While citizens of Eastern European countries were discovering freedom of information, a free press and open governments in 1991, residents of Kane County learned what it's like to live under a repressive government, according to a report released Monday.
For blatant abuse of Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act, the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has awarded the Kane County Commission along with the Kane County attorney one of eight Black Hole Awards for 1991.The Society of Professional Journalists said the Kane County Commission disregarded Utah's open-meetings law when it approved salary raises for the commission, county attorney and sheriff during closed-door sessions at the end of 1991. The commission ordered the county clerk-auditor to keep the raises secret. She didn't. When news of the salary increases broke, more than 250 people turned out at a hearing to protest the commission's secretive action.
Other recipients of Black Hole Awards are the Alpine School Board, South Ogden city, the state Board of Regents, the Legislature, the Salt Lake City Police and Salt Lake County attorney, the Beaver Press, and the state Department of Environmental Quality and Kennecott.
Honorable mentions went to the American Fork City Council and the Juab County Commission for discussing their budgets in closed sessions. Such budget discussions are not exempted in Utah's open-meetings law.
The awards come in conjunction with the National Freedom of Information Day, held each year on March 16 to honor constitutional rights and laws that guarantee open government - through open meetings, open courtrooms and open records.
"In Utah during 1991, professional journalists have seen plenty of efforts to limit the free flow of government information to the stakeholders in that government - its citizens," the report says.
In conjunction with the Black Hole Awards, the society released its first Freedom of Information report documenting other abuse of Utah's open meeting and document access laws. The report documents some 22 instances were government bodies violated Utah's open-meetings law or held questionable closed sessions.
The report documented 10 other occasions when the government denied access to documents, sought gag orders against the press, tried to implement policies restricting government employees from talking to the media or withholding other information.
The society faulted Alpine School Board for approving, in a closed session, a friend-of-the-court brief in the Rhode Island graduation prayer case before the U.S. Supreme Court. South Ogden officials were given the "Black Hole" designation for approving the purchase of a recreational vehicle for the city's mayor and the purchase of property for a park in closed sessions.
The state Department of Environmental Quality and Kennecott were given the award for their $12 million settlement of a lawsuit that said Kennecott damaged underground water on the southwest side of the Salt Lake Valley. The settlement, which has been put on hold, didn't allow release of information about the extent of pollution.
The Board of Regents was given the award for not releasing more information about its selection of the University of Utah president and the Utah State University president. The Legislature was faulted for its closed processes related to drafting of bills and the closed sessions of the Joint Rules Committee.
Salt Lake police and the Salt Lake County attorney were chided for serving a subpoena to KUTV News and then giving the station a gag order preventing the station from talking about or reporting the incident.
The Beaver Press was criticized for its lack of coverage during two years of investigation and court proceedings surrounding the Beaver Valley Hospital sex scandal and embezzlement case.