As judge opens a door in Hideout’s annexation case, the debate gets ugly

Screen capture from Hideout Town Council meeting on Oct. 14, 2020.

A 4th District judge ruled Thursday against Summit County’s attempt to block a controversial cross-county expansion effort, paving the way for Hideout to officially absorb hundreds of new acres and build a new town center.

The Town Council met to do just that on Thursday night, but yet another technical glitch forced them to delay the vote.

The town’s attempt to expand and build a more sustainable tax base has been mired with bitter disputes since plans emerged in July. Hideout, which is in Wasatch County, wants to scoop up about 350 acres in Summit County’s Richardson Flat, all without Summit County’s consent.

Developer Nate Brockbank owns the property in question, although Summit County has also alleged he acquired it illegally with the help of Wells Fargo and a sale facilitated by a constable who is not authorized to operate in the county. A 3rd District judge issued a preliminary injunction against Brockbank in that case last week.

Hideout’s move to annex only became legal through a short-lived provision in a bill from the Legislature’s 2020 general session. A lobbyist for Brockbank helped slip in the change at the last minute.

When lawmakers realized the drama that provision had created between Summit County and Hideout, it quickly repealed it in a special session. But they didn’t make it effective immediately — the repeal won’t become law until Oct. 20, 60 days after lawmakers' vote.

Hideout is working to finalize its latest annexation effort before that deadline.

Judge weighs in

Fourth District Judge Jennifer Brown previously granted a temporary restraining order against Hideout in August and a partial preliminary injunction in September after Summit County argued the town had engaged in shady dealings with its developers and violated public meetings law.

The Hideout Town Council repealed its previous pre-annexation agreements and resolutions, then restarted the process Sept. 11, this time taking special care to follow the required public meetings process.

On Thursday afternoon, Judge Brown ruled Hideout’s latest, last-ditch annexation effort was legal and could proceed, even if the court felt it was “ill-advised.”

“Certainly if the Legislature intended to repeal the [annexation] statute immediately, it could have done so,” Brown said. “It is undisputed the statute remains in effect at this point.”

Technical difficulties and the final vote

The Town Council convened 90 minutes after the ruling for a scheduled vote to enter into an annexation and master development agreement. The council ran into another public meetings snafu, however, when a glitch prevented the virtual meeting from streaming.

Mayor Philip Rubin confirmed the glitch via text message, adding that the council rescheduled the vote for Friday evening. The mayor did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Although the Hideout Town Council has pushed forward with their annexation effort despite lawsuits and vocal backlash, it’s unclear whether members will ultimately decide to put the final ink on their plans.

A public hearing on Hideout’s renewed annexation plans held Monday was overwhelmingly negative.

One resident alleged that developer Josh Romney, son of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, had abandoned the project because of all its controversy. Bruce Baird, an attorney for Brockbank, confirmed Romney is no longer part of the project but did not go into detail about the decision.

“I think our residents were saying, ‘We don’t want the annexation this way,'” council member Jerry Dwinell said in a work session the following day. “There wasn’t a clamor from residents that, ‘We don’t want annexation,’ they’re just disappointed in the process.”

Council member Chris Baier said she felt Hideout residents, Summit County and neighboring Park City were likely taken by surprise by the council’s annexation plans.

“If we could do it again, I would have involved our residents more," Baier said. “We … definitely ruffled a lot of feathers.”

Bullying and zoom bombing

All the confusion and contention became downright ugly in the days leading up to the 4th District Court’s decision. In an Oct. 8 meeting, the council was interrupted by zoom bombers who displayed pornographic images and pictures of burning bodies, according to Baird, the attorney for the developers.

The council had previously been zoom bombed during a Sept. 5 work session, where participants interrupted and mocked the participants and flooded the chat feature with negative comments and occasional foul language.

Rubin also noted at a recent work session that protesters have harassed and him and his family, some going so far as showing up at the mayor’s home during Monday’s public hearing.

“There were people outside my house again ... making noise, thinking I was working from home,” Rubin said. “I think it’s deplorable that there are people who believe that bullying and zoom bombing is the way to get what they want. I want to go on the record saying that’s not going to work.”

Baird praised the council’s civic performance at the meeting, sharing that his father also once served as the mayor of a small town.

“Zoom bombing is not just a joke. It’s a crime. All those sons of bitches should have been taken out and shot,” Baird said. “And I’m sorry for being blunt. No, I’m not.”

The outburst prompted elected officials from Park City and Summit County to issue a statement condemning Baird and calling on the Hideout Town Council to end their relationship with him.

“Mr. Baird incited violence, including the use of weapons and beatings, in the name of what is already a highly improper annexation effort into Summit County,” wrote Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, along with the Park City Council and Summit County Council, in the statement. “This is not only totally counterproductive but is downright dangerous. As we’ve seen with politically motivated shootings around the country, words matter.”

Reached by phone, Baird said his words were “intemperate” and he regretted saying them, but added that zoom bombing is illegal and harassing Hideout’s elected officials is counterproductive.

“That’s not how you conduct civilized debate,” Baird said. “Why don’t [Summit County and Park City] condemn those who displayed pornography on a Zoom meeting?”