Cedar Hills staff, residents meet with state records official over public records dispute

Published: Friday, June 1 2012 3:56 p.m. MDT

CEDAR HILLS — After being accused of withholding public records, city officials have agreed to provide documents and correspondence dealing with city business to a coalition of concerned residents, according to a member of that coalition.

City staff and the residents appeared to take a step toward resolving their differences after a meeting moderated by Utah State Records Ombudsman Rosemary Cundiff on May 18.

"There was some progress made in that the city acknowledged it didn't have records we allege are absolutely required to be public," said Ken Cromar, a member of the group Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government.

Cromar has been at the forefront of the group — a coalition of residents angry over a perceived mishandling of city funds and calling for the resignation of Mayor Eric Richardson — and is currently accusing the city of withholding public records. He claims the mayor and members of the city council have used personal email accounts to discuss city business in an attempt to keep their correspondence out of the public eye.

He presented his case during the May 18 meeting to Cedar Hills acting City Manager David Bunker, City Recorder Gretchen Gordon and attorney Eric Johnson. Another member of the resident coalition, Jerry Dearinger, was also present.

According to Cromar, city staff agreed to gather and provide missing records he asked for in a recent open records request, but gave no assurances they would be successful.

Gordon did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Bunker declined to comment except to say the City is acting in good faith towards resolution and settlement.

Cromar also said that Cundiff encouraged city staff to comply with the records request and suggested they set a 10-day period to do so as well as create an inventory of the records.

When first contacted by the Deseret News, Cundiff said she would draft a statement explaining the recommendations she made at the meeting. Later, however, Cundiff declined to comment out of desire to remain a neutral moderator. She said she had spoken with Cromar, Dearinger and the city officials and all parties were uncomfortable with her speaking about the mediation.

"The decision not to comment includes not disclosing whether or not I made recommendations to the city about their public records, or whether or not I made recommendations to either party," Cundiff said in an email.

The meeting was the latest round in a back-and-forth tussle with city leadership. The city has been in a state of upheaval since January, when residents Paul Sorensen and Ken Severn filed 46 pages of allegations and supporting documents in 4th District Court in January, asking the court to investigate whether city officials' actions constitute misdemeanor neglect or misconduct. Since then, three city officials have resigned from their posts, including City Manager Konrad Hildebrandt and former Çity Recorder Kim Holindrake, who said she was forced out of her job.

Residents have also accused Richardson of inappropriately subsidizing Cedar Hills' new golf course and recreation center with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in an attempt to make it appear profitable. Adding to the controversy, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Richardson on May 2, accusing him and a business partner of engaging in a fraudulent $2 million investment scheme, independent of city business. 

The resident coalition scored a small victory on May 15 when the city council voted to approve an external audit into the allegations of financial misconduct with the golf course. But Cromar said that audit is significantly more narrow than the coalition had requested and was doubtful it would be successful at answering the residents' concerns.

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