This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
In the face of mounting public pressure, the Utah Transit Authority reversed its decision to close its board committee meetings.
The change was announced in a brief statement from UTA Chairman H. David Burton, posted Tuesday on the agency's website.
"In response to concerns we have heard from stakeholders and the public regarding the changes to the board meeting schedule, the board is announcing that future meetings will be open to the public," Burton said.
"The board will continue to refine its meeting schedule and processes to achieve the goals of transparency, public input, trust and accountability; while also improving board involvement, engagement and communication."
The announcement came within hours of the Utah County Commission voting 3-0 Tuesday to call on the UTA board to open its committee meetings to the public.
It passed a resolution to "encourage" such action, while members of the Salt Lake County Council had threatened a much more drastic step to block sales taxes collected for UTA if the transit agency if it did not open the meetings.
The transit agency's move to shut the public out of its committee meetings previously has drawn criticism from Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican challenger Jonathan Johnson, state Auditor John Dougall and some state lawmakers.
Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who had raised the possibility of the county withholding $150 million in sales tax, said he was "very pleased" with the move to reopen meetings. "I'm glad UTA got the message and is doing the right thing."
Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson, a former UTA board chairman, said of the previous decision to close meetings, "I'm not sure exactly what was going through the minds of the board when they did what they did. I know I shook my head when I heard it."
He said he called UTA to investigate and was told that the situation has not been reported accurately by the news media, and that "they are in the process of reconsidering just how they are going to accomplish what it is they want to do" with how they will structure meetings.
A short time later, the Burton statement was posted on the UTA website.
Until this month, UTA board committee meetings were open to the public; however, the board decided committee meetings will no longer be public because committees will make no final decisions which will be made instead by the full board. UTA has said the change would enhance transparency because full board meetings usually have better attendance and an opportunity for public comment.
Jeff Hunt, a media and First Amendment attorney, said the change violated Utah's open-meetings law, which also requires that advisory groups be open to the public.
Later, Burton said meetings were closed because the agency disliked coverage of them by The Salt Lake Tribune. "You really want to know the truth?" Burton told a Tribune reporter asking why the meetings were closed. "Because you screw us up."
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee said he introduced the resolution Tuesday "because I've been around government long enough to know that subcommittee meetings are usually where the heavy lifting gets done."
So, he said, "I would hate for the committee meetings to be closed where there is a certain amount of discussion that goes on and kind of a wink, wink or nod, nod on 'we're not making a decision, but we getting a feel for where decisions are.' And they we go to the full board and it seems like a rubber stamp."
"We hope they will be open and transparent in all things," said Commissioner Greg Graves.
Some residents also spoke in favor of the resolution.
"UTA needs to restore public trust," said Heather Williamson, of Saratoga Springs. "It's concerning to me that they want to close the meetings, when in the past they have been open."
"UTA's general lack of accountability is outrageous," said Barbara Petty, Republican Party vice chairwoman of legislative District 60. "It seems a concern to us to keep anything from the public."
She also read written messages from from Reps. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Jake Anderegg and Kay Christofferson, both R-Lehi, urging that the meetings be opened.
Tribune reporter Mike Gorrell contributed to this story