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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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‘Anonymous’ SUU employees’ identities finally see light of day

There are now 1,500 additional names in Southern Utah University’s salary database for 2012, thanks to GRAMA.

The database we obtained from the state’s transparency website did not list the names of student employees or even the Cedar City campus’ police force. Because of the anonymity and technical difficulties with the database, we had to list the students in the aggregate.

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As a group, these students were paid $4.7 million in salaries and benefits, putting them well above President Michael Benson and other SUU officials.

When I asked why the names were kept under wraps, the university’s controller, Michael Beach, informed me it was because of releasing student names might violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). FERPA is the law that makes academic records private, but some have seized on it as a cloak to hide documents that are otherwise public.

Recently, Granite School District invoked FERPA in an attempt to deny The Salt Lake Tribune records on its investigation of an alleged "inappropriate relationship" between Cottonwood High’s former head football coach and a student.

Beach also told me that the police officers’ names were redacted for "personal safety." While the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) allows holding back information on undercover officers, it is inconceivable to think that the entire SUU campus police force, including its chief, are all undercover operatives.

To break through the logjam, I filed a GRAMA request for an unredacted salary database. The university’s initial response was to give me the same database as submitted to the state, with the same reasons for not fully granting the request.

After a GRAMA appeal challenging both withholdings, and noting, with help from the Student Press Law Center, that FERPA does not apply to student wages, we got the full database, which is now online. This gives the public, whose funds support SUU, a better look at how their money is being spent.



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