Utah releases ‘master plan’ for the Governor’s Mansion, but much of it is hidden from taxpayers

Officials cite security for the redactions to the Executive Residence Committee’s plan for the historic mansion.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Governor's Mansion, left, and the Glendinning Mansion,

The state of Utah has released a “recommended” master plan for the historic Kearns Mansion — the official residence of the governor — but many of its recommendations are redacted, hidden behind black bars.

The state’s Executive Residence Commission, which oversees the mansion, released the plan Thursday. It covers the entire block on the north side of South Temple, between G and H streets in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City.

“The primary purpose for the master plan is to maintain a historic building for decades to come,” said Marlene Richins, deputy director of the Utah Department of Government Operations. “While there’s a lot redacted in that document that has to do with security, the overall purpose is a long-term plan for the maintenance and operations of the Kearns Mansion.”

The plan, Richins said, is a “coordinated effort” by the ERC, the Division of Facilities and Construction Management and the state’s Department of Public Safety to “guide the care of the Kearns Mansion and surrounding grounds over the next 50 years.”

The document has 802 pages, but most are in appendices, and the specific details of the master plan fill just 23 pages. Five of those are the table of contents, acknowledgments and title pages. Of the 18 remaining pages, which hold the text of the plan, 10 are partially blacked out and four are blacked out completely.

Nearly a third of the plan’s one-page executive summary is redacted.

Richins said “the majority” of the redactions were approved by the state’s Department of Public Safety, and were done “according to the terms of GRAMA.” The material blacked out, she said, has to do with “security and private identifiable information.”

The master plan, Richins said, is meant to secure the safety of the public as well as the governor and first family — and the committee considers those responsibilities “equal.” She declined to talk about specific security concerns, other than to say “there’s some vulnerabilities in that area we have to address.”

“Keep in mind there’s a mansion that’s been very, very accessible to the public and we live in a dangerous world,” Richins said. “There is a large portion of this plan that is ensuring the safety of the public when they visit that mansion.”

Richins acknowledged some taxpayers may want more information about security measures they’re paying for. “I can understand that frustration,” Richins said, “and all I can say is we’re going to err on the side of caution.”

The commission is “trying to be as transparent as possible,” she said, adding that the Utah Highway Patrol, the state agency tasked with providing security to the governor, was “very involved” throughout the plan.

None of the unredacted portions of the master plan mention the Utah Highway Patrol.

The Executive Residence Commission approved the proposed master plan, including a new underground parking garage to shield the comings and goings of the governor and the first family. The Salt Lake Tribune asked for a copy of the plan through an open records request in September, but was told the document discussed during the commission’s August public meeting was still in draft form.

In the executive summary, the proposed recommendations were sorted into two main categories: “actions to improve the overall functionality of state-owned buildings and property” and “projects to maintain and preserve the historic buildings and property.”

The “big moves” the summary lists include moving the Utah Division of Arts & Museums out of Glendinning Mansion, on the corner of South Temple and H Street. Glendinning would be repurposed for “visitor screening, tour orientation, executive mansion administration, partial public safety operational space and [to] extend the secure boundary to include all state-owned buildings on the block.”

The Division of Arts & Museums has been looking over options for new state-owned office space since September.

Glendinning Mansion houses the Alice Gallery, which has been the state’s only open art gallery since the Rio Gallery closed in March 2020, when the Rio Grande Depot was shuttered for restoration after an earthquake. Richins said no decisions have been made about a new space for the Alice Gallery.

Other “big moves” include demolishing the 1950s addition to the Glendinning, rehabilitating the Carriage House as a reception area and office space, and preserving key plantings in the block’s landscape.

But still more “big moves” have been redacted.

The nine-member Executive Residence Commission, made up of state officials and private citizens, includes four people who also sit on the master plan steering committee. The steering committee, which began work on the master plan in summer 2020, includes first lady Abby Cox, Jon Pierpoint, chief of staff to Gov. Spencer Cox, as well as Jenney Rees, director of the Department of Government Operations (and Richins’ boss).

Representatives from the Department of Public Safety, the Division of Facilities Construction and Management, the Division of Arts & Museums and the state Historic Preservation Office also sit on the steering committee.

It will take “several years” to complete the improvements recommended in the plan, Richins said, so they will “benefit future first families and the public for years to come.”

Because it’s a multiyear plan, Richins said, “I don’t know that [Gov. Cox] is going to benefit much from this plan. This is keeping in mind first families for the next three, four decades.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.