A Utah senator who wanted to let some talks about who gets what in the Jordan School District split be conducted behind closed doors is changing course.
Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said Friday she will amend the closed-meeting part out of SB71 when it's debated in the Senate, likely this week.
"There has been an outcry about closing meetings, so we'll probably take that out," Walker told the Deseret Morning News. "I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. I looked at it at a business standpoint and evening the playing fields between the two teams."
But she's firm that the bill still must make clear all Jordan District assets and liabilities, property tangible and intangible, remain up for negotiation in the division particularly the value of school buildings within east- and west-side boundaries.
That promises to bring on a fight.
Voters on the east side of the state's largest school district voted last November to secede. The act was controversial. Herriman city filed a federal lawsuit disputing the fact that west-siders were not allowed a vote in the matter. The next court date is scheduled for month's end.
It seems hard feelings remain over the issue, from arguments over which side of the valley had to pay for whose buildings in boom times to whose buildings are being better taken care of.
Walker's bill has brought them to the fore, said Rep. Steve Mascaro, R-West Jordan.
"Her legislation has done more to create animosity between the east and west sides of the valley than any I've seen in the 62 years I've lived there," he said.
Transition teams for the east and west sides of Jordan District have been meeting to go about equitably and fairly dividing district assets and liabilities, as spelled out in state law.
The meetings are public under the Utah open meetings act.
Walker's bill, which a committee forwarded to the full Senate for debate this week, sought to allow a transition team's discussions to be conducted behind closed doors.
West-side team chairman Ralph Haws opposes that move and other suggestions that small groups of each team meet together in small committees outside of meeting times. "We'd like everything to be very transparent with the community, in everything we do," Haws said.
That said, Haws added, his team did last week briefly close its meeting to the public to discuss personnel issues a team member resigned and they talked about a replacement, plus who they might get to represent them should the assets division wind up in arbitration. The open-meetings law allows meetings to be closed for those purposes, he said.
Walker plans to take the additional closed-meeting provisions out of the bill. Brian Allen, lobbyist for east-side Cottonwood Heights city, says it's not needed, as the law already provides for real estate negotiation strategy, which he believes would be rare, to be discussed away from the public eye.
But Walker will keep another contentious part in the bill.
The west-side transition team wants to take school buildings and everything in them in each of the districts off the negotiating table, mainly to streamline the workload. What's west is west's, east is east's, Haws said.
But the east-side team wonders if that's fair. "We have 40-year-old buildings, they have brand-new buildings," Allen said. "Is that a fair distribution of the assets?"
Walker says the law's always intended to have everything on the table for division. She says the bill clarifies that.
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