This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Sitting in front of the State Records Committee on Thursday, Dan Schroeder deftly sorts through documents and cites the law as he responds to arcane legal points about why the Utah Attorney General's Office won't give him access to a closed investigation into the dubious Envision Ogden scheme.
Without a closer look, a casual observer might assume Schroeder is a trained lawyer with years of experience using Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). In reality, Schroeder is a physics professor at Weber State University whose "hobby" is challenging Ogden politicians. Utah could use more people like Schroeder.
Depending on whom you talk to, Schroeder is either a publicity monger or a watchdog on the steps of Ogden's City Hall. Schroeder likes to say he investigates things that journalists neither have the time for nor the expertise to understand. He posts much of what he finds on a blog called Weber County Forum.
Schroeder has acquired a record of shining light on the actions of Ogden's elite.
In relation to Thursday's State Records Committee case, Schroeder has been trying to uncover what was going on behind the scenes of the now defunct Envision Ogden. It turns out the group, which was operating without proper federal or state registration, was asking Ogden bigwigs and corporations to donate money to promote the city.
In the end, about $21,000 of the money raised was funneled through a shell group, Friends of Northern Utah Real Estate, to the campaigns of two City Council candidates. Unfortunately, a state attorney convinced State Records Committee members they shouldn't release most of the records Schroeder had hoped would shed more light on the scheme.
His work also prompted an attorney general's investigation. No charges were ever filed, although one state investigator said the fundraising scheme "smelled bad." Schoeder said: "No one has been held accountable in any way."
He started requesting government documents five years ago while investigating off-road-vehicle use in forest lands for the Sierra Club. He soon learned the ropes of the federal Freedom of Information Act and GRAMA. He has a big box full of documents from the U.S. Forest Service to prove it.
More recently, Schroeder pursued documentation from both Ogden and the Utah Transit Authority about a proposed gondola system that would have connected an Ogden transit hub with Weber State University.
Schroeder said one of the most gratifying parts of that case, which went to court, came when a district judge ordered the government to provide a list of records that related to his request. He said that precedent now helps others seeking records.
He also successfully pursued a GRAMA request to an Ogden records appeals board to get a list of potential donors for a possible $40 million field-house project. He showed county grant makers why the plan was financial folly.
He's recently formed the Ogden Ethics Project, which calls for more government transparency, limits on gifts and changes to Ogden's GRAMA appeals process.
After all that, it isn't surprising Schroeder hasn't made a lot of friends while pursuing his hobby. For example, he said Ogden's outgoing mayor, Matthew Godfrey, stopped speaking to him years ago.
Joel Campbell is a former reporter and current associate professor of communications at Brigham Young University. His reporting does not necessarily reflect the views of BYU. He writes on First Amendment and open-government issues for The Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.