New project pushes for more open government in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A student project at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics is pushing local and county governments to do more to be open and transparent to the public.

The Utah Transparency Project was unveiled on Wednesday, with students vowing to communicate their ideas for best practices to all 273 local and county governments. On hand to lend support to the idea was Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Council Chairman Soren Simonsen.

The Utah Transparency Project is encouraging local governments to adopt five “best practices,” including:

  • Creating a single website for public information that is easily searchable and publishes data such as audits, financial reports, contracts and other records at least once a year.
  • Making government information available in digital form and for free.
  • Making e-mails, instant messages and other electronic communications on government equipment a matter of public record.
  • Creating a “culture of transparency” within local government.
  • Ensuring that meetings are public and online.

“We don’t believe it has to be complicated, time intensive, arduous or capital intensive,” said student Tanner Gould. “In drafting our best practices, we kept in mind the constraints felt by local governments.”

The push for more open government comes in the aftermath of what was considered a dramatic rollback of public records in Utah. The state legislature passed HB 477, which restricted access to public documents. It was later repealed after public protests at the Capitol and around the state.

Becker said he believes cities across Utah would approve it. Simonsen said the Salt Lake City Council would consider the initiative soon.

“I think the way the students have put this together to be sensitive to what limits there are, in terms of financial limits to local governments, that it’s something that can easily be adopted by governments regardless of how big they are, how small they are, what their resources are,” Becker said.

The Utah Transparency Project has been endorsed by a wide variety of groups including the Sutherland Institute, Utah Common Cause, the Utah Press Association, the Utah Media Coalition, the Utah League of Women Voters, the Utah Foundation for Open Government, the Utah Broadcasters Association and the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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