Although Utah County commissioners and Gov. Norm Bangerter both are preparing to start committees studying air pollution, they insist that they will not duplicate efforts and that Wasatch Front residents will benefit.
They met behind closed doors Tuesday to make sure they are working together to solve air pollution problems."This was a personal meeting with the governor," said Commissioner Brent Morris, noting he has been perceived as being at odds with Bangerter over pollution issues in Utah County. "We wanted to make sure that didn't happen again."
Morris also said he does not want to steal credit from the governor for efforts to clean Utah's air.
A Deseret News reporter was not allowed to enter the meeting, at the request of the commission. Randy Dryer, an attorney who represents the Deseret News, said the commission may have violated the state's open meetings law.
While the law does not apply to the governor, it does apply to county commissions, regardless of where they meet. If two or more commissioners meet to discuss county business that doesn't meet five specific exemptions, the meeting must be open to the public.
"If the governor were to come down and meet with them (commissioners) at a regularly scheduled meeting, they couldn't close it just because it's the governor," Dryer said. "I don't think there's any difference between them coming to his office or him going to theirs. If they're to talk about public business and they're meeting with the governor, it's got to be open."
Bangerter has formed a committee to study pollution problems along the Wasatch Front. The committee, which includes Morris, is scheduled to hold its first meeting March 28.
Morris, however, has announced intentions to form his own committee to study pollution in Utah County. Some groups, including an organization of wives of Geneva Steel employees, have interpreted that to mean the commissioner is trying to usurp the governor's committee.
But after the meeting Tuesday, commissioners and officials in Bangerter's office said the two groups are working together.
"When we asked county representatives to be on our commission, we asked them to set up their own working groups," said Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff. "We wanted the widest possible constituency to buy into this process. There may be groups in Utah County that they (county commissioners) can give better representation to."
Scruggs said publicity about tensions between Morris and Bangerter led the governor's office to have doubts about Utah County's intentions. The closed meeting resolved those fears.
"They (county commissioners) were acting on our invitation when they set up the committee," Scruggs said. "We weren't sure of that before."
Morris said the Utah County committee will study all sources of air pollution, not just pollution related to Geneva Steel.
"We wanted to make sure he (Bangerter) knows this committee will complement him on the state level," Morris said.
Morris took the offensive against Geneva Steel in January, meeting with the press to say local leaders should join grass-roots efforts to make the steel company less of a pollutor.
He also suggested Geneva purchase additional pollution-control equipment and invest in modernization rather than make donations to community projects.