SUWA has filed lawsuits against Kane, Garfield and San Juan Counties, alleging that all three violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act when they met with D.C. officials to discuss the future of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. We filed the suits in August and September in Utah state court.
Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act requires the state, agencies, and political subdivisions—including county commissions—“to take their actions openly” and “conduct their deliberations openly.” The purpose of the act is to ensure that state and local governments conduct public business publicly, transparently, and openly, with public awareness and involvement, rather than behind closed doors.
On several occasions in May and June, each of the county commissions held closed-door meetings with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, other Interior Department officials, and members of the Utah congressional delegation to discuss the fate of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. The commissioners did not publicly announce the meetings and did not allow members of the public to attend or participate in the meetings.
Both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are prime targets in Zinke’s “review” of national monuments. County commissioners in all three counties are vocal opponents of the monuments, advocating for either significant reductions in size or total elimination of the monuments’ protected status.
Commissioners Demand Local Input in Monument Decisions, then Slam Door
Before the monuments were proclaimed, southern Utah county commissioners complained that decisions were being made without local input (untrue). When Zinke came to town, though, the commissioners kept their constituents in the dark about the real decision-making process. Instead of discussing plans for the future of the monuments openly and engaging constituents of all stripes, these county commissions have decided to operate under cover of darkness in blatant disregard of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act.
SUWA hopes to put a stop to these secret meetings so that SUWA members living in these counties, along with the general public, can have a voice in these important discussions about the future of federal public lands and ensure that elected officials are accountable to their constituents for their actions.
David Reymann and Austin Riter with the Salt Lake City law firm of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless represent SUWA in the suit against Garfield and Kane Counties. SUWA attorneys Laura Peterson, Joe Bushyhead and Steve Bloch represent SUWA in the San Juan case.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, autumn/winter 2017 issue)