By appointing a four-member board of outside experts to explore the causes of the Quail Creek dam collapse on New Year's Day, Gov. Norm Bangerter has done the right thing to remove any shadow - no matter how unjustified - of a state coverup. But other state officials, by decreeing that the panel's work shall be done in secret, have only raised needless questions.
There is simply no reason for such an important investigation to be conducted behind closed doors. This is public business, involving an $18 million public dam, and there should be no justification for keeping out the press and the public.Utah law allows closed meetings when officials discuss such things as personalities in connection with hiring or firing, to protect the privacy of individuals. It allows closed sessions involving plans or negotiations to buy property, in order to prevent speculation or price increases.
But the study of the Quail Creek dam disaster hardly fits in these categories. It's merely an investigation into the root causes of a dam failure, a fact-finding work. There is an unfortunate tendency in government of all kinds to work in private. That's why an open meeting law is necessary.
One state official said the reason for closed-door sessions is for "expediency's sake," hardly a compelling argument. Another said the panel would be kept "immune" from the press to guarantee the group's independence.
In fact, State Engineer Robert Morgan said even legislators may not be able to get questions answered while the panel is meeting.
All of this is hard to understand since the job of the panel is not to determine any kind of blame but only to find out the physical facts as to why the dam gave way.
Bangerter says all the information collected by the panel will eventually be released, but that is not good enough. In the first place, who decides what is "all?" If the meetings are closed, the results of the experts' work will always remain in doubt, at least in some minds.
Utah has an open meetings law. The investigative panel seems to fall clearly within the definition of that law. Let's have them do their important work in the public eye and not in the shadows.