Wasatch School Board Files Appeal To State Order
The Wasatch County School District has filed a notice that it intends to appeal a ruling by the State Records Committee to turn over a wetlands study to the Wasatch Taxpayers Association. As KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher reports, though, the school district just made that announcement, even though it filed the intent to appeal a month ago.
After Wasatch School District Superintendent Paul Sweat refused to release a copy of the wetlands delineation study done by the Bio-West engineering firm on the 63 acres of property on which the school district intends to build the new high school, Tracy Taylor, a co-founder of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association, filed an appeal with the State Records Committee.
On August 13th, the committee voted 4 to 2 that the study should be released to the Taxpayers Association, with the majority saying that taxpayers – who paid $5700 for the study - should be able to see what they paid for. Their decision and order was recorded August 24th and on that same day, the school district’s attorney, Jared Anderson promptly filed the notice of intent to appeal.
While the notice certifies that a copy of the intent to appeal was mailed to Tracy Taylor in care of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association on August 24th – Taylor tells KPCW, she never received it.
KPCW reached out to the district’s attorney, and the two school board members running for re-election Mark Davis and Tom Hansen on Friday, asking them to explain why the district is moving forward with paying legal fees instead of simply turning over the document. None of them returned our call, but the district’s Public Information Office Kirsta Albert emailed a statement signed by all board members which says quote, “The Wasatch County School District Board of Education agrees with concerned citizens who exercise their right to review school district documents. We intend to release all documents at the conclusion of the Army Corps of Engineers analysis of the future high school site, which is expected within the next month. As the determining agency in the delineation of wetlands, we defer to the Corps’ timeline, which begins once a party is preparing to begin a project. The Corps began visiting the property in the spring of 2020 and has been gathering data for the past six months to complete their analysis. The Board of Education is unified in its decision to appeal the committee’s recommendation regarding GRAMA protections of the document in question in order to allow the Corps to complete this process in a manner that is uncompromised. Once the Corps has completed its determination, the Board of Education will withdraw its appeal and release all documents related to this project.”
During the hearing before the state records committee last month, the district’s attorney Jared Anderson did say that the district is protecting this study because they fear that the Taxpayers Association would only use the information to stop the high school from being built where the district hopes to.
“This is an attempt to obtain information that some members of the public may perceive as negative in an attempt to further disparage this proposed new school project,” Anderson said. “And it’s not a report and will have zero bearing on what ultimately the cost of any mitigation may or may not be.”
Taylor told KPCW they were surprised to learn that the intent to appeal had been filed a month ago and don’t understand why they had to reach out to the State Records Committee last week to find out if the school district had appealed.
Taylor says at this point, they’re not dropping it -- even though she suspects that’s what the school district is hoping for. She says the Taxpayers Association will have to hire an attorney to represent them in court and that will cost the association money it doesn’t have.
The district, she told KPCW, is banking on us not going to court. We don’t know why they’re doing this – she said - spending more taxpayer dollars to prevent the release of a document. "It makes no sense," she said.
On September 22nd, the school district filed a complaint and petition for judicial review. As it argued during the State Records Committee hearing in August, the district believes that Bio-West’s initial findings are not a record for purposes under GRAMA and even if they were, they are protected. The district asked that the court reverse the decision and order of the Records Committee and award the school district its costs and attorney’s fees.
No date has been set yet to hear the complaint in district court. Rebekka Shaw, the Executive Secretary for the State Records Committee told KPCW that the State Records Committee will be represented by counsel from the Attorney General’s office. Once they receive a summons, she says the state will respond.