Salt Lake County may open meetings to the public

Councilman wants to avoid another scandal

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 13 2015 9:06 a.m. MDT

Meetings of the executive branch of Salt Lake County may soon be open to the public — a unique development directly traceable to the scandals and controversies of the past year.
Councilman David Wilde is pushing for an ordinance that requires Mayor Peter Corroon to publicly advertise and allow residents and the news media into his weekly Cabinet meetings.
"This is in no way meant to criticize the current mayor," Wilde said. "(But) having been through the experience we've been through, I wanted to put this in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Former Mayor Nancy Workman's administration was been criticized for its perceived lack of openness, and some blame the relatively closed atmosphere for contributing to the scandals that rocked county government the past year.
Ironically, Corroon, the mayor who would bear the brunt of the new ordinance, has received almost universal plaudits for creating an open government.
"I've heard from a lot of independent elected officials who are so happy that they can just go up to the mayor himself and talk to him," Councilwoman Jenny Wilson said.
Wilde's initial proposal was to make executive Cabinet meetings completely subject to Utah's open meetings law, but after meeting with Corroon, who opposed opening up his internal operations to such a degree, they have reached a compromise in that the meetings will have to be open and advertised, but no minutes taken.
"We want an open government," Corroon said. "We're willing to work as a team. (But) we are treading on some new ground. I don't know of any other local government where the executive branch operates under this condition."
Legislative bodies in Utah — state lawmakers, county councils and commissions, city councils — are already required to do all of their business in the open unless it concerns personnel, litigation or pending contract matters.
Executive branches — governor, county executives and city mayors — have been exempt from such requirements.
Workman's deputy mayor Alan Dayton, who took over as acting mayor in September, successfully proposed an ordinance "encouraging" open Cabinet meetings. Wilde's proposal would stiffen "encourage" to "require."
"We all know that most of the power in county government resides with the mayor," he said. "I think it's been a good thing for legislative bodies to be required to conduct their business in the light of day," and the same should go for the executive branch, at least to a degree. "I hope that this sets a trend that others will follow."
County attorneys are now hashing out exact language that the council could adopt as an ordinance. Given the novelty of the requirement, it's proving to be somewhat complex, and no one really knows what the ultimate effect might be. The requirement, for example, might actually stifle county government operations by creating a "kitchen cabinet" in which members of the Cabinet meet informally to discuss things.
Corroon clearly isn't excited about the prospect but said, "We'll just see how it goes."

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