Gov. Gary Herbert’s latest appointment to the State Records Committee — which hears appeals on public documents requests — was a staunch supporter of HB477, legislation that critics say would have crippled public access to government records.
But former state Rep. Holly Richardson, R-Pleasant Grove, says she always has championed openness and transparency in government.
“It’s a very good thing to have a former legislator on the State Records Committee,” Richardson said. “I think I bring a unique perspective and one that’s been missing.”
The attempted makeover of Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act was a flash point during the 2011 Legislature. HB477 passed handily and was quickly signed into law by Herbert. But it was later repealed after a firestorm of public protest. Richardson was among those who voted to repeal the law.
Janalee Tobias, of the citizens group Save Our GRAMA and a critic of HB477, said Richardson is a poor choice for the Records Committee. “She has the stink of HB477 on her.”
Tobias questioned the governor’s judgment for appointing a proponent of the legislation that earned Utah the Black Hole Award from the national Society of Professional Journalists.
“It doesn’t look good,” Tobias said. “Isn’t it like appointing a member of Philip Morris [tobacco company] to the anti-smoking committee?”
But Richardson, who is expected to go before the Utah Senate on Oct. 17 for confirmation, pushed aside such criticism. As a member of the Records Committee, the conservative political blogger said she would follow the law.
“People who try to claim I somehow have an agenda or that I’m bringing secrecy to the board — that’s just BS,” she said.
One of the troubling aspects of HB477, according to its critics, is that it would have changed the presumption that all records are open to the public to the assumption that all records are not public until proven otherwise.
Linda Petersen, managing editor of the Valley Journal, said Richardson’s appointment could be troubling if she still believes HB477 was a good law.
Petersen pointed to a post from Richardson on her Holly On The Hill blog near the end of the 2011 legislative session: “I must admit to voter’s remorse on HB477,” Richardson wrote, “not because of the content, but because of the [legislative] process.”
Petersen said she also wonders about Herbert’s motivation for Richardson’s appointment. “The governor seems to be sending a message: You may have won that round [on the repeal of HB477], but there is still a war on.”
Herbert spokeswoman Ally Isom defended the appointment in a prepared statement:
“Having been a citizen blogger and member of the public far longer than she served on [Capitol] Hill, Holly is well-qualified to represent the public on the State Records Committee,” Isom said. “She actively participated in the GRAMA working group, hearing all sides of this critical issue. Most importantly, she supported the repeal of HB477 and understands the importance of public transparency and accountability.”
The GRAMA working group was set up by legislative leaders to fine-tune the state records law after HB477 was repealed.
News media attorney Jeff Hunt worked with Richardson on the GRAMA working group and said he found her to be a “reasonable” person.
“My impression of her was good,” he said.
Many legislators did not have a complete knowledge of GRAMA, Hunt said, or understand how dramatically HB477 would impact access to government records.
“From what I saw and heard [the GRAMA working group] was a real eye-opener for her,” Hunt said. “She learned that HB477 was not well thought through and would have harmed GRAMA.”
If confirmed, Richardson would replace former state Judge Scott Daniels, whose four-year term has expired.
Daniels noted that legislators who voted for HB477 seemed to be more concerned about their own privacy rather than the public welfare. Nonetheless, Richardson’s original vote in favor of HB477 does not trouble him.
“I suppose most people voted for it,” Daniels said, “and then voted against it.”
Oops. Clerical error
Holly Richardson, a conservative blogger and former state legislator, has been appointed to the State Records Committee but has not yet been confirmed by the Utah Senate. That didn’t stop her, however, from hearing records appeals Sept. 13 and voting. The Governor’s Office chalked it up to a “clerical error.” Richardson is expected to be confirmed Oct. 17.