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Rolly: Memo to signature gatherers: Beware of Big Brother in Utah County

First Published      Last Updated May 30 2016 09:46 am

There's a joke among Salt Lake City liberals that going to Utah County is like penetrating the Iron Curtain, and sometimes the officials south of Point of the Mountain perform in a way that bolsters the premise.

A group of Provo and Orem residents launched separate petition drives to get ballot referendums in each city to repeal approvals from the two City Councils for a bus rapid-transit system.

In Provo, those signature seekers say they are being harassed by city officials who support the project.

In one incident, a woman was exercising her First Amendment right to gather signatures outside the Provo recreation center when a center employee told her she had to leave. She objected, saying that it was public property, but he said she was impeding the ability of patrons to enter and exit the center. When she asked where she could stand, he said the city owned the entire block, so she could not be anywhere on that block.



Another time, a signature gatherer was outside the county's administrative office building when a police officer told him to move. He went to the bottom of the stairs and more officers came. They said he had to be at least 30 feet away from the building. When he asked why, they told him he was a fire hazard.

The anti-BRT group says Provo also is illegally spending taxpayer dollars and resources to promote the project.

Frank Anderson, a leader in the petition movement, said his group has lodged complaints about the harassment with the Utah lieutenant governor's office and the Utah County clerk.

We've seen this before in Utah County.

A few years ago, when Utahns for Ethical Government started a petition drive for a ballot initiative that would create an independent ethics commission to hold public officials accountable, its members too were harassed, particularly in Utah County.

One time, a Utah legislator noticed signature gatherers at Utah Valley University and complained. The next thing they knew, school security was shooing them off the Orem campus.

Another time when signature gathers were ejected from a Division of Motor Vehicles location, they complained to the Utah attorney general's office. The A.G.'s then-chief deputy said the policy was that if the director of that DMV office wanted them out, they had to be out.

And who was that A.G. official?

John Swallow.

Correction • Heather Groom is the plaintiff who won a $5,784 judgment in 4th District Court earlier this month against former legislator Morgan Philpot, who is running for the Utah Senate this year and was recently hired to represent anti-fed protester Ammon Bundy.

Groom was awarded the judgment based on her renting a campaign bus for Philpot's unsuccessful congressional bid in 2010 — a loan she argued was not repaid.

Because of a typo, Groom's name was misspelled in my Friday column.

prolly@sltrib.com

 

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