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GRAMA makes them talk

May 17, 2018 02:56PM ● Published by Cassie Goff

A GRAMA requested by Police Chief Robby Russo sparked a conversation about how the city handles such requests. (Cottonwood Heights)

By Cassie Goff | cassie@mycityjournals.com

You have a right to public records. Under the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), any person can make a public records request. In the words of Eric Peterson, the executive director of the Utah Investigative Journalism Project, “If taxpayer dollars touch it, you should be able to GRAMA it.”

Cottonwood Heights Councilmember Tali Bruce sparked a discussion concerning GRAMA requests during a city council meeting work session on April 10. It was her understanding that Cottonwood Heights Police Chief Robby Russo filed a GRAMA request for some of her emails and those documents had been handed over without her knowledge.   

Bruce inquired to the purpose behind the request, as well as the city’s protocol when GRAMAs are received. “I want to understand what transpired and why,” she said.

Councilmember Tali Bruce questioned how elected officials are notified when they are GRAMA-ed. (Dan Metcalf/Cottonwood Heights)

 City Attorney Shane Topham addressed her question. “When GRAMA requests come in, I’m called in to review the items turned up in the GRAMA search, to make sure we are not releasing information that is private, controlled and protected.”

Private, controlled and protected records may not be released under GRAMA. Examples of private, controlled and protected records include addresses, social security numbers, medical, psychiatric, or psychological data about an individual, and information that would impair governmental procurement proceedings. 

However, this does not include names. After learning that individual’s names were not redacted for the GRAMA request by Russo, Bruce was concerned. “Let’s say that individual potentially gets pulled over by one of the police officers. They might feel it was retaliatory or a threatening move because they were in communication with me. Is it a message regarding communicating with me in the future? You can see where people interpret those actions.” 

“You’re making a leap that I don’t feel that is accurate,” Russo said. “If you’re making a leap that because someone is talking to you that the police department would target that individual, or unfairly treat them, or pull them over for no reason, or retaliate against them, that is simply not true.”

Bruce then asked Topham if he always reviews GRAMA requests by himself. He responded affirmably, explaining that if there is anything within the documents that he perceives to be embarrassing to the elected official or staff member, he will notify them. 

Mayor Michael Peterson suggested, “Even though it’s not policy, we should make it a policy that the person is immediately notified. In the past, it has been a courtesy. We need to move that from a courtesy to a policy.” 

“Am I the first to not be treated with courtesy?” Bruce asked City Manager John Park.

“I believe you are first I’ve ever experienced where it was just your personal email account, under certain subjects, that were GRAMA-ed. Oftentimes, GRAMA requests come through for certain subjects that include all the emails from all the staff and council, and I don’t think we notified everybody on those,” Park said. 

“I was GRAMA-ed prior to coming to Cottonwood Heights on emails that were exchanged between John (Park) and I, and I learned about it after the fact,” Assistant Manager Bryce Haderlie said. 

Bruce asked if she could use a private email instead of the city’s email, and either have her city emails forwarded to her private email, or terminate the city email completely.

“The city has to go through all the city emails every time one of those requests comes up,” Councilmember Mike Shelton said. “You would have to deliver your technology and give access to your email, so they could pour through the private email account, even if it doesn’t attach to you personally in anyway. Just know they are going to have to get to your email account with every GRAMA request that you could have touched.”

City Recorder Paula Melgar added, “If someone GRAMAs you, we can confiscate your computer. Also, if you use Facebook to do any business with residents, those accounts are GRAMA-able and we can get that information.”

 “In light of the fact that I was not even informed that I had been GRAMA-ed and in light of the fact that I wasn’t brought into the process and all of my emails were handed over without any consultation on my part, I will be using a private email henceforth,” Bruce said. “My city emails can be forwarded to that email and it’s still GRAMA-able, but I will know and I will be in on the process.”

Under Title 63G (General Government), Chapter 2 (Government Records Access and Management Act) of the Utah Code, “every person has the right to inspect a public record.”

That includes you. If you wish to make a GRAMA request, there are some things to know.

Most government entities, including cities, have their own request forms varying slightly. GRAMA request forms can be found on their respective websites. There are many different methods to submit a GRAMA request, including email, fax, mail, through an opens records portal or in person. Some entities may require the use of one method.

Name, date, address and description of records sought are required on a request form. (The more specific the description, the better.) Remember to always keep a copy of a GRAMA request.

While requests are free, entities may charge fees based on staffing costs. Entities have up to 10 business days to respond to a request.

 

For more information on the GRAMA Act, visit:

Utah Code: https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title63G/63G.html

Attorney General’s Office: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/grama

Salt Lake County Records Management: https://slco.org/records-management/grama/

Utah’s Right to Know: http://www.utahsright.com/h_grama.php

 

For more information on filing a GRAMA request visit:

This how-to guide under the Utah Division of Archives and Records Services: https://archives.utah.gov/opengovernment/how-to-file-a-request-for-records-under-GRAMA.html

Salt Lake City Recorder’s Officer: http://www.slcgov.com/recorder/understanding-grama

Cottonwood Heights Records Request: http://cottonwoodheights.utah.gov/your_government/public_records__notices/records_requests_grama

 

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