to participate in the democratic process by summarily confirming Governor Herbert’s nomination of former state representative Holly Richardson to the State Records Committee on Wednesday.

The Alliance for a Better UTAH has called on the Utah State Senate to postpone the confirmation of Holly Richardson to the State Records Committee and to hold a public confirmation hearing relating to Richardson’s nomination.

On Wednesday, the Utah Senate will accept Governor Herbert’s appointment of Richardson as the citizen member of the records committee–without holding a formal hearing. The seven-member, non-partisan committee is entrusted with a judicial-like role in handling open records appeals under GRAMA, even determining what records are deemed public and private.

“This isn’t any ordinary committee,” said Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better UTAH. “The vitality of our open records law depends on how these men and women handle requests for information. In their quasi-judicial function, this committee holds a public trust to protect the integrity of our open records laws.”

“They can’t let blind partisanship dictate their interpretation or application of the law,” she added.

Martindale has sent a letter to all members of the State Senate, asking them to delay confirming Richardson to the State Records Committee until a senate committee can convene to formally review her appointment. The letter follows.

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Letter to State Senators

RE: State Records Committee Appointment Deserves Public Input

Dear Senator,

At the Alliance for a Better UTAH, we believe that the members of the State Records Committee hold judicial-like positions of power and public trust. Although they may be affiliated with one political party or another, they are entrusted with the non-partisan interpretation of the law and the integrity of the public records system on behalf of all Utahns. That is why we believe that an appointment to the State Records Committee should be handled in the same manner as a judicial appointment – that is, with a public hearing in which the nominee can be thoroughly vetted by the legislature in full public view. We are concerned that, tomorrow, you will consider Governor Herbert’s newest appointment to the State Records Committee, former state representative Holly Richardson, without such a hearing and full vetting process.

With its role in GRAMA appeals, the non-partisan State Records Committee has great power and responsibility. The recent history of frustration with, and attack on, GRAMA suggests that now more than ever committee nominees should be carefully chosen and vetted. Though there is a lack of legal guidance as to the qualifications of members on the committee, we would suggest the following as basic qualifications, similar to the dispassionate qualifications of a judicial nominee.

  1. Appointees should be non-partisan, public information advocates capable of working with people from diverse political, educational and socio-economic backgrounds.
  2. Appointees should favor transparency over secrecy.

 

Holly Richardson is a good person who we have worked with in the past. However, her nomination should be thoroughly considered. We pose these questions that we would hope would be a part of Richardson’s vetting before her appointment is confirmed:

  1. Does she fit the requirements of the position? Her extreme partisanship, as reflected in her blog and other writings, raises the specter of her inability to dispassionately review requests in a non-partisan manner.
  2. Will she favor openness and transparency in her application of the law? Richardson supported HB477 that, before being repealed, reduced openness and transparency rather than increasing it.
  3. Will Richardson advocate for citizen access to government records, regardless of how those citizens identify politically? As the citizen representative on the records committee, it is important that Richardson evaluate all requests with equal consideration regardless of the real or perceived political affiliation of the requesting party.

We ask you to maintain your commitment to public accountability, postpone Richardson’s confirmation and hold a public confirmation hearing addressing the confirmation issues we raise here. You may decide, after such a confirmation hearing, that Richardson is the best person for the appointment, but that decision deserves public scrutiny.

Sincerely,

Maryann Martindale
Executive Director
Alliance for a Better UTAH

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Alliance for a Better Utah |  801.557.1532   | www.betterutah.org
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The Alliance for a Better UTAH is a year-round, multi-issue education and advocacy organization providing resources, commentary, and action on important public policy matters.

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