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utaw's mistake

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
Well it seems that the state agency responsable for control the alcohol here in Utaw, made a mistake, by having closed meetings, regarding polices. With thanks to the Salt Lake Trib. read on.
Liquor Board Notes Reveal Long Record Of Secrecy
Thursday, October 18, 2001


In an undisclosed and possibly illegal telephone meeting three years ago, Utah's liquor commission approved a "consent" procedure to move violation and settlement agreements through the system quickly.
Now government watchdogs say the adoption and the procedure not only blocked public scrutiny and debate in violation of state sunshine laws, but may have rendered hundreds of such settlements invalid.
"The commission's whole attitude has forever and ever been that they are in charge and they are not answerable to anybody -- to heck with the public," Salt Lake City civil rights attorney Brian Barnard said Wednesday. "These problems with their abuse of power are consistent with what they have been doing publicly, so it doesn't surprise me that they have been abusing power privately, too."
Details of the June 18, 1998, decision and 20 other previously undisclosed meetings of Utah's Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission were released Wednesday to The Salt Lake Tribune through a request under the Government Records Access and Management Act.
The minutes off two ABC Commission meetings held by telephone Monday -- one of which ABC Director Ken Wynn acknowledged clearly violated Utah's Open Meetings Law -- were not released on the advice of the commission's lawyer.
During the meetings, the commission approved controversial changes to the state's advertising rules, making it illegal to depict religious themes in liquor advertising that primarily appeals to minors.
Neither of the meetings was publicized 24 hours in advance, as required by law, and during at least one of the two meetings commissioners were polled for their votes by ABC staff through a series of one-on-one telephone calls, another apparent violation of the Open Meetings Law.
On Wednesday, ABC Commission Chairman Nicholas Hales told The Tribune that he would convene an emergency public meeting on Friday to revisit the changes adopted Monday and, presumably, readopt them in a legal public setting -- without telephones.
Even so, the Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Utah Headliners chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and The Tribune have prepared litigation to void all action taken by the commission during both Monday meetings or any other meeting conducted by telephone over the past three months, a time constriction mandated by law.
"We intend in whatever we do with respect to the current issue to go back the 90 days that the statute permits," ACLU legal adviser Stephen Clark said. "We won't limit our inquiries and requests to whatever was done on Monday."
Telephone conferences were instituted by the commission around 1993 as a means to give last-minute approval to liquor permits for one-day special events, Hales said.
The bulk of the minutes obtained by The Tribune substantiate Hales' explanation. The reasons for the "emergency" meetings, according to the minutes, vary from instances where a permittee forgot to file paperwork on time to scheduling conflicts with properly publicized commission meetings.
Even so, virtually all of the undisclosed meetings were coordinated by an ABC staff member, usually ABC Compliance Manager Earl Dorius, who called each of the members one by one. Typically, Hales explained, Dorius would fax or relay information to the commissioners, call Hales to approve the emergency meeting, and then call each individual commissioner, first for debate, and then for their votes, all in violation of Utah's Open Meetings Law.
"I don't disagree with you that the law needs to be followed, but what I'm saying is it's the commissioners' understanding that we followed the law," Hales said. "It now appears honest mistakes were made in the past and the question is how do you correct the problem in the future."
For starters, Hales said telephone meetings would be severely restricted; if necessary, proper public notice would be given in the future; and a phone system that allows three or more parties to converse will be installed at ABC's headquarters. Three of the commission's five members constitute a legal quorum.
Harder to fix is the procedural change adopted in private on June 18, 1998.
Prior to the 1998 meeting, the commission reviewed and approved individual violations and disciplinary actions on a case-by-case basis during regularly scheduled public hearings. With the consent procedure adopted at the secret meeting, commissioners routinely endorse large groups of disciplinary actions with little or no debate.
According to minutes obtained by The Tribune, Commissioner Vicki McCall, the only social drinker and non-Mormon on the commission, expressed reluctance to the procedural change but ultimately joined the commission's unanimous vote to approve it.
"She indicated she wanted to have the licensees' explanations available to the commission and suggested that perhaps a letter from licensees who wanted to submit their side of the violation could be sent with the settlement agreement," McCall said in the paraphrased minutes.
Her exact comments and the exact justification for the change may never be known because the meeting was not recorded and the public and news media were not legally informed.
According to the minutes, Commissioner Larry Lunt said he thought the move would "save time for the commission."
Former Commissioners Carl Hawkins and A. Dean Jeffs also approved the change and Hales advised that "if a commissioner wanted to have an item removed from the consent calender, they would have to contact the office no later than Wednesday afternoon prior to the meeting."
Under a consent agenda, only the commissioners have the authority to request additional debate or consideration. Members of the public cannot request further discussion until after the consent agenda has been approved in its entirety.
In the commission's defense, Hales said there has never been an instance where a request to remove a consent item has been denied. He also argues that the decision to move items to a consent calender was not a substantive procedural change and the commission didn't need to vote in a public meeting to make the change.
But vote they did.
Because the move to initiate a consent agenda was approved in what was probably an illegal public meeting, liquor licensees who were disciplined through the consent procedure may have recourse to overturn the discipline, said Barnard, who recently won a federal case against the commission for its restrictions on liquor advertising.
"Disciplinary action based on an invalid rule may be attackable," he said. "You may not be able to say that the rule is void, but you may be able to say any disciplinary action taken under a rule that was improperly enacted is void- able."
Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts, the commissioners' legal adviser, disagrees.
"I don't think it has to be adopted pursuant to a convened public meeting," Roberts said. "It's basically an internal management-type item."
post #2 of 3
Well I'm glad to see people are watching and taking action. Democracy requires involvment.
post #3 of 3
Uhhh.... what? :

SNOW...SNOW...SNOW...Yah, baby :
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