As Mel Brooks says: "It's good to be king."
And following that truism, I've now come across another example of how the Utah Legislature takes care of ... the Utah Legislature.
While I have regularly used the state's open records law to GRAMA (yes, it has become a verb) information from the executive branch of state government, I recent went through this process for the legislative branch.
You have to love the nerve (or is arrogance a better word?) of these legislators taking care of their own "private" records.
Through the Government Records Access and Management Act process I asked for all of the cell telephone numbers for lawmakers' BlackBerrys, which the 104 lawmakers decided to buy for themselves with taxpayer dollars in 2005 at a cost of around $220,000. I also asked for those cell phone monthly records for the elected legislative leaders of both political parties, House and Senate.
I wanted all the cell phone numbers so I can call these guys quickly ... deadlines, deadlines.
I wanted to look at the cell phone records of leaders to see who they were calling frequently might be interesting to know if a leader was calling certain lobbyists day in and day out.
But stupid me, I had forgotten that several years ago The Salt Lake Tribune had tried to get all the taxpayer-paid-for cell-phone numbers of our elected lawmakers. Lawmakers didn't like that. So the Legislature passed a law that's right, a law! that classified their own cell phone numbers as private under GRAMA. (Some lawmakers do list their cell phone numbers voluntarily, and a number have given me their numbers when I ask, which I appreciate.)
On the other request leaders' cell phone monthly bills the legislative attorneys also declined (no surprise to me). But the reasoning behind that decline is wonderful, classic Legislature.
The legislative attorneys said they couldn't give me the monthly bills because some of the calls on the BlackBerrys could be personal and private under GRAMA.
The Deseret News' attorney for GRAMA requests, Jeff Hunt, a former reporter here, says he can see some sense in that what if a leader were calling his AA counselor or his psychiatrist. Such information probably shouldn't be public.
But then and this is the part I really love the legislative attorneys said they COULDN'T EVEN ASK the legislative leaders to say which telephone calls were personal and which were legislative related, and thus maybe public, because that IN ITSELF would be a violation of the GRAMA privacy regulations.
Talk about don't ask don't tell.
Hunt finds the last legal argument foolish. And he advised that I could always appeal the legislative attorneys' declining of my GRAMA request on phone records.
But who would I, or anyone else, appeal to?
The story gets even better because under the GRAMA law passed by the Legislature, you appeal to ... yep, you guessed it ... the Legislature.
Since the Legislature is a separate branch of government, you do not go through the executive branch's GRAMA appeals process which at least gets you to a records committee that has some citizens on it (even a member of the media) and is an arm's length away from the state bureaucrats who originally declined your request.
Here is the appeals process in the Legislature: Legislative staff attorney denies your request for information. You appeal to the boss of the person who denied your request. Denied again? You appeal to a committee of four legislative leaders Senate president, House speaker and the minority leaders of both bodies. Denied again? You can go to district court.
But then anyone can sue in district court, anyway. It is costly and very time-consuming.
So should I use my time asking legislative bosses to overturn their staff attorney's decision not to give me the legislative bosses' telephone bills? Gee, a tough call there.
Ultimately, the staff members hired by the legislative bosses and the legislative bosses themselves are judge, jury and executioner on legislative GRAMA requests.
Sounds like a dictatorship, doesn't it?Naw. It's just the Utah Legislature. Like I said, you gotta love these guys.
Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]