The Utah Senate reportedly is poised to confirm a controversial nominee to the state committee in charge of enforcing its open-records law. Without the benefit of an open public hearing.
Somehow, the whole concept of open government seems beyond the grasp of many of our elected leaders.
Holly Richardson, a former member of the Utah House and author of the political blog "Holly on the Hill," was nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert to the seat on the Utah State Records Committee. As someone with experience in state government on the outside looking in and on the inside looking out she could well contribute some useful insights into the way the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act works and should work in the real world.
But there is more to be considered by the Senate. Enough to warrant a public committee hearing of the sort that is routine for the vetting of judicial nominees and others appointed to key posts in state government.
A seat on the records panel is not just any government advisory job. The panel holds a great deal of power because it interprets how GRAMA will be implemented whenever someone seeking the release of a public document clashes with a public agency unwilling to divulge it. The courts provide another avenue for GRAMA enforcement, but a longer and more expensive one. Every nominee, not just those considered controversial, should appear before the relevant Senate committee to explain their thinking on the matter.
But Richardson's nomination is in no way routine. As a member of the House last year, she was among the stampede of lawmakers who voted for HB477. That was the now-infamous bill that had as its clear goal the evisceration of GRAMA and a whole new philosophy of government that gave the benefit of the doubt to those who wanted to keep public documents in locked file cabinets.
She was also among the only slightly smaller stampede of legislators who voted to repeal HB477 a few weeks later. That is a change of heart that a committee should ask about.
Also, as a Republican activist, Richardson might, or might not, be more inclined to favor the release of records that make Democrats look bad while siding with those who want to keep Republican-embarrassing documents under wraps. A proper committee hearing would give Richardson a chance to state on the record how she would leave her partisan hat at home when judging open-records request.
Richardson said Tuesday that she would not object to a committee hearing on her nomination. She should not only not object. She should insist on one.