Communications between county commissioners and attorney Steven Boos may be public record
The Utah State Records Committee has stated that communication between San Juan County Commissioners and private attorney Steven Boos may be public record.
The state organization ordered on June 13 that the communication be provided to San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws. Laws will determine if it should be released to the public.
The communication may have been used to develop the more than 20 resolutions that have been approved by the Commission since January.
Journalist Bill Keshlear brought the matter before the Utah State Records Committee. The committee serves as the appeals board for challenges to requests for information through the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).
The GRAMA law is based on the concept that government records belong to the citizens of the state, who have a legal right to open and fair access.
GRAMA sets out the procedures for citizens to access these records.
Keshlear submitted a GRAMA request early in the year for “all emails, phone records, postal letters, rough drafts, and any other material relating to authorship and payment for services in connection with the production of resolutions introduced by Kenneth Maryboy at a San Juan County Commission meeting on February 5.”
After a lengthy process, the Commissioners stated that much of the communication with Boos is protected by attorney-client privilege.
The issue eventually landed before the Utah State Records Committee after Keshlear appealed the decision to the county and made an attempt at mediation.
It has been a busy year for GRAMA requests in San Juan County.
To date in 2019, 23 separate requests have been made to the county for public records through GRAMA.
This is more than double the number of requests made through the same period of 2018.
Keshlear’s GRAMA request is just one of many submitted to San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson.
Nielson also serves as the GRAMA officer for the county. He handles the requests for government records and organizes the response.
Nielson said he generally forwards the requests to the appropriate party.
GRAMA requests can range from a simple copy of a document to a project that involves thousands of documents and hundreds of hours of work.
GRAMA requests have included information regarding law enforcement, human resources, road work, transient room tax, and more. Nielson states that information regarding Commission actions have been the focus of most GRAMA requests to date in 2019.
Nielson explains that if a request requires a lengthy effort to reply in full, the county can charge for expenses related to the response. Nielson said the fee is generally the hourly wage of the employee who responds. Nielson adds that the county does not charge for time it takes if documents need to be redacted.
After the information is gathered and ready, it is presented to the requester. If they are not satisfied with the response, the decision can be appealed. The GRAMA appeal officer for the county is David Everitt, who is currently serving as the interim county administrator.
If the result of the appeal is challenged, the next step is an attempt to mediate the matter locally before an appeal can be filed with the Utah State Records Committee.
Nielson said Keshlear’s recent matter before the Utah State Records Committee is the first GRAMA request to proceed to that point since he took office in 2015.
Another GRAMA request has proceeded through the mediation phase and may end up before the Utah State Records Committee in September.
Andrew Gulliford is seeking information related to a 2016 contract between San Juan County and a law firm related to lobbying work to stop Bears Ears National Monument. The county paid $500,000 for the effort.
Gulliford said the county is also claiming attorney-client privilege in limiting the information released on this matter.