Tidying up the 1,600 state and local government boards in Utah and making them more accessible and accountable to the public are among the recommendations in a report just released by the Sutherland Institute's Center for Limited Government.
From the full-time Board of Pardons and Parole to little-known groups like the State Weed Committee, most boards have members who are appointed, not elected, and there is a broad mix of paid and unpaid participants.
The study found that of an estimated 3,000 members of state boards in fiscal 2009, 800 were receiving an average of $2,026 in wages, benefits and reimbursements for travel to and from meetings, totaling $1.6 million. "Most of the other board members likely serve without compensation, though without accurate information it is impossible to determine exactly how many," said the report, authored by Matthew Piccolo, policy analyst for the conservative, Utah-based independent public policy organization.
The Sutherland Institute also launched www.transparentutah.org, on Thursday. The website is designed to give Utah residents more information about advisory and regulatory boards, their members and how much members are paid.
The institute's report encourages the Utah governor's office to update and expand its government transparency website, www.utah.gov/transparency/index.html. The institute also recommends consolidating boards whose responsibilities overlap and eliminating others that aren't needed. "The increasing number of boards has made it difficult for state and local governments to track what they do and, in some cases, if they even exist," the report says.
The institute also proposes the state enact legislation to prevent problems associated with conflicts of interest — where boards give money to board members' businesses — and legislation to mandate a regularly scheduled review of all state boards.
Angie Welling, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary R. Herbert, said the governor is committed to open and transparent government and has instructed his director of boards and commissions to update all information available online through the governor's website.
"As noted by the Sutherland Institute, this is a massive amount of information that, unfortunately, has not been kept as up-to-date as it could have been. It is a large project, and the governor's office is working daily to complete it so all Utahns have access to the most current information available," Welling said.
Piccolo said the institute is not currently working with any Utah legislators to advance its proposals. "We may try to find someone to sponsor a bill," he said.
The full report is available at sutherlandinstitute.org