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Wasatch County, Heber City council members address lobbying meeting with Governor Cox

Cox meeting.jpg
Rachel Kahler
From left, Heber City Mayor Heidi Franco, Gov. Spencer Cox, Heber City Councilmember Rachel Kahler and Wasatch County Councilmember Kendall Crittenden talk around a table at the Utah Valley University Wasatch Campus. Ryan Starks, managing director of business services in the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, looks on from behind.

A week after Heber City and Wasatch County officials met with Governor Spencer Cox in violation of Utah's Open and Public Meetings Act, local officials shared insights about what happened.

Heber City Mayor Heidi Franco said she and Wasatch County Council members lobbied the governor last week about a plan to build a highway bypass around Heber City.

Four county council members attended, which constitutes a quorum. That’s the number of members legally required to meet in an official capacity, which means a lobbying meeting should have been publicly noticed with an agenda, and then recorded, to comply with state open meetings law.

At Wednesday’s Wasatch County Council meeting, Chair Mark Nelson read a prepared statement about the meeting. He said Franco and others brought up concerns about two bypass designs through the Heber Valley North Fields and answered Cox’s questions.

“As it turned out, there were four members of the Wasatch County Council there, as well as four members of the North Village Special Service District board,” Nelson said. “This was unintentional and inadvertent to my knowledge. I did not realize it until later after the meeting when someone pointed it out to me. I was happy then, and I'm happy now to tell anyone who wants to know anything that was said.”

Nelson added the meeting was brief and only public information was discussed.

Heber City Councilmember Rachel Kahler also attended the meeting with Cox, though she was not invited to do so. She read a statement at Tuesday’s city council meeting and accused Franco of trying to prevent her from being there.

“The most offensive aspect to this is that you intentionally left your own council in the dark while convening a quorum of the county council without complying with legal notice requirements,” Kahler said. “This is the worst display of politicking: attempting to influence the governor to jettison public comment and subvert another state agency’s process during UDOT’s environmental study, with political influence in a private, back room meeting of your personally selected attendees.”

Councilmember Ryan Stack said he agreed with Kahler’s statement.

This week, county council members who were in the room with Cox said they focused on the county council’s resolution opposing a bypass through the Heber Valley North Fields.

During an exchange at the city council meeting, Kahler and Stack said they deserved an opportunity to share other views on the bypass project.

In response, Franco said some of Kahler’s comments misrepresented what happened. She added that she did support a bypass road design that the county has considered for years and that others could have joined the meeting.

“I do not control who comes to a meeting like that,” Franco said. “I have no magic wand to force people or to manipulate people and require attendance. It’s their own choice if they want to come to any meeting like that. I do feel very strongly that the majority of people in the city as well as in this county are against those two routes that go most northern to the North Fields.”

For links to full recordings of this week’s council meetings, visit hebercityut.gov or wasatch.utah.gov.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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