Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Answer to previous post: Very blatantly. The committee illegally voted in secret to avoid scrutiny of the lockstep lobbyist block voting

Once again, I manage to be shocked at how openly political insiders and lobbyists hold the public in contempt.

Here is a link to the official page at the state website of the State Board Of Education Nominating And Recruiting Committee. (Link to separate post listing information as currently posted, for use when the committee or law change in the future.)

These twelve people get to vote and eliminate candidates from the ballot in the non-partisan races for the State Board of Education. In all other cases in the state, political parties may hold caucuses and conventions to winnow down official nominees from their private organizations, but any citizen is free to run for office independently. No other public political office that I know of is forbidden to members of the public unless approved by a screening committee--a screening committee by statute made up of 50% industry interests that submit names to be appointed by the governor. What if the Orem City mayor appointed a committee that questioned citizens of the city and only allowed those approved by the committee to run in the non-partisan races for city council? How many seconds until that process would be abused?

So the entire process assumes that the governor can appoint 12 people that can better decide on elected officials than the public. Today, an incumbent was eliminated and Kim Burningham--the former board chair and anti-voucher champion--managed to continue in the process "because he tied with two other hopefuls for getting the third-most committee votes for the District 5 seat." I want to see the votes to confirm my contention that these nominated lobbyists--who regularly support, seek support from, and intermingle with the Republican leadership--are voting en masse based on ideology.

But the nominating committee, a public body paid per diem for their duties, openly tried to shield itself from public accountability during its vote on Wednesday--it gave itself permission to vote secretly. A lawyer from the governor's office informed the committee that they had to put their names on the ballots, so they did that, but wouldn't show the public or the press who voted for who. Stan Lockhart, Micron lobbyist, husband of Republican House Whip Becky Lockhart, and the head of the state Republican Party when the voucher law was passed in 2007, is somehow supposed to represent the good of the voting public and is the person who suggested the secret ballot. I have underlined many of the weak justifications for a secret vote in the two articles below.

A quick run-down of the six "industry representatives":

Stan Lockhart -- Micron lobbyist and Republican partisan as outlined above
Tom Bingham -- President of the Utah Mining Association (I suspect most of this list has ties to the Utah Taxpayer's Association, but I know Kennecott is a high-paying client of Howard Stephenson's.)
Leland Hogan -- President of the Utah Farm Bureau
Chris Sloan -- 2009 President of the Utah Association of Realtors, the single most influential lobbying group in the state, current Chair of The Tooele County Republican Party
Richard Thorn -- The President of the Associated General Contractors of Utah
Jan Wells -- "Representing public utilities." I couldn't figure out who she was among several Jan Wells involved in Utah politics.

Do you see a pattern here? The "organizations representing each of the respective sectors" nominate their presidents/spokesmen/lobbyists and the governor appoints them. Past and present officials of the Republican Party are disproportionately represented. Does anyone not directly involved with these organizations feel these committee members adequately represent the public's interest in the governance of the public school system? I personally do not feel any teacher can represent me in terms of choosing who is qualified to receive my vote.

Natalie commented on my previous post that she believes Governor Herbert will be more thoughtful than governor Huntsman was narrowing the 3 candidates in each district (apparently 5 in Kim Burningham's district) down to 2 to appear on the ballot in November. I actually agree with her and was happy to read in the Trib article below that the governor supports changing the system. I urge Governor Herbert to give the public the chance to vote on Kim Burningham's retention on the State Board of Education and to speak out forcefully in support of primary elections for all candidates who wish to run. The committee could continue its candidate recruiting role as long as it's done in some sort of objective fashion, although I don't know that I see the need.

Here are the Deseret News and Tribune articles about what happened yesterday. I have underlined some of the text to emphasize it. My comments will be italicized in brackets.
The Deseret News article:

Governor's education commission opts for secret vote
Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:11 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Controversy is not a new thing for the governor's commission tasked with choosing candidates for the State Board of Education, and Wednesday night was no different when the committee opted for a secret ballot in the selection process.

The 12-person committee interviewed 29 candidates Monday with the names planned to be announced at 4 p.m. Wednesday. However, after almost an hour of debate, the commission decided to choose their nominations via secret ballot — an act which several commission members spoke out against, arguing that transparency is important in narrowing down the candidate pool. The State Board approves curriculum and policy for all the students and school districts statewide.

The commission is to choose a minimum of three candidates per district to forward to the governor who then whittles it down to two names for the November 2010 ballot. Districts in which there are three or fewer candidates are generally automatically forwarded to the governor.

The secret ballot procedure was the idea of Stan Lockhart, a commission member representing the technology field. Lockhart, who chaired the commission in 2004, said he was simply following previous procedure which abides by state law.

"It follows the law, and it follows precedent of what this committee has done in the past," Lockhart said.
[Lockhart claims this public body has voted secretly in the past. I only have direct knowledge of 2008. The voting was done publicly, at least at the meeting, and then put online by the Accountability Blog with commentary. I have not been able to find an official online record of those votes or past years. Can anyone help us out? Were past commission votes also done secretly? If they were public, are there any accessible records of those votes?]

Committee co-chairwoman Gayleen Gandy, a member of the Granite School Board, spoke against doing a secret ballot, saying it flies in the face of how political bodies should do business. "We are a public body," Gandy said. "We should be responsible for our votes."

Commission member Leland Hogan said he wanted a secret ballot so the public and news media couldn't ask about the members' choices.

Hogan said the commission needs to "keep integrity in the system. If you do not have a secret ballot, you won't be able to get anybody to serve on this committee again."

Without the secret ballot, Hogan said, commission members' choices "will be publicized — and that's not what this is all about. It's about giving names to the governor which will make the school system in Utah better."
[I as a person have failings...but how do you respect a comment like this? Seriously. I don't believe Hogan, the president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, would be OK with his city council making secret votes "just to make the city better." Or how about an appointed public lands commission making land use decisions affecting grazing via secret ballot "just to make the the land use system in Utah better?" This is blatant hypocrisy Mr. Hogan.]

The commission members debated the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, some disputing that the commission constitutes a public body. The commission then voted to do a secret ballot and went into a closed session for an hour to discuss the candidates.

The commission then opened the meeting and proceeded with the secret ballot, writing their choices on pieces of paper to be tallied by the commission secretary.

Utah media attorney Jeff Hunt told the Desert News Wednesday night the law is clear that under the Utah Open Meetings Act, "secret voting is not allowed." Hunt added that the governor's commission is definitely considered a public body and "clearly covered under the Open Meetings Act."

Cheryl Phipps, State PTA Legislative vice president, who served two terms on the commission in previous years, said she believes the commission itself is "ridiculous." The voters need to be choosing who should be on the November ballot, she said. "Why don't we trust the voters?" Phipps said.



State Board of Education nominees

The governor’s commission nominated the following candidates Wednesday:

District 2 (Weber County area) Keith Buswell, Richard Favero, Monty Hardy

District 3 (Utah County area): Craig Coleman (incumbent), Burtis Bills, Clark Turner

District 5 (Davis County area): Nicole Toomey Davis, Diane Smith Cales, and tied, Ruland Gill, Lawrence Wright and Kim Burningham (incumbent)

District 6 (Northwest Salt Lake County area) Hank Bertoch, John Hohlbauch and Michael Jensen, (incumbent);

District 9 (Southwest Salt Lake County area): Joel Coleman, Milton Witt, Daniel Isham

District 10 (Murray area) Laurel Brown (incumbent);

District 14 (Eastern Utah): Dixie Allen (incumbent), Johny Thayne, Michael Miles

District 15 (Southern Utah) Tom Jett, Debra Roberts (incumbent) and Paul Terry.

© 2010 Deseret News Publishing Company | All rights reserved

And the Tribune article:

Committee ousts state school board incumbent

By Lisa Schencker

The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 05/19/2010 09:20:11 PM MDT

A governor-appointed committee ousted a state school board incumbent Wednesday evening, and the group did it by secret ballot.

The 12-member committee voted by secret ballot not to forward Denis Morrill's name to the governor for consideration to appear on the November ballot for a District 9 seat. Morrill, an attorney and businessman who has served on the board for 10 years, said Wednesday evening he wasn't surprised he lost his seat given the process.

"Those are basically charter school people on that committee, and they don't like me," Morrill said, explaining that he has been critical of charter schools in the past because he doesn't believe the state can "afford two school systems." "Experience isn't what they want. What they want is someone they can control."

He called the process by which state board candidates have to run for office "absolutely absurd from start to finish."

It's a process many say takes choice out of the public's hands, while others say it's the best way to get qualified people into office. Every two years when roughly half the state board seats open, the governor appoints a 12-member committee representing various education and business/industry interests to help recruit and narrow the field of candidates. The committee must choose at least three candidates for each seat to forward to the governor, who then chooses two candidates for each seat to appear on the ballot.

And this time, the group decided early in the meeting Wednesday to vote by secret ballot. But John Pearce, general counsel for the governor, later conveyed to them that they would have to write their names on the ballots. The Utah Open and Public Meetings Act requires minutes of open meetings contain, "a record, by individual member, of each vote taken by the public body," and the committee is required to vote in public.

The committee, however, refused to show those records of who voted for whom to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday evening. Christine Kearl, the governor's education director, said members of the public will have to make formal open records request to see that information. Utah law indicates that, "Written minutes that have been prepared in a form awaiting only formal approval by the public body are a public record" and that "Written minutes shall be available to the public within a reasonable time after the end of the meeting."

The committee voted 9-2, by secret ballot, to vote for candidates by secret ballot. One member of the committee didn't vote on the issue.

Stan Lockhart, a committee member and former chairman of the Utah GOP, said he wanted the ballots to be secret because that's the way the committee had voted in the past. Committee co-chair and realtor Chris Sloan said he also believed that was the best way to go.

"That part of the process is something that goes back to the founding of our country" Sloan said. "The ability for someone to be able to express their vote unfettered is sacred."

[The comparison is ridiculous. Public officals--whether elected or appointed--being accountable to the public goes back to the founding of our country. Comparing those votes to our individual votes in the ballot booth is misleading. If public officials could vote in secret, that would take away the sacred ability of citizens to vote on their representation.]

"Some of us know some of the individuals in contention," Sloan added. "Our ability to either make or continue friendships and relationships shouldn't be a part of this thing."
[You volunteered or accepted your organization's and the governor's nomination to this undemocratic committee. The public's right to transparently see your influence on the candidate selection outweighs your desire to not feel uncomfortable. I believe you would raise hell if an appointed body dominated by Democrats tried to make their votes secret.]

Committee co-chair and Granite School Board vice president Gayleen Gandy, however, vehemently objected to the secret ballot.

"I believe we ought to be responsible for the names we put forward, and I believe that ought to be open and public," Gandy said.

Jeff Hunt, a Salt Lake First Amendment and media lawyer, said the Open and Public Meetings Act is pretty clear in prohibiting secret ballots.

"There still needs to be some accountability to the public, whether you're elected or not, if you're selected for a public body and doing the public's business," Hunt said. And Hunt said he doesn't see why the records of who voted for whom were not released publicly Wednesday night.

"I don't see any purpose in making the public or reporters wait five days to respond to a GRAMA [an open records request] to get information they should have been able to get just watching the open meeting and seeing people vote openly," he said.

Kim Burningham, a state board incumbent, called the secret balloting "ridiculous." The committee voted Wednesday to forward Burningham's name on to the governor because he tied with two other hopefuls for getting the third-most committee votes for the District 5 seat.

But Burningham said the whole process needs to change.

"I just think it all boils down to do you really want a highly charged political process to make the decision of who the public gets to vote on or should the public decide themselves? Clearly, the public should decide themselves," Burningham said.

During the process two years ago, the committee ousted two incumbents, including the then-state board chair.

Gov. Gary Herbert also would like to see the process changed, Kearl said.

Proponents of the process, however, say it's a way to make sure qualified people serve on the state board despite what can be a low-profile race. Before the mid-1990s, state board members were elected directly. But that, some say, led to even less interest in races than now and the election of unqualified board members.

Burningham called it "most unfortunate for an extremely competent, experienced member of the school board to be eliminated."

Morrill was beat by three other hopefuls, including two charter school founding board members and a young school custodian who wondered during a recent interview if districts could look at legal documentation of students as a way to reduce class sizes.

Gandy said she voted to forward all incumbents to the governor because she feels they should be held accountable by their constituents, not the committee. Sloan, however, said he voted not to advance Morrill because during the committee interviews Monday, "he touched on a lot of issues important to me but without the depth that gave me the confidence to support him."

Sloan said he didn't give preference to incumbents, instead voting only for those candidates he thought most fit.
[Most fit for what?? And decided by who?]

Five other incumbents including Dixie Allen, Craig Coleman, Michael Jensen, Laurel Brown and Debra Roberts will have their names forwarded on to the governor, either because they earned committee votes or because no more than two people filed to run against them.


Karen said...

You mentioned the industry reps as lobbyists, but even one of the education reps is a registered lobbyist as well. Justin Allen the charter school rep is a registered lobbyist for: the UT Association of Public Charter Schools, Salt Lake Board of Realtors, the UT Association of Realtors and the Utah Property Rights Coalition.

Jesse Harris said...

Thanks for continuing to shine the light on the "good old boys" club that exists in Utah politics. Even if we don't agree on public policy, we can certainly agree that this kind of backroom dealing is abhorrent.

Concerned said...

There is a bigger plan at work here.

Mike Ridgway said...

So Mr. Blogger, you complain of secrecy. As best I can tell, it is impossible to know who you are. Have I overlooked your indication of your identity somewhere on this blog?

Mike Ridgway
Tooele, Utah

P.S. Have you ever thought what might have happened to me because of your unwillingness to come forward as a witness regarding what Curt Bramble's sons did to me the night of the debate in John Curtis' home -- once Curt Bramble got me charged instead of Jeff and Scott?