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EFR Wins GRAMA Contest

Expanding Frontiers Research is the winner of a 2023 Utah state-wide contest for the most effective use of public records requests during the year. The competition was sponsored by the Utah Investigative Journalism Project (UIJP), a nonprofit public service journalism and educational resource. EFR was recognized for its use of the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA. The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, operated by Eric Peterson, generously provided EFR with a $100 cash donation, an article announcing the award in the 2024 Utah Reporters Almanac, and a hard copy of the almanac as rewards for the organization's GRAMA work.

“We are honored to have our work recognized by the Utah Investigative Journalism Project,” EFR director Erica Lukes stated. “The importance of the GRAMA can be seen in its use as an effective means to facilitate government transparency and public accountability.”

While EFR regularly submits records requests to many agencies on a wide variety of subjects, it was the work on PhenomeCon that stood out. UIJP noted how the annual paranormal-themed conference, which is held in Vernal and leans heavily on unverified claims perpetuated through Skinwalker Ranch, was reported by EFR in 2022 to be financed by the Uintah County government.

This led to a series of GRAMA requests submitted by EFR, including one in which emails were sought pertaining to the requesters, Jack Brewer, Erica Lukes and Expanding Frontiers Research. Among other material, the request resulted in EFR obtaining an email showing how Uintah County personnel discussed composing GRAMA responses to EFR, including one in which an employee wrote, "He wants more!", and added they would “rather not” provide different records than their colleague.

EFR then appealed the GRAMA response in question to the Uintah County Chief Administrative Officer, arguing the response was incomplete and inadequate. EFR asserted GRAMA responses are not subject to what agency representatives would or would not rather provide, but that personnel are obligated to simply identify responsive records and process them if subject to release under the GRAMA.

The appeal resulted in dozens of previously withheld records, including over 90 pages of PhenomeCon “Talent Agreements,” which are contracts undertaken between Uintah County and conference speakers. However, the contracts were heavily redacted, almost completely blacked out, except for names and amounts paid. Uintah County asserted the terms and conditions of the contracts were exempt from release per agreements with the service providers.

EFR then appealed the contract redactions to the Utah State Records Committee, arguing that Uintah County lacked the authority to withhold terms of contracts undertaken with service providers who are paid public funds in return for their work. In a hearing conducted March 21, 2024, the State Records Committee heard the case and unanimously agreed with EFR. Uintah County has until May 1 to provide the contracts or appeal the ruling in district court.

The Utah Reporters Almanac has been produced annually by the Utah Investigative Journalism Project since 2022. Previous winners of the yearly GRAMA contest are Salt Lake Tribune reporter Courtney Tanner and environmental activist Raphael Cordray, respectively.

“EFR is thrilled to join the winners,” Lukes said.

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The audio of the appeal I can't begin to recommend enough. The moment the attorney admitted it was a blanket confidentiality and not any specific GRAMA law was the moment EFR won.

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Thank you for your comments, Amy! We appreciate your interest in our work.

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