A records panel on Tuesday rejected an American Fork resident's appeal to obtain city records pertaining to an investigation of the city's police department by an independent counsel.
The reason? The five voting members of the Utah State Records Committee believed Mayor Ted Barratt's insistence that there aren't any more documents than a letter already released to the public."The city cannot provide a negative and we cannot order a negative," said committee member Betsy Ross, before the panel voted down resident Bill Jacob's appeal after two-hours of debate.
Barratt anticipated the board's vote. The city can't provide what it doesn't have, he said.
"We will not deny anyone. We do not have anything to hide in this city,"Barratt said. "If they think there is something, then I can't help that."
Resident Bill Jacob petitioned the committee for a hearing, citing the Government Records and Access Management Act as the legal reason he should be entitled to see any document produced in a probe of alleged police misconduct called by the city council last May.
Controversy swirled in the 25,000-resident northern Utah County town last summer after former Mayor Jess Green issued a letter of termination to Chief John Durrant and placed several officers on administrative leave.
Council members immediately countered, restoring Durrant as the city's top cop, making a stand against Green's claims he had the legal power to make such personnel decisions.
The furor subsided in the fall when Green promised a judge he would leave the police department alone until the end of his term. Questions about the alleged problems in the department lingered, however.
Jacob contends that Barratt and other city leaders have said in public meetings an investigation by attorney Kevin Watkins cleared the department of any wrongdoing.
But the only document supporting the claim that an audit was conducted is a letter to former Mayor Jess Green by the independent counsel, which he says does not address specifics of the investigation or exonerate the department. A draft of that same letter was circulated among city leaders, as well.
"There is a concern that things have been widely publicized in newspapers but when the public tries to verify by getting documents they cannot get them," Jacob said. "We have had a hard time with the city of American Fork in trying to get records."
Jacob believes there are records - either in written or in electronic form - that American Fork refuses to hand over. He also is concerned about an August memorandum from City Attorney Kevin Bennett advising city officials to "sanitize" records before they are released.
Bennett said he told his clients to water down accounts of executive sessions because the former mayor had indicated he would release tapes and speak openly about sensitive issues protected as confidential under Utah's open-meeting laws. He also advised council members to release information if they deemed it relevant to the public's interest.
"It's been an interesting exercise for us in American Fork. It has allowed us to refine our GRAMA skills," Bennett said. "(But) if there isn's a document, there isn't anything to classify and there isn't anything to give."
A March 15 deadline to produce documentation of reported police problems provided little evidence against the department, Barratt said. The majority of correspondence he's received about the department from residents has paint-ed the department in a good light.
"About 70 percent was positive, which was not being asked for," he said.
Jacobs has another chance at obtaining information about the investigation. A hearing to hear another request for records he believes the city has is scheduled for next month.