Open and Public Meetings, Participatory Democracy - On October 15, 2001, the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission held two "emergency" meetings by telephone to revise a proposed rule targeting alcohol advertising that depicts religious figures, symbols, or themes. The secret meetings came as a shock to members of the press and public who had been following the reworking of Utah’s alcohol advertising laws. Many argued that because of the controversial nature of the commission’s business, it was especially important that board members conduct the people’s business openly and with fair and adequate notice, rather than shield their actions from public input and scrutiny.
Four days after the illegal meetings, the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs The Salt Lake Tribune, the Utah chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and John Saltas, publisher of the City Weekly. Alleging violations of Utah’s open and public meetings law, the lawsuit asked that any action taken in illegal meetings held in the 90 days prior to October 18, 2001 (the maximum time period allowed under the law) be declared void. In addition, we asked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to remind state officials of their responsibilities under the open and public meetings law.
The day after the ACLU filed suit, the commission met in a properly noticed meeting, in which it revised what it had done in the earlier illegal meetings. The commission later admitted it had violated the open meetings law and promised to adopt proper procedures and to otherwise comply with the law in all future meetings. The Attorney General also agreed to take specific steps to ensure that all public agencies and officials covered by the law are aware of its provisions and committed to complying with them.