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State high court allows county to close annexation discussion

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         UTAH         Freedom of Information         Aug 2, 2001    

State high court allows county to close annexation discussion

  • A discussion of a petition for annexation can be held behind closed doors under an exemption to the state’s open meetings law for litigation strategy sessions, according to the Utah Supreme Court.

On June 29, the Supreme Court of Utah decided that a county could close access to a meeting where discussions took place over an annexation dispute because an annexation dispute before a county boundary commission is “judicial in nature.”

The court noted that the boundary commission’s duties are to apply the law to resolve disputes and a boundary commission decision is subject to review by a district court. According to the court, these functions make the boundary dispute “judicial in nature” and subject to the exemption to the Utah Public and Open Meetings Act for strategy sessions to discuss pending or reasonably imminent litigation.

The court said that discussions that took place in the closed meeting of the Salt Lake County Commission over whether to oppose a petition for annexation were “strategy sessions” because the commission was devising “plans or means to achieve an end.”

The Salt Lake Tribune brought a lawsuit against the Salt Lake County Commission after it voted unanimously to close a meeting and asked the press to leave. The commission closed the meeting to discuss the possibility of opposing a petition by Riverton City to annex some unincorporated county land. The petition had been submitted to the county boundary commission, which performs the quasi-judicial function of settling annexation disputes.

The newspaper argued that a petition in front of the boundary commission was not tantamount to “litigation” and discussing whether to oppose the petition was not a “strategy session.”

The case was appealed by the county from a lower court ruling in favor of the newspaper.

(Kearns-Tribune v. Salt Lake County Commission; Media Counsel: Michael Patrick O’Brien, Deno G. Himonas, Jeremy M. Hoffman, Salt Lake City; Charles A. Brown, Lewiston, Idaho) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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