Two years ago, a Utah state representative named John Dougall introduced, and succeeded in passing, a particularly vile piece of legislation known as HB477, sprung upon the Legislature and the public in the waning hours of the session.
The bill, which eviscerated the state's exemplary public information law, was so bad, in fact, that a media and public outcry quickly arose and, in relatively short order, Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders worked to have the measure repealed.
Last year, again operating under the radar, Dougall managed to get himself elected state auditor. The important but little-known job went to Dougall after he ousted long-time Auditor Auston Johnson in the Republican primary. Johnson was a professional CPA who ran on his experience and his devotion to openness in government. Dougall is not a professional auditor or accountant, and ran on a promise to be cheap.
Last week, the Utah State Records Committee was forced to say a tearful farewell to long-time member and former chairwoman Betsy Ross. Ross had been a member of the state auditor's staff, and designated as that office's representative on the committee.
But Dougall fired her from his staff, and from her seat on the committee, allegedly because she hadn't done a good enough job of schmoozing legislators over her years in the post of the auditor's director of legislative and government affairs.
Maybe. But Dougall's excuse doesn't pass the smell test.
Those who served on the records committee with Ross over her 18-year tenure, and many of the citizens and advocates who appeared before that panel, had nothing but praise for her knowledge of, and devotion to, Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, aka GRAMA. She was among those who rose up in defense of the law when Dougall was trying to destroy it. So the fact that, once he became her boss Dougall would can Ross, isn't that much of a surprise.
Meanwhile, Dougall is seeking to amend the law so that he doesn't even appoint a member of the records committee any more, apparently so that he won't have a conflict of interest if he chooses to audit that panel.
If it were anyone but Dougall in the auditor's chair, the suggestion that the records committee, like every other state entity, should be subject to the auditor's oversight would be a no-brainer. But when it is Dougall doing the auditing, the possibility that he would use that power to harass the committee, as an alternate way of weakening the state's open records law, looms large.
This overseer needs a lot of oversight.