Guest Editorial, March 9-11, 2011 |

Guest Editorial, March 9-11, 2011

Michael Patrick O'Brien

Spring may be in the air, but really it is time to don black mourning clothes and stop believing in fairy tales. The Big Bad Wolf is eating GRAMA and Little Red.

GRAMA is the Government Records Access and Management Act, for 20 years Utah’s nationally-admired model of open government. In early March, in less time than it takes to respond to a GRAMA request, the Utah Legislature eviscerated that model law.

The Legislature’s new model for open government exempts itself from most of GRAMA, cloaks most electronic records in secrecy, repeals the law’s original intent that, when in doubt, the public should be allowed access to records, and imposes the possibility of new higher fees on those who request records. You may have to pay for lawyer review time next time you request a record.

What now can be hidden from the Utah public? Nothing less than documents like those electronic records that exposed the sex and financial scandals in the Detroit mayor’s office or those text messages sent by unions and special interests — during meetings — to the San Jose City Council instructing members on how to vote.

Don’t expect to see records about how a legislator is performing his or her official duties. The new law makes them all secret. Isn’t it ironic the Legislature imposed such sweeping secrecy with only a day or two of notice to the public?

GRAMA is not perfect, but she already allows legislators to plan bills and deliberate with some privacy. She also already protects citizens against unwarranted disclosures of private information they have shared with government.

Even with her imperfections, GRAMA deserved better than the shabby and arrogant treatment given her by the Legislature in the midnight hours of its 2011 session. Whatever good may have been done in that session, it is now forever tainted for what it did to GRAMA.

And in the aftermath we citizens are left to face the most frightening of questions: Who now will keep an eye on the Big Bad Wolf?

Michael Patrick O’Brien is a Salt Lake attorney and legal counsel for the Utah Media Coalition.