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Lawsuit accuses Uintah County commissioners of violating Open Meetings Act

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 7:40 p.m. MDT

"It's kind of the example of, if you want to learn about a particular religion, do you go to the people who are just spouting anti stuff about that religion, or would it make sense to go and talk to someone who practices it?" Stearmer said.

As a result of the meeting, most of the counties involved passed nearly identical resolutions lambasting the BLM proposal to slash the amount of land available for oil shale leasing from about 2 million acres to 462,000 acres, and calling on the agency to abandon the plan.

In Carbon, Duchesne and Uintah counties, those resolutions were presented in open meetings and then voted upon by the commissioners. The measures were also touted in an April 24 meeting that was advertised publicly and attended by members of the public and the media, Stearmer said.

During that meeting, county officials also blasted the BLM proposal, which came about as part of a settlement agreement that was reached to resolve a 2009 lawsuit filed against the agency by a coalition of environmental groups.

"We cannot stand by and watch this gross reduction of acreage without contemplating some serious legal action," said Mark Ward, senior policy analyst and attorney for the Utah Association of Counties.

"The very rule of law that makes this country work is strained to the breaking point," Ward added.

But Garrington, with the Checks and Balances Project, maintains that the way county commissioners secretly formulated their resolutions with the help of industry also fails to meet acceptable legal standards.

"We believe it was unethical and illegal," he said.

The Utah Attorney General's Office does investigate allegations of Open Meetings Act violations when a complaint is filed, spokesman Paul Murphy said Tuesday.

"As far as I know, no one has filed a complaint with our office" about the Vernal meeting, Murphy said.

Attempts to reach Hansen by phone Tuesday to discuss her lawsuit were unsuccessful.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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