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Hans Koepsell, Deseret News
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, right, answers questions during a town hall event at the University of Utah's Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City, Monday on Oct. 10, 2016. McAdams and challenger Dave Robinson joined Hinckley Institute of Politics director Jason Perry, left, to talk education, health care, air quality, and other issues.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Republican push to take control of Utah's largest county escalated Monday, less than a month away from the general election.

GOP Salt Lake County mayoral candidate Dave Robinson took several verbal jabs at Democratic incumbent Mayor Ben McAdams during a public forum hosted at the Thomas S. Monson Center by the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

Robinson, a local businessman, attacked McAdams over a variety of issues, but a recurring theme was a pending lawsuit filed last week against the Mountain Accord that accuses the group of holding illegal closed-door meetings.

But McAdams dismissed Robinson's barrage, saying the claims against the Mountain Accord were unfounded.

The Cardiff Canyon Owners Association, a group of landowners who own about 1,100 acres in Big Cottonwood Canyon, filed a lawsuit last week against the Mountain Accord, claiming its executive committee has violated the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

Robinson, who has worked with landowner groups like Cardiff Canyon, accused Mountain Accord leaders of holding closed-door meetings and not properly posting information about those meetings for the public.

"I know of people who went to those meetings, and the doors were closed in their face, and they sat in the hall while the executive committee talked about spending millions of dollars," Robinson said.

McAdams, chairman of the Mountain Accord's executive committee, said "that's not true."

"We've never turned away a member of the public at these meetings," he said.

McAdams said the reason notices of Mountain Accord meetings haven't been posted on the Utah public meetings website — though they are posted on the accord's website — is because the group isn't an official governmental entity. Instead, it's a group of stakeholders working together toward a common goal of preserving the canyons while allowing recreational access to the state's most popular ski and hiking areas.

The Cardiff Canyon suit, however, came days after the Utah State Auditor's Office said in a letter that the Mountain Accord was subject to the open meetings act.

McAdams and Laynee Jones, program director for Mountain Accord, said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill issued a legal opinion in June stating the accord was not subject to the open meetings law because of its informal structure.

Despite the current dispute over Mountain Accord's current structure, McAdams plans to ask the Salt Lake County Council to approve an interlocal agreement this week to transform the group into a formal governmental entity: the Central Wasatch Commission.

If all goes as planned, the commission's first meeting will be in November.

Robinson said the Mountain Accord has lacked "transparency" while debating how to spend $8 million, claiming property owners have been excluded from executive meetings.

"Mountain Accord should have done tremendous good, (yet) backcountry people and the environmental people have been sold down the river," Robinson said.

McAdams pointed out that Robinson has been part of "a primary entity that has been suing over the last 20 years to gain development rights" in the canyons, while battling with Salt Lake City over water rights.

Mountain Accord, the mayor said, was inspired by collaboration, not "litigation and contention." He said by forming the Central Wasatch Commission, elected officials from invested governments — including the county, Salt Lake City, Sandy and Cottonwood Heights — would have more authority to carry out the accord's priorities.

Transit solutions for skier traffic is a top priority for Mountain Accord stakeholders.

Robinson, owner of the construction company City Block LLC, was a candidate in 2015 for Salt Lake City mayor but failed to advance past the August primary election.

According to the latest campaign finance reports, McAdams has raised more than $285,000 for his campaign. Robinson has raised just under $50,000.

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: KatieMcKellar1