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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Records Committee wants log, time to examine Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s personnel files

Sandra Senn will have to wait a month to find out how much of a Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s record she can look at.

The State Records Committee unanimously agreed to continue Senn’s appeal of an open-records request denial by the Utah Department of Public Safety, as the committee reviews the files to see how much can be released.

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Senn is seeking information such as disciplinary records, employment records, training records and other personnel data on Trooper David Wurtz, who pulled over one of Senn’s friends in Park City in 2012. The friend, Rande A. Lee, is charged with driving under the influence, going 30 in a 25-mph zone and not staying in a single traffic lane.

"Even though this case involves a criminal case, I am not jumping on the Trooper [Lisa] Steed bandwagon," Senn said, referring to the former Utah Highway Patrol trooper accused of falsely charging people with driving under the influence.

Rather, she said it was looking at the dashboard video of the traffic stop that raised questions about Wurtz. She said from his actions, and how she said Wurtz had to ask his supervisor for help with things she said a five-year highway patrol veteran should have known,, that he may have had some "personnel issues."

When Lee’s attorney, Greg Skordas, didn’t pursue looking into Wurtz’s background, Senn stepped in and made the requests. Skordas is also representing Steed.

Lana Taylor, the assistant attorney general representing the Department of Public Safety, said some of the information that Senn sought was actually with the Department of Human Resources Management. She said Senn did receive paperwork indicating that Wurtz was disciplined in 2009, and some training reports, but she said other information was deemed protected. She said the law protects disciplinary records where the accusation was not proven or the appeals have not run out. She said some of the reports would also expose the names and contact information of witnesses, as well violate Wurtz’s right to privacy.

"He is a [highway] trooper. He has no expectation of privacy," Senn said. "Anything that deals with his job performance or credibility should be an open book."

After reviewing the records in a closed session, the board voted that performance reviews were private records and couldn’t be released, but chairman Lex Hemphill said the board would need more time to review the rest of the documents. He chided Taylor for not providing a log explaining which documents were being denied and for what reason. He also said that if there were any documents that could be released to Senn, the state should do so.



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