The Legislature's Redistricting Committee did two things Monday that critics doubted would ever happen.
First, it adopted a map proposed by an ordinary citizen Â Robert Horning, a software designer living in Logan Â for new state school board boundaries.
Second, it let the news media into a backroom to watch a subcommittee negotiate how to redraw Horning's map a bit before final adoption, allowing reporters to listen to frank discussion about protection of incumbents and local school board boundaries.
But those steps toward greater transparency and public participation may not be repeated.
For example, a committee attorney disagreed with Salt Lake Tribune assertions that the backroom meeting should be open under state law, so future access may be in doubt. And virtually no one expects a citizen map to be adopted for more politically sensitive legislative and congressional boundaries.
"Wow, they adopted my map?" Horning said by telephone when notified by The Salt Lake Tribune. He also drew congressional and legislative maps using the committee's website, but said he did not expect any of them to receive close consideration.
"I hope that I helped a bit," he said. The committee turned to his map for the 15-member school board after other proposals drawn by legislators and school board members received initial consideration, but failed to receive enough support to pass.
"I tried to keep counties and most school districts whole and not divide them," Horning said Â which the committee liked. But it appointed a subcommittee to tweak Horning's proposed boundaries along the Wasatch Front.
The Salt Lake Tribune asserted that because it was a formally appointed subcommittee, it was subject to state open-meetings laws. Members allowed reporters to watch, but the committee's attorney, John Fellows, later said it is the committee's position that such groups are not formal subcommittees and are instead "working groups" not subject to open-meetings laws so future access may not be as easy.
Frank discussion reporters heard included whether one proposed tweak to square some boundaries should be rejected because it would put incumbent Michael Jensen, of West Valley City, out of a district of his own so that he would face another incumbent, Joel Coleman, also of West Valley City. The change was approved anyway. (Of note, the current plan also puts current Board Chairwoman Debra Roberts in a district with fellow incumbent Craig Coleman of Genola).
The subcommittee adopted a package of changes proposed by Senate President Michael Waddoups, who complained earlier that some other proposals would cut up his home Granite School District into as many as seven state school board districts.
Also, Rep. Ken Sumsion Â the House chairman of the full redistricting committee made a change to keep his home Alpine School District mostly together.
And as a sign that members listened during public hearings, they quickly rejected a proposal to combine into the same state school board district parts of the Canyons and Jordan school districts Â which recently went through a bitter separation. They all noted that west-siders in the Jordan district asked in public hearing to be kept apart from rivals in Canyons.
The full committee is allowing its members to study the map and make minor tweaks before it votes on final approval on Sept. 7. The committee has posted the current map on its website, redistrictutah.com.
The committee spent five hours on Monday working through what was thought to be an easy job with the school board map, but found it more time-consuming than planned. While it had hoped to finish all maps by Sept. 10, it said that it may take through Sept. 30 to finish maps before a special session expected in the first week of October to pass final plans.
Also, several groups reversed their normal roles during debate Monday and gave opponents ammunition for possible use against them in upcoming debates on congressional boundaries.
For example, Sue Connor with Redistrict Me Utah! has long complained that legislators should not be drawing their own maps. But she stood to support a map that had been drawn by a state school board member and endorsed by that board, and called it "one way to accept public input."
Sumsion quickly noted the irony of her supporting the school board in drawing its own map, but not legislators. And House Speaker Becky Lockhart asked Connor how she could justify her stand. After a moment of silence, Connor simply said she still supported the map endorsed by the school board.
Also, Waddoups and Sumsion have favored "pizza slice" plans that would divide Salt Lake County into three or four slices in congressional districts, and attach them to vast rural areas. But both complained on Monday that their home-area school districts were being split too much in several proposals, and argued that it would be better to keep areas of common interest together an argument often used against their congressional proposals.