Herbert says he won't apologize for dismissing Indian Affairs director

Published: Thursday, March 24 2011 4:50 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Controversial issues such as today's special legislative session, immigration and nuclear power headlined the governor's monthly KUED press conference on Thursday.

But another controversy dogging the governor this week is the recent firing of Indian Affairs director Forrest Cuch.

Utah Tribes Chairman Kenneth Maryboy said Wednesday the tribal council planned to ask the governor to apologize for the way Cuch was dismissed. But Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that would not happen. "There is no need to apologize. Mr. Cuch knew what the expectations were and he didn't meet them."

Herbert said Cuch has provided many years of service to the state but described Cuch's work recently as "sub-par" and "insubordinate."

The governor said he spent two hours with the council on Wednesday and told the council Cuch's recent performance is the reason the director was fired. Responding to the council's complaint that it should have been consulted before the firing, the governor said he welcomes input when making appointments, but that Cuch's job was to represent the governor's office, and the governor alone makes the determination whether that service is adequate.

The governor did not discuss any external influences that may have affected his decision to fire Cuch.

Cuch responded Thursday afternoon, saying he believes the governor listened to bad advice, and that his firing was handled in a way that will be a setback for the relationship state government has with American Indian tribes in Utah.

"All he had to do was call me in and say, 'Forrest, I've decided to go another direction. Thank you.' That's all he had to say. But when he alludes to personnel issues that I don't know about, that troubles me," Cuch said. "I developed this relationship with (the tribes). I was hurt. They were hurt. It doesn't take a lot of intelligence to understand that that was a big breach, and it's going to cost. They're going to have to work hard to rebuild that relationship, and the trust."

Herbert also said Thursday that the referendum petition against HB477 and the just-formed working group evaluating the Government Records Access and Management Act are not enough in the effort to fix the controversial bill, which would dramatically alter Utahns' access to government records.

"I believe it will be repealed on Friday," the governor said of HB477. "It's best for us to push the reset button and start over."

He said after taping ended on the press conference that his biggest concern with the bill was the speed with which it was pushed through the Legislature. The public loss of confidence that resulted is the reason he is calling the Legislature into special session to reopen the bill.

Herbert said the expense of filling GRAMA records requests is part of the "costs of doing business" and that the state might need a designated GRAMA office just to handle records requests.

The governor also reiterated his position that immigration issues are the responsibility of the federal government but that states are having to do something to deal with immigration issues because the federal government is not.

The governor signed HB116, a bill that creates a guest worker program, which immediately drew protests from conservative GOP delegates in the state. Unlike HB477, where there was no public awareness or input until the day before it began its race through the House and Senate, the guest worker proposal was the subject of months of discussion and public meetings.

Herbert said Utahns support the guest worker bill despite the protests of GOP delegates. When asked whether his support would cost him a second term as governor, Herbert said "We ought to make decisions based on what's appropriate, not political."

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