Prompted by a letter from various local media personnel, the Salt Lake County Commission Executive Council reviewed the recurring question of when it's appropriate to close a meeting from the public and press.
Although a decision was not made on the matter, county commissioners voiced opinions on the subject, the strongest from Randy Horiuchi, who strongly opposes closed meetings."It is clear to me that when meetings are kept open, the chance for political skulduggery is reduced."
The letter, first received by the Board of Commissioners, was referred to Gavin Anderson, deputy County attorney, and then to the Executive Council for further discussion.
According to Anderson, the letter asked several questions. One concern was whether it's appropriate under the Open Meetings Act to close a meeting to discuss potential litigation. He said there is, in fact, a justification in the law for closing a meeting that could possibly result in litigation. He also said there is an attorney/client privilege which needs to be addressed.
Brent Cameron, director of Administrative Services, agrees with the attorney's office and feels a meeting can be closed if there is an imminent or threatening situation at hand, such as a potential lawsuit. Cameron, who worked for the county attorneys office before becoming director of Administrative Services, feels the determining factor should not be whether or not there is an actual lawsuit in prog-ress but that a potential lawsuit is grounds for a closed meeting.
On the other hand, Horiuchi is concerned government agencies will unnecessarily close meetings from the public view with a potential litigation loophole.
"I'm a little concerned we would use a broad expanse of attorney/
client privilege in the county commission - that pending and potential litigation could be used for closing a lot of things.
"Whenever we have open meetings we tend to be a little more up front in what we do. I don't want potential or pending litigation used as an excuse to close a meeting."
Cameron said officials are seeking legislation clarifying the issues. He said he would like to see minutes taken in closed meetings, just as they are in open meetings. That way if there was a decision made in a closed meeting and it was challenged in court, the judge could look at those records and determine just what went on in the closed meeting.
He also mentioned it is more difficult to set a rule on an overall policy - that it makes more sense to judge each case individually.
William Hyde, civil division attorney for Salt Lake County, said said the public should receive more information about the reasons for closed meetings.
Anderson reminded those in attendance there are statutes prohibiting the discussion of certain things in public, open meetings - taxation information and medical records, for example. He feels as a general rule it is better to keep a meeting confidential when talking about information dealing with a specific, named individual.
Commissioner D. Michael Stewart said since he has been in office they have closed "less than 10 meetings dealing with litigation
and/or real estate. Depending on where you start, we frankly have not had a monumental issue to discuss. We presume the press knows what's going to injure the public's trust and the press have restrained themselves."
Stewart prefers to have the commission develop its own policy.
"Closure should be an exception to the rule," he said.
Commissioner James Bradley disagrees with Stewart and said each issue has its own peculiarities and should be dealt with accordingly.