UTA Board Closes Committee Meetings To Public
The Utah Transit Authority Board has decided to close their committee meetings to the public, while moving most of the responsibilities of those committees back to the full board. But this decision could put them in conflict with Utah’s open meetings laws.
The Utah Transit Authority Board has made several changes in the past six months in an effort to make their actions more transparent, but their decision to close committee meetings to the public has confused some people. UTA Spokesman Remi Barron says the decision really does make their actions more transparent, because they’re shifting important functions, like making final votes, from the committees to the full board.
“We didn’t have any public participation at the committee meetings," Barron says. "So, all of these things will be discussed and decided in the full meeting. And people attend those, and so, they will have a chance to comment on those items where before they didn’t.”
“That’s fine to transfer that decision making decision to the board, but you shouldn’t cut the public out of the place where the debate and discussion occurs,” Jeff Hunt says.
He’s a first amendment attorney that has worked extensively with Utah’s open records and meeting laws. Hunt says Utah law requires advisory meetings to be open, and he doesn’t see how these committees don’t fit that definition.
“If the committees exist, they’re going to be doing something," he says. "And what they’re likely going to be doing is debating and discussing policy issues and making recommendations to the board.”
The state Attorney General is responsible for making sure open meeting requirements are met. An interested group or person could also challenge the closure in court. At this point, no actions have been taken.