Oyez! Oyez! The first (and maybe last) annual court to hand out awards for the most important Utah stories of the year is now in session. All decisions are made by a distinguished panel consisting of me. No appeals are allowed. Quiet down, back there! Here are the results for 2016.
The “We’re turning blue!” award goes to all of us who are waiting with bated breath (especially those of you who aren’t brushing regularly after eating all that holiday food) for President Obama to declare a Bears Ears National Monument. It could happen any second between now and the moment on Jan. 20 when Donald Trump raises his right arm. Why? Because that’s how democracy works when only one man gets to vote, that’s why.
It’s been an interesting year for land-use issues. Rep. Rob Bishop unveiled his “grand compromise” to head off a monument, which became a grand bust. Critics say it never was a serious effort. But then, as long as the president can declare a monument whenever he wants, there isn’t much incentive for certain parties to compromise, is there?
And speaking of public lands, the Utah Legislature may start 2017 with a lawsuit aimed at taking control of the roughly 65 percent of the state that is owned by the federal government.
Someone cue the old Woody Guthrie recording. Everybody sing! “This land is my land; this land’s not your land …”
Next comes the “We coulda been a contender!” award, given to everyone in the state old enough to fill out a ballot.
Remember when we all thought Utah was going to host a Republican primary debate? Remember when major candidates came to town and the media focused on Utah as a swing state for the first time since the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan?
Remember when Batman vs. Superman was supposed to be the blockbuster hit of the year?
So much for dreams. Oh yes, it was nice of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to write exclusive op-eds in the Deseret News. It was nice of John Kasich and Ted Cruz to speak to the editorial board. And Evan McMullin may have given his own political career a little boost. But by Election Day, Utah was back to its comfortable role as a political afterthought (yawn).
Salt Lake City and county leaders get the “Let’s hope we’re right” award for their plan to build four new homeless shelters.
A few weeks ago, a radio host asked me what I thought would happen if the plan failed. The answer is, we can’t afford to think about it.
The “Just press ‘play!’” award is closely related, because it involves a police shooting last February near the homeless shelter. It goes to county District Attorney Sim Gill, who said the video shows the officers involved were justified. A police citizens review board said exactly the opposite.
Both Gill and members of the review board have described the contents of the video in such detail many Utahns may feel as if they’ve already seen it, but they haven’t. At this point, that’s just silly.
The “Touchiest question of all” award goes to Salt Lake County, which in 2016 had to contend with behavior suggesting County Recorder Gary Ott might have dementia. The law doesn’t allow an elected official to be removed from office for that, even if his staff might be protecting him from public scrutiny to save their own jobs. That doesn’t keep everyone with an elderly relative from feeling sadness and sympathy, however.
West Jordan gets the “Openness can be a bummer” award for losing a Facebook data center to New Mexico. When the Deseret News revealed a deal was in the works, some folks objected. That’s what happens in an open society. Tough luck for West Jordan, but then it’s better to know the objections now than later, right?
Finally, the “Biggest uncovered story” award goes to the Great Salt Lake, which is shrinking. A lot. I know this was indeed covered once or twice, but given the lake’s importance to the region’s weather and ecology, it ought to be a much bigger story.
That’s a wrap on 2016. Court adjourned. Happy New Year.