One of the constant battles with government - an issue that crops up repeatedly despite the clear intent of the law - is the public's right to know vs. desires of officials to function behind closed doors.
That issue raised its head in the Utah Legislature again this week when a House committee approved a bill allowing local governments and other agencies to close their meetings to the press and public if there is a discussion of economic development.Since economic development is tied in with many other issues, such a law would be an invitation for government bodies to meet behind closed doors almost anytime they wanted.
As usual, such efforts have the best of motives. Sponsor of the measure, Rep. Robert Slack, R-Washington, says publicity can damage negotiations with business firms, particularly in the preliminary stages.
That may be true at times, and discretion is always advised in sensitive talks with private companies being encouraged to come to Utah.
But Slack's bill, when it came out of committee, had dropped any language about preliminary discussions and would allow the closing of any public meeting when the subject of economic development comes up. That's going too far.
Proponents contend that since final decisions on a project must be taken in an open meeting, it is all right to close preliminary discussions.
That's an old argument, but there is much of vital public concern that takes place in earlier stages of any proposal. How can the public have an input if nothing about a project is known until a final decision is made?
Proponents say Utah officials won't abuse any closed-door law. That's probably right most of the time, but history has enough exceptions to justify holding the line right where it is.
The most telling blow against the measure is made by Gov. Bangerter. Backers of the bill say it would help the governor's economic development efforts. But Bangerter himself says he sees no need for the bill.
All things considered, the bill seems ill-advised. The current system appears to be working reasonably well. Why not just leave it at that?