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Trust & Transparency

The Rio Grande war, public records and ballot initiatives.

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Rio Grande War
We didn't learn much from the bitter backlash to the once-proposed Sugar House homeless facility. Remember how the 150-bed shelter was sprung on neighborhood residents because of all the secrecy surrounding the decision? Well, it could be déjà vu all over again—but on a much larger scale. Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes is all about fixing the problematic Rio Grande area, and he's set up a "war room" overlooking the area because, of course, he doesn't live there. While his motivation might be purely altruistic, he must see himself as a messiah, of sorts, swooping in like Jared Kushner to solve the Middle East problem. While The Salt Lake Tribune noted that he is working with civil-rights proponents, the Deseret News made it clear that Hughes and his operation might not be "overly forthcoming" with the plan. The excuse is law enforcement. That presupposes a "war" on the homeless, and pretty much eliminates transparency.

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Private vs. Public
Why all the secrecy? Of course, officials would prefer that the public they represent not hear contentious discourse. That's why the Kobach Commission has been playing fast and loose with the idea of open meetings. While the commission delves into your private voting history, it doesn't want you to know too much. An NPR report made it clear, though, that among other problems, live-streaming a meeting doesn't make it public. In a separate issue, the Utah Education Association is suing the state Board of Education to keep teacher disciplinary records private. But BYU journalism professor Joel Campbell reminded them, in a letter to The Salt Lake Tribune, that the law says past and present disciplinary actions of government employees are public. Hiding your dirty laundry will not win trust.

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Ballot Initiatives
Utah is swimming in ballot initiatives sparked by legislative inaction on issues the public holds dear—school funding, medical marijuana, primary elections and redistricting. Bob Bernick of Utah Policy encourages everyone to sign petitions. "If you are smart enough to pick your own officeholders, pick your religion, pick your spouse, pick your daily work," he wrote, "you are smart enough (and adult enough) to make wise choices on a petition ballot." Redistricting has long been controversial. Should you pick your reps or should they pick you? A federal judge just ruled that San Juan County had to redraw its districts because of racial gerrymandering. In Caucasian Utah, it's mostly a partisan issue, which the U.S. Supreme Court is considering now in a Wisconsin case. But Utah voters might get there first, if only to advise lawmakers.


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