30 GB IPOD Touch

We want to congratulate Lorna Payne 30 GB IPOD Touch at the Salt Lake County Benefit Fairs.  She was drawn by the UAGE Salt lake County Board and awarded her IPOD a few weeks ago.  She said she was very excited to download and start playing angry birds.

Thanks Lorna for entering the contests, and being a member of the Utah Alliance of Government Employees.

Every member makes the difference.

Utah GRAMA ombudsman is on the job

The Salt Lake Tribune

Out of the ashes of the rancorous HB477 debate on revamping Utah’s open records laws, the state has named its first records ombudsman and created a hotline to answer Utahns’ questions about which government documents are public, which are secret, and how to access the ones that should be open.

Rosemary Cundiff, head of the records management section at state Archives and newly designated ombudsman, was already on the job and answering the hotline Thursday.

“I’ve taken some requests already,” she told The Tribune. She even had her first mediation session scheduled.

That’s part of her new assignment — under a law that officially kicks in Monday: helping mediate disputes between people seeking records and government agencies that hold them.

Cundiff plans to invite parties locked in such impasses into a room together and see if things can’t be worked out before their cases end up in court or before the State Records Committee.

“Sometimes things work out just by people understanding the law … sometimes people meet halfway,” Cundiff said. “There are so many gray areas in the [Government Records Access and Management Act] law.”

Under the new law (SB177), the ombudsman is supposed to be someone familiar with GRAMA and is to serve as a resource for those seeking records or responding to a request.

Cundiff seems a good fit. A 12-year employee of state Archives, she has, for the past three years, overseen the records management section. Part of her job is training records managers throughout Utah — from state agencies to city offices about GRAMA, records-keeping and records retention requirements and schedules.

Her new ombudsman role is in addition to, not in place of, her other duties.

She won’t comment on whether that part of the job will swamp her, but acknowledges receiving several citizen inquiries even before her appointment was announced Thursday — with callers hearing about her through word of mouth.

State Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and the sponsor of SB177, said the idea for an ombudsman came up in the GRAMA working group created after what he describes as the “HB477 debacle” and the subsequent attempt to “regain some public confidence in the area of public records and such.”

SB177 was a consensus measure aimed at streamlining and strengthening the open-records law. That was in stark contrast to HB477 — GRAMA-gutting legislation that was rammed through the 2011 Legislature, then unceremoniously repealed in reaction to public outcry.

“The reality is that the ombudsman, that post, was created so citizens have a readily available place so they can ask questions and have some help to navigate” GRAMA issues, said Bramble. “I think it’s going to be a real benefit.”

Most of the records requests — he estimates it at 95 percent — are coming from citizens, not the news media or government activists, says Bramble. And he says public officials have an obligation to make sure government is open and responsive.

“As a public official, I’d better be ready to embrace transparency or I should be ready to conclude my public service.”

Bramble says the ombudsman legislation deliberately steered away from creating a new full-time position so that cost arguments couldn’t be used to trip it up. But he said state leaders will monitor the program’s workload and effectiveness and, if needed, revisit its structure in the future.

Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, described herself as cautiously optimistic about the ombudsman’s effect on government openness.

“I think it’s a good idea … a step in the right direction for the public. I know from my own experience, submitting GRAMA requests can be frustrating,” said Martindale, whose nonprofit group participated in the debate during and following the “horrible” HB477 blowup.

If the ombudsman provides answers and assistance, she believes the program will be a success — and may deserve to be expanded in the future.

“If it’s just someone to say, ‘Golly, that’s too bad’ ” when citizens feel they’re being stonewalled by the government, Martindale said, “then it’s not really solving the issue.”

Governors: Mountain West needs unified voice on land, energy and water

Common-ground agenda needed when dealing with Washington, they say.

The Salt Lake Tribune

The governors of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming met Friday in Salt Lake City to discuss public lands, energy, water and other key issues and agreed that, if they hope to influence national policy on those issues, they and their colleagues in the region must speak with a unified voice.

“We have the opportunity to drive the agenda on those things that are important to our states,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, and the best way to do that is to find common interests. “We want to have the Western states, Democrats and Republicans alike, to have as strong a voice in this country as possible.”

The governors — all Republicans — did not drill down into specific issues during the five-hour get-together, organized by Gov. Gary Herbert. But Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said the Rocky Mountain Roundtable serves as a “touchstone” to help build collaboration among the executives in the future.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval also participated by phone. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, was scheduled to participate by phone, but canceled due to legislative issues.

“We think the federal government would do better to watch and learn from what is happening in the states,” Herbert said. “This is not an end result. This is really a beginning, a desire to communicate better with governors and learn from each other and our successes and our failures.”

Outside the Governor’s Mansion, about 80 protesters gathered, carrying signs opposing HB148, a bill signed last month by Herbert that demands Congress turn over nearly 30 million acres of federal land within Utah’s borders.

Heidi McIntosh, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which organized the protest, said there is long-standing frustration that Herbert wasn’t listening to concerns about his environmental agenda. When he signed HB148, she said, “that was just a bridge too far.”

“What we wanted to accomplish today was send this message that, with such an aggressive attack on Utah’s wildlands, we’re putting our future at risk, not only environmentally, but economically,” she said.

SUWA supports a proposal to protect more than 9 million acres as wilderness in the state.

The other governors were noncommittal on whether they would support bills similar to HB148, which even Utah legislative attorneys said likely wouldn’t survive a legal challenge.

Otter said he would have to see what the costs and benefits of such an approach would be, but he is sympathetic to the cause because, he said, the federal government owes it to Western states to relinquish lands, just as it has in states east of the Rocky Mountains.

“At a minimum, I think all Western [states] need to at least press the issue,” Otter said. “I think we have an obligation to demand” the issue be addressed.

Mead, a former U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, said he would have to learn more about what such legislation would mean for national parks and forests, mineral rights and tourism in the state.

Earlier this week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar blasted the Utah legislation as a counterproductive political stunt.

“From my point of view, it defies common sense,” he said Tuesday in an interview with The Tribune.

“I think it is political rhetoric you see in an election year. The fact is, Utah is a great example of where, through the use of public lands, we are creating thousands and thousands of jobs.”

Herbert said that there is a misperception that under the state plan the land would be sold to private interests. In reality, it would likely only be leased to them.

“The legislation is not conducive for us to sell [the land] off. I know there’s that accusation, but that’s a lot more political rhetoric than reality,” Herbert said. “We all know there are beautiful pristine areas that ought to be preserved and protected. We also know there are areas that ought to be developed.”

Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi at ’50 percent’ in stroke recovery

Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Councilman Randy Horiuchi said Monday he is still working toward his normal routines after suffering a stroke Jan. 27.

He said he has been in intensive rehabilitation therapy both as a patient at University Hospital and more recently while recovering at home.

Horiuchi, 58, attended Monday’s opening of the Little Valley Trail and Tunnel in Draper, a project he has supported that uses a tunnel under the Traverse Mountain Road highway to connect trails areas on either side. He said he feels well and is back to “about 50 percent”  of his usual routines so far.

Horiuchi, a past state chairman of the Democratic Party, was elected in 1990 to the County Commission, where he served two terms. He was elected to the new County Council in 2002 and is currently in his second six-year term.

Fired worker accepts back pay from UDOT, says issues remain

The Salt Lake Tribune

The Utah Department of Transportation handed a check Monday afternoon to a worker who was wrongly terminated then reinstated, but the issue still may not be resolved.

UDOT paid Denice Graham more than $43,000 for more than a year of back wages, minus taxes, and has reinstated leave time she had accrued.

“I got my back pay, which I’m very happy that part of it was resolved,” said Graham. “But we still have not resolved the legal issues — the legal fees and the job issue.”

UDOT Director John Njord fired Graham more than a year ago, accusing her of leaking information on the $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15 through Utah County. But a Career Service Review officer ruled in February that Graham hadn’t released confidential information, called the firing an “abuse of discretion” and ordered her reinstated.

Graham went back to work this month, but had been wrangling over her back pay. In early April, Njord offered to give Graham her back pay if she would write a letter to the Democratic Party requesting that it stop using her case to criticize Gov. Gary Herbert, which Graham refused.

Herbert’s Office opposed that proposal, and Njord later acknowledged it was a bad idea.

Graham accepted the check for $43,515.84 Monday afternoon, which was her $67,623.68 in disputed back pay, minus taxes.

UDOT spokesman Nile Easton said UDOT is handling Graham’s case the same way past cases have been dealt with.

“What we provided today is everything she would have missed out on in the time she was terminated,” Easton said. “We feel it’s going above and beyond what the Career Service Review Office has ordered, but we’ll continue to talk to her.”

Graham says she has racked up more than $50,000 in legal fees wrangling for more than a year with UDOT — expenses that she said UDOT should have to pay.

However, the Utah Legislature has prohibited the Career Service Review Office, which handles appeals of state terminations, from awarding legal fees.

“I hope we’re able to resolve that without having to go to court, because I am not going to go without my legal fees. Why would I just accept that?” Graham said. “I hope they would step up and resolve it and say, ‘That’s our bill.’ ”

Graham also said she has been stuck in an “entry-level” job that doesn’t match her experience or skills. She said she would like a job dealing with labor and civil rights issues — which she handled before — and would be willing to move to another department in state government to make that happen.

The group Alliance For A Better Utah had called on Herbert to fire Njord in the wake of the disclosure and demanded an investigation into the Graham firing and a $13 million payout to a losing bidder on the I-15 contract to avoid litigation.

The group’s director, Maryann Martindale, said the organization is pleased Graham has received her compensation.

“We can only hope that director Njord has also had the decency to privately apologize to Denice for all that she has been through,” Martindale said. “But this should not be the end of this matter, and the receipt of a check should not permit Governor Herbert and director Njord to brush so many open questions under the rug.”

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