The Herald’s inaccurate critique of the “Democrats'” GRAMA request

In a recent editorial, the Provo Daily Herald castigated the Utah State Democratic Party and all those who supported the release of the Redistricting records, likening their frustration over the intransigence of the Record’s Committee to a “tantrum.”

read their editorial here

Despite the Herald’s attempt at making this a partisan request, there were several other individuals and organizations who had hoped to get access to this same information, including Better UTAH. The Herald, however, failed to identify any others who testified at the hearing who are not affiliated with the Democratic Party, such as Better UTAH, Represent Me Utah, Fair Boundaries, and several concerned citizens.

As a participant in those discussion we felt it was important to respond to their critique. However, the Herald chose NOT to publish our response so we are publishing it here:

Better UTAH responds to the Herald’s Inaccurate GRAMA Editorial

In a recent editorial, “Thanks for the tantrum,” the Herald blames the Democratic Party for the recent debacle surrounding the GRAMA request for redistricting records. Rather than castigate the Democratic Party, and by extension all other requestors, the Herald should be standing on the side of openness and transparency, calling for the public’s outrage at the Legislature’s refusal to recognize the public’s vested interested in redistricting records.

The Herald made three claims that need to be corrected. The first inaccuracy comes with the Herald’s assertion that the Legislature was acting in good faith and should have received payment in advance.

It is important to first understand the GRAMA request process. A standard form must be completed that includes what is being requested, to whom the request is being made, what your interest is in the records, and, if a fee waiver is being requested, a description of how the records would benefit the public. Once the request is received, it is reviewed and the receiving body of government has one week to respond. This does not mean that records must be completed during that week—only that they must respond and identify if there will be a cost associated with the request or if a fee waiver was granted.

In this instance, the Democratic Party was denied a fee waiver and told the cost for the records would be $5,000. Acting in good faith, they made the determination to pay the $5,000 fee, yet when they attempted to retrieve the records, were told they could only take a single pre-determined box out of three, and that if they wanted the other two, they would be charged an additional $9,250.

Let us state that again—they were clear in what they were requesting, they were quoted a price, yet when picking up the item after paying the agreed-upon price, they were told it would be three times as much.

Second, the Herald’s claim that the Democrats deemed the one box worthless was because it held nothing incriminating, is patently false. It was worthless because the items provided in this box were all records that had previously been made public via the legislative redistricting website. The legislature printed public comments, proposed and adopted maps, and in many cases multiple copies of the same notes and meeting minutes—all information that the public has had access to since mid-late 2011.

The intent of GRAMA is to provide an avenue by which citizens, groups, and interested parties can request information that has not been made public.   For all the legislative self-congratulations over the advanced technology of their online redistricting system, why was someone paid $25 an hour to stand at a copy machine, copying information that was already available online, when the information could have easily been saved to a disc? The real waste of time was the Legislature’s decision to spend staff time printing out online, publicly accessible information. This was not a genuine attempt to fulfill a GRAMA request, but an attempt to play games, at the taxpayer’s (and in this case, the Democratic Party’s) expense.

The Herald’s third claim was that this request should have not been granted a fee waiver. Redistricting is the process by which legislative districts are created and has a profound impact on who will represent the citizens of Utah. It is of fundamental importance to the public. Despite the fact that the Democratic Party was the initial requestor of these records, there were also several citizens, good government groups, and media requestors of the same records. They were also told that it was not in the public’s interest to receive these records.

Lastly, there is one point on which we agree–Senator Curt Bramble’s idea for legislation that would make an automatic and public record of email communications. We applaud him. In this age of technology, the public shouldn’t have to request this kind of access—it should be automatic. The legislature should err on the side of more transparency, not on the release of records only when someone makes the request.

 

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