Utah’s inland-port board votes to keep the doors shut on its committee meetings despite public support for opening them

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

Gov. Gary Herbert wants them open. So do more than 160 organizations and individuals, including Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, Alliance for a Better Utah and a number of community councils.

Nevertheless, the Utah Inland Port Authority board on Wednesday reaffirmed its decision to shut the public out of the meetings of its three subcommittees. The vote was 9-2, with board Chairman Derek Miller and Salt Lake City economic development Director Laura Fritts voting to open them up to the public.

Board members again argued that the subcommittees are not required to be openunder the state’s Open and Public Meetings Act, and that exceeding that standard would not be following the law. They also worried that creating restrictions stricter than those outlined in state law would slow their work.

Because subcommittees report back to the full board, members said it’s not necessary to hold their meetings in public to ensure that decisions aren’t being made away from the public eye.

But after a 10-minute report on each closed-door meeting, the board acted unanimously Wednesday to move ahead with recommendations the subcommittees put forth.

One of those groups is working on the process for hiring an executive director. Another is looking at the process the port will follow when handling tax revenue that’s generated as the thousands of acres in northwestern Salt Lake City are developed into an international logistics and manufacturing hub. A third is working on budgeting and a business plan.

Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, said during Wednesday’s post-vote public comment period that he hopes the board won’t become a “rubber stamp” for proposals made behind closed doors. The group, in a news release, urged the board to reconsider its position and called on lawmakers “to re-examine the Open Meetings Law in light of this unfortunate decision.”

Though Miller said he would have liked to see the subcommittee meetings become subject to the same rules as the board’s formal ones, he said that doesn’t mean board members who voted differently from him are against openness.

“There are differences in opinion about the way that we operate,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune after the vote. “But the board will continue to operate in a transparent way.”

Evidence of that, he said, was the board’s decision to move public comment to the beginning of a meeting and throughout it, so the community can give its input before the board makes decisions.

As it attempts to form its policies and procedures largely from scratch, the board may have trouble escaping the controversy that led to its creation.

Lawmakers unveiled and passed the bill creating the inland port late on the eve of the final day of the legislative session. City officials, unhappy with the bill, spent the following several months working to find a compromise with the port’s supporters at the Capitol, which they did last month without Biskupski’s involvement.

This article originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

Related Post