Local media are welcome no more at The Conference of Salt Lake Valley Mayors' monthly meetings.
Conference president Randy Fitts said the 13 mayors decided last week to stop inviting the press to the floating meetings. Fitts, also mayor of South Salt Lake, said the conference had been discussing the issue for "probably six months." The group came to a decision a few days before its May 16 meeting. The meeting was rescheduled from its fourth-Thursday time slot.The conference of mayors' June meeting has been canceled, Fitts said. The press has, however, not been formally banned but will no longer receive notice of the meetings.
"This is not a constitutionally organized group. We would like to have freedom to discuss the issues before they hit the open market, before decisions are made," Fitts said. "The mayors decided they want the freedom to discuss these things in an open forum to get people's viewpoint. They don't want to be quoted."
The Conference of Salt Lake Valley Mayors is a 3-year-old nonpolicy-making group made up of 13 Wasatch Front communities. The mayors formed the group to discuss city, county and state issues with "a lot freer dialogue than exists in the Salt Lake County Council of Governments," Fitts said.
Council president Tom Dolan, mayor of Sandy, was unavailable for comment at Deseret News press-time.
Local Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information hotline specialist Mark Wagner said it's difficult to say if the conference of mayors would fall under the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act. Wagner, an attorney with Kimball, Parr, Waddoups, Brown & Gee law firm, noted that if the group isn't organized under statute and has no authority to make official decisions, it may not qualify under the state's Open Meetings Act.
"It would be ironic if they didn't qualify. By virtue of their elected official status and their taxpayer salaries, they hold meetings in public buildings and meet to discuss issues of public concern. The mere fact that they get together and have chosen not to file bylaws might technically get them around the meetings act, but it certainly circumvents the spirit of the act," Wagner said. "The purpose is to open up the public business to public scrutiny so citizens can oversee their elected officials."
Fitts said his secretary contacted local papers, although the Deseret News is the only media outlet that covers the conference regularly. Claire Geddes, a representative of United We Stand-Utah, found the news of slight "alarming."
"That's one thing we're very concerned about. It's a very important part the press plays in getting information to the public on what is happening. In America, that's the beauty of our government: They do open it to the press, and citizens are able to have access," Geddes said.