A grassroots citizens group opposed to two ballot initiatives regarding how more than 100 acres in West Layton can be developed received word Monday that the flier they distributed to homes late last week did not violate any of Utah’s election laws.
Citizens for Responsible Growth in Layton printed 18,000 “Updated Voter Information Pamphlets” that closely resembled the official Voter Information Pamphlet sent out by Layton city officials weeks earlier.
Over the weekend, city officials voiced concerns with the group’s flier. They stated the group’s flier would cause voter confusion because of its similar appearance to the city’s flier.
On Monday, the group posted on their website that State Elections Director Mark Thomas cleared them of violating election law.
“We didn’t see anything in the election code that would put this at a violation. Based on Utah code the group responsible for the opposing flier violated no election code laws,” Thomas said, according to the website.
Reached late Monday, Thomas confirmed that he had emailed the Layton City Attorney’s office with that information. But he also suggested the city look at a section of Utah criminal code regarding the falsification or alteration of government records for a possible legal breach.
Last spring, the citizens group scrambled to gather over 6,000 signatures to place Propositions 2 and 3 on the ballot regarding a new village center plan the city council had approved that would allow higher density and mixed-use zoning for agricultural property owned by Property Reserve Inc. (PRI), a subsidiary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The 107 acres along West Hill Field Road between 2200 West and 2700 West currently serve as a church welfare farm. While PRI helped frame the new Village Center zone, it does not intend to develop the land itself.
Steve Garside, Layton’s assistant city attorney, said the city is considering taking legal action against the citizens group under Utah’s criminal code.
“We’re currently having it reviewed,” Garside said, adding that they’ll likely involve the county or another city with prosecutorial authority if they decide to pursue charges.
“It’s unfortunate that the way it was done appears to be in an effort to confuse the voters, which is never helpful,” Garside said. He said the group’s flier only contained their viewpoint and did not identify the source of the pamphlet’s information.
The official pamphlet was produced by the city in accordance with state law, Garside said and contained the “for” argument written by the Layton mayor and city council, and the “against” argument written by members of Citizens for Responsible Growth in Layton.
Brian Pead, a member of the citizens group, said he’s been told that prosecution under the criminal code was “a stretch.”
“It’s not clear cut,” Thomas said by phone Monday night, “and it’s not up to the State Elections Office to determine that.”
Pead said Monday he’s not worried.
“We didn’t copy the Voter Information Pamphlet, and the fonts and program are not exclusive,” Pead said, adding that lack of sponsor identification on the flier was an oversight and there was no intent to deceive.
The citizens group had also erroneously used the “Boris the Burglar” emblem on some of its signs, Garside said. The dark silhouette, typically seen on Neighborhood Watch signs, is protected by the National Sheriffs Association.
“They received a cease and desist notice from the association’s attorney,” Garside said.
Pead said that the National Sheriffs Association sent them an email, telling them to stop using the logo because its trademarked and should not be used for political purposes.
“We took it off our website,” Pead said, noting they realized Monday that the emblem was on some of the their signs.
“We went through the city and took those down last night and today. We’re a citizens group and not aware of every (legal) nuance,” he said.
For months now, Citizens for Responsible Growth in Layton has vigorously fought what they fear will be a tidal wave of commercial and residential density that will clog West Layton with pollution, traffic and crime.
“Once this is over, we want to get back to working with people,” Pead said. “We’re hoping that we can at least sit down and talk about things.”
Utah Criminal Code, 76-8-511
1 • knowingly makes a false entry in or false alteration of anything belonging to, received, or kept by the government for information or record, or required by law to be kept for information of the government;
2 • presents or uses anything knowing it to be false and with a purpose that it be taken as a genuine part of information or records referred to in Subsection (1); or
3 • intentionally destroys, conceals, or otherwise impairs the verity or availability of the information or records, knowing that the destruction, concealment, or impairment is unlawful.