Tribune editorial: Events in little Vineyard City illustrate why open government is a big deal

Public money spent on international travel and memberships should not be hidden in the weeds.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction near the site of the old Geneva Steel mill, near Vineyard City, on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Like many other mayors and city council members in Utah communities, Vineyard City Mayor Julie Fullmer has a day job. She’s the co-founder and general partner of something called OutWit Media Group and OutWit Media LLC.

But Fullmer has not been able to totally outwit the media, which keeps finding and reporting on highly questionable activities and uses of public funds in the Utah County community of 14,500 people.

It shows why an independent news media is so crucial to good government. And why government records, including the calendars of public officials at all levels, should be open to the public.

Just the other day, The Salt Lake Tribune reported on how Fullmer and lame-duck members of the City Council, before two new members took their seats on the four-member council, pushed through a ream of new rules, expenditures and memberships.

Together with decisions already made, and checks already cut, the city since 2023 has spent $188,500 on “trade missions” and multi-year memberships in the World Trade Center Utah and something that used to be called the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association, which rebranded as 47G late last year.

The mayor says all the expenditures were proper and received necessary approval. But council members and the public are still awaiting a proper explanation of why little Vineyard City — which isn’t even big enough to have its own fire department — is sending staff members on pricy trips to London and Paris and bankrolling the mayor’s status as a member of two trade associations that count very few municipal officials among their members.

Why Fullmer junketed to Ukraine and India is not altogether clear. If all those trips were really to benefit the people of Vineyard City, to make business connections and attract industry, as the mayor claims, then they should have been explicitly approved by the City Council in open session.

And that approval should have happened before tickets were purchased, not afterward, as was the case with the European trip.

This is the kind of skullduggery that is much more likely to occur now that the Utah Legislature has hastily passed, and Gov. Spencer Cox has unwisely signed, a new law that makes the calendars of public officials in Utah a closed record.

The comings and goings of all public officials, who they meet with, and on whose dime, are crucial information for the public to understand what is going on with their elected officials and their money.

Remember, the Vineyard City mayor and city manager are the same folks who promised — but never delivered — millions in public funds for the now-cancelled boondoggle project that aimed to dredge Utah Lake and create an archipelago of islands on which to build a community of new houses.

There has been some welcome turnover on the Vineyard City Council, so there is a chance that a new day of openness has dawned in that community. As long as the people, and independent media such as The Salt Lake Tribune, keep a necessary eye on things.