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State Records Committee Grants Records to EFR

The Utah State Records Committee voted unanimously Thursday that Uintah County must release PhenomeCon contracts sought through a public records request by Expanding Frontiers Research. The records must be produced, excluding select personal information, as requested by EFR. Audio of the March 21 hearing is posted on a public notice website and the case involving EFR begins shortly after the 31-minute mark. The Committee ruling is about 52 minutes into the recording.

"It's a win for Expanding Frontiers Research and for transparency in Utah," executive director of EFR, Erica Lukes, posted on social media following the ruling.

The original Oct. 20, 2023, request sought records from the Uintah County Office of Travel and Tourism pertaining to 2023 PhenomeCon, a paranormal-themed conference sponsored by the county. The Tourism Office responded with three pages, prompting an appeal from EFR, which argued the response was incomplete.

In a December 2023 response to the appeal, the Uintah County Chief Administrative Officer provided an additional 92 pages. The records, termed "Talent Agreements," are contracts undertaken between Uintah County and PhenomeCon speakers and service providers. The 92 pages of contracts were heavily redacted, almost completely blacked out, as shown below.

In the response to the appeal, the Uintah County Chief Administrative Officer wrote, “The redactions to the contracts are being made as per the agreement in the contracts that the terms would remain confidential.”

In what became Jack Brewer v. Uintah County, the county counsel further suggested in Thursday's hearing the decision to withhold the redacted terms of the contracts was to honor a confidentiality clause within them. Keeping those terms confidential was necessary, it was argued, as not to impair any individual’s competitive business strategies if all of these terms were to be disclosed. The service providers were notably compared to magicians with trade secrets to protect.

EFR argued Uintah County and its service providers lack the authority to enter into contracts that effectively block the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA. County governments do not have the authority to facilitate agreements that block public access to terms and conditions in which public funds are disbursed in exchange for services provided, EFR contended. It was suggested the records should be released in full, minus such information as phone numbers and addresses.

After an "in camera" review of the contracts without redactions, the State Records Committee unanimously agreed.

Utah State Records Committee, via Zoom, March 21

Expanding Frontiers Research is encouraged with the prioritizing of government transparency and open records access. This GRAMA case is about much more than dubious paranormal conferences. It is about all records are public unless expressly protected by statute, and that municipalities lack the authority to preemptively classify contracts as exempt from disclosure from their very creation.

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Congratulations on winning the favorable appeal. The audio recording was very instructional on how to win with merits by understanding the administrative laws of GRAMA complete with the demonstration of similar appeals and limiting the scope of the appeal to the fine point of law about protection confidentiality of contracts entered into by the state using public funds. There was no specific GRAMA rule about this for good reason. Jack asserts his position to "reserve rights about processing fees" while clarifying it is not in the scope of the present appeal.

I'd recommend listening to the entire recording. The remainder of the recording mostly dealt with a fine example of how not to do a GRAMA request, namely of the…

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