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Mountain Accord critics call on Federal Reserve, Utah auditor to investigate transparency concerns

Critics of the now-defunct Mountain Accord are calling on the Federal Reserve and Office of the State Auditor to further investigate their assertion that the entity violated Utah’s open meeting requirements and misled the public in doing so.

The Mountain Accord Executive Committee, which eventually transformed into the Central Wasatch Commission, was a group of state, county and city officials that made planning recommendations for Salt Lake, Summit and Wasatch counties.

U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT, former mayor of Salt Lake County, served as the executive committee chair.

The call for investigation, which was made last week, follows an October 2016 lawsuit filed by Heber City resident Norm Henderson and the Cardiff Canyon Owners Association alleging that officials had “excluded CCOA members and other individuals and organizations … from attending Mountain Accord Executive Committee meetings” and had failed to give proper notice or keep proper minutes and recordings of meetings.

In July 2017, Judge Laura Scott of the 3rd Judicial District Court ruled that Mountain Accord was subject to the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, according to court documents.

Three months earlier, state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, and former Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, wrote a letter to Utah State Auditor John Dougall requesting a review into whether Mountain Accord had complied with the OPMA and Government Records Access and Management Act, as well as into whether the entity had spent taxpayer money “with proper bidding, oversight, and accountability.”

Dougall wrote in September 2017 that Mountain Accord appropriately spent money but had lacked transparency with regards to public meeting and record laws.

“Prior to your letter, we had determined that Mountain Accord was subject to the Open and Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and had informed the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of our concerns regarding noncompliance,” Dougall wrote. “In turn, we have given your request for answers regarding Mountain Accord’s compliance with OPMA to the OAG’s Civil Review Committee for investigation.”

Two GRAMA requests related to Mountain Accord were denied in 2016, according to the state auditor, who wrote that “the notion that governments can create a governmental program which is not subject to GRAMA does not appear to us to have basis in the law.”

“We believe the governmental entity sponsoring this program, likely UTA (Utah Transit Authority), should have responded to these GRAMA requests,” wrote Dougall.

On Wednesday, Henderson and Wayne Crawford and Cyle Buxton, the president and vice president of CCOA, wrote a letter to the Federal Reserve Consumer Complaint Department formally requesting an investigation into Zions Bank, Zions Public Finance and President Scott Anderson, who they said are “directly connected to the Mountain Accord, then-Mayor and now Congressman Ben McAdams, and the Central Wasatch Commission (CWC).”

“It is our understanding that McAdams and others used Zions Public Finance to issue a report that helped publicly clear McAdams’ of his OPMA violation and that the report was used to convince elected officials to commit more public funds to his cause,” they wrote.

The complaint raised concerns about the “Mountain Accord Financial Transparency Report,” a February 2017 document containing “financial information about a public planning process called Mountain Accord.”

“Although millions of dollars of public money were spent during Mountain Accord, the report included a quote from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office (DA), asserting Mountain Accord was not subject to the Utah OPMA. This is very important, because, at the time, there were allegations the Mountain Accord Executive Committee, made up of prominent elected officials, was operating behind closed doors, in violation of OPMA,” it said.

On Thursday, Henderson, Crawford and Buxton said in a letter to Dougall that they had worked with the Utah State Archives and Public Records Ombudsman “in an attempt to make records associated with Mountain Accord available to the public in accordance with OMPA.”

“This effort has proven to be a slow and somewhat frustrating process,” they wrote, adding that, as of July 7, only a handful of government entities with records related to Mountain Accord had responded to records inquiries.

The men wrote that they were “concerned that the Transparency Report was intentionally misleading regarding Mountain Accord’s compliance with OPMA” and requested an investigation into “the circumstances and facts surrounding the issuance” of the report.

“The Transparency Report was used by the CWC to reassure City Council members and others that Mountain Accord had been a law-abiding steward,” they wrote. “Using the Transparency Report, the CWC was able to raise a large amount of additional public funds from local Governments.”

Judge Scott dismissed the lawsuit against Mountain Accord in March 2019 after the plaintiffs and defendants reached a settlement agreement. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be filed in court again.

McAdams, who is running for reelection and will compete against Republican challenger Burgess Owens in the November general election, could not be reached for comment at the time this story was published.

Utah Lake Commission holding life jacket fundraiser to honor drowned teens

The Utah Lake Commission announced it will hold a “life jacket drive” to gather jackets and raise monetary donations in support of a new life jacket loaner program in honor of two teenagers who drowned in Utah Lake earlier this year.

Priscilla Bienkowski, 18, and Sophia Hernandez, 17, both of Saratoga Springs, were reported missing on May 6 after swimming near the Knolls area on the west side of Utah Lake. On May 14, a search and rescue crew discovered the girls’ bodies a mile away from where they had been swimming.

Family and friends of Bienkowski and Hernandez approached the Utah County Commission on July 22 and proposed building a “life jacket loaner station” at the entrance of the Knolls so Utah Lake recreators could take or leave life jackets free of charge.

“Having a life jacket loaner station will help save lives and hopefully avoid the agony and pain many of us have experienced by this unfortunate citation,” the group wrote in a proposal.

“We would like to memorialize Priscilla and Sophia and help others as well,” the proposal continued. “Had Priscilla and Sophia been wearing life jackets, according to Search and Rescue, their bodies would have been recovered a lot sooner, no matter the condition.”

The fundraiser, which will run from Wednesday to Oct. 7 and is being held in partnership with the families of Bienkowski and Hernandez, will enable a program to “provide life jackets at public access points around Utah Lake,” the Utah Lake Commission said in a press release.

“The life jacket loaner program will be put into place next spring, after loaner stations are constructed at access points,” the press release said.

Eric Ellis, executive director of the Utah Lake Commission, said life jacket stations are especially needed now, noting that visitation at Utah Lake is up 57% “compared to the previous five-year average.”

“People are more interested than ever in spending time at Utah Lake and we want to provide life jackets for anyone who needs them,” Ellis said in the press release.

According to the Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation boating rulebook, 80% of people who drowned in boating accidents nationally “would have survived if they had been wearing” a personal floatation device.

“Utah Lake has a lot to offer when it comes to recreation and we want people to have fun, but we also want them to stay safe,” said Sam Braegger, outreach coordinator for the lake commission.

Beginning Wednesday, residents can donate life jackets by dropping them off at one of six locations in Utah County: the Saratoga Springs Marina, American Fork Marina, Lindon Marina, Utah Lake State Park, Provo Recreation Center and Orem city offices.

The life jackets donated must be in good condition, approved by the United States Coast Guard and have a legible label on the inside.

Residents can make monetary donations for the life jacket loaner stations at http://utahlakecommission.org/utah-lake-life-jacket-drive/.

UVU kicks off 27th annual Ethics Awareness Week with focus on pertinent topics

The 27th annual Ethics Awareness Week at Utah Valley University kicked off on Monday as the Center for the Study of Ethics prepares to dive into pluralisms and engaging ethical, racial and religious diversity.

Brian Birch, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics at UVU, said that in the context of the event this year, pluralism refers to a variety of different approaches to diversity and topics that will be discussed during the week.

In prior years the event has focused on ethics, technology and society, truth and misinformation and ethics in public life, but the focus this year is based on matters that currently hit home.

The event itself is designed to have students organize sessions of their own around a common theme, while the center adds sessions to enhance talks with more of a focus.

“Ethics Awareness Week will address a range of issues related to diversity,” Birch said. “This includes topics related to ideological diversity, religious pluralism, along with race and ethnicity. The sessions are intended to be relevant and timely given our present political and cultural fragmentation.”

Topics throughout the week include, “Civil Disobedience in the Age of Trump,” “The American Experience of Religious Diversity,” “Living in the Wake of George Floyd,” “The Importance of Community Policing,” and many more involving education, health professions and the workplace.

The Ethics Week on campus each year dives into a different topic but the theme this year is largely tied to the social and political climate currently surrounding the United States and world. Birch said the theme was decided on by faculty and colleagues across campus with the belief that diversity issues would benefit students the most.

“There is an urgent need for understanding and cooperation across lines of difference, and the week’s events are designed to expose students to productive and penetrating dialogues,” Birch said.

Birch added that he hopes attendees gain a sense of understanding and empathy around racial and religious divisions, with dialogue focusing on various points of views and ethnicities.

This year the center faced another challenge, conducting the event remotely. After the first day, Birch added that it is new ground for the center as it tries to use technology and Zoom conferences to conduct panels and discussions.

The annual tradition is one of the many events that takes place at UVU with its ethics across the curriculum program.

Ethics Week also is a part of UVU’s Appomattox Project, which is a “multi-year effort designed to focus on the ethical dimensions of civil discourse, public policy, and democratic society,” according to the UVU website.

Events included in the project involve panels, public lectures, student research, community engagement and more.

The project is named after the Appomattox Court House which is where the Civil War ended. The name is meant to draw on the courthouse being a symbol of reconciliation and civil discourse, according to the project’s website.

After 27 years of conducting the event, Birch said they have learned a lot but one lesson stuck out to him as something they have taken with them year after year.

“We need to engage our students with ideas and questions that can relate to their own experiences,” Birch said. “We pride ourselves on hosting events that are both substantive and accessible.”

Birch described the week as the flagship event for the center, something many people and the center look forward to every year.

For Birch personally, he is most looking forward to the session entitled, “Living in the Wake of George Floyd,” which will be hosted by UVU’s Black Student Union.

“This is a student panel discussion designed to explore the experiences of our Black friends and neighbors during this tragic and challenging time,” Birch said.

During the week, the center will also be awarding its Excellence in Ethics Award to Sergeant Jeremy Jamison from the Orem City Police Department.

“He is a stellar member of our community and his background and experience have been so helpful in helping to heal divisions and build bridges,” Birch said.

To find out more about Ethics Awareness Week or to tune into the livestreamed events, visit UVU’s Center for the study of Ethics website.

Weber, Davis counties — not just Utah County — seeing rise in COVID-19 cases

OGDEN — Utah County isn’t alone in experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases stemming from a rise in infections among young people and students.

Davis County’s case count for the week ending last Sunday jumped to 413, up from 334 the week before and not far off the high so far of 438 in mid-July, when the state previously experienced a spike.

“There are a lot more events going on that are happening in schools,” said Davis County Health Department spokesperson Trevor Warner, citing high school football games, among other things. He further noted a “tired-of-COVID mindset” that’s caused some to relax their vigilance, also contributing to a rise in numbers.

In Weber and Morgan counties, new cases for the week ending Sunday reached 263, lower than the 269 from the prior week, but still above the post-July low of 150 in the week ending Aug. 15. The weekly high for Weber and Morgan counties occurred during the week ending July 18, when the count reached 413.

“Like everywhere else, we’ve seen a little bit of an uptick. Some of it was expected as schools opened,” said Lori Buttars, spokesperson for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. Aside from the reopening of schools, there’s nothing else to really account for the rise, though she lauded the schools in their efforts to keep a check on COVID-19 via mask requirements and other measures.

Despite their jumps, neither jurisdiction has experienced the sort of spike seen in Utah County, where officials last week beefed up COVID-19 restrictions to contend with the uptick. There the case count reached 2,819 for the week ending Sunday, up more than three times since the 920 cases for the week ending July 18, when the prior statewide COVID-19 spike occurred. The 2,819 new cases compares to 2,492 new cases for the week ending Sept. 19, 1,347 for the week ending Sept. 12 and 838 for the week ending Sept. 5.

In response to the Utah County uptick, state leaders announced last week that Utah County would be reverting to a more restrictive slate of COVID-19 guidelines, from the yellow level as set out in Utah Department of Health standards to the orange level. At the same time, Utah County commissioners implemented a countywide mask mandate to help quell the number of COVID-19 cases. A Utah County Health Department representative didn’t immediately return a call Monday seeking comment on the matter.

Weber, Morgan and Davis counties remain at the less-rigorous yellow level for COVID-19 guidelines. But with COVID-19 case counts on the rise, officials aren’t letting up on the standing advice to mask up and maintain social-distancing. Restrictions may be less than when the COVID-19 pandemic first started taking off last March “but the risk for the virus isn’t,” Buttars said.

Similarly, Warner said health officials will closely be watching as Davis School District schools start transitioning this week to four-day-a-week in-person schooling to see if that impacts the COVID-19 case count. Davis County schools have been offering in-person school only twice a week, Warner said, with virtual teaching the other days.

GET YOUR FLU VACCINEMeantime, the Weber-Morgan Health Department is putting the call out to the public to get vaccinated for the flu. The department starts a vaccination push this time each year, but there’s added urgency this go-round because of COVID-19.

Buttars warned of the potential health risks of having flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Moreover, vaccinating will help health officials in trying to distinguish between potential flu and COVID-19 cases going forward, said Cheryl Andreasen, a registered nurse in the health department. The indicators of the two ailments are similar, so if someone starts exhibiting symptoms, that they’re vaccinated will serve as an aid in potentially ruling out flu as a possibility.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department is sponsoring a drive-thru flu shot clinic on Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the parking lot of the department at 477 23rd St. Most insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine and participants are advised to bring their insurance and Medicare/Medicaid cards. Otherwise, cost is $30 for injectable shots, $35 for flu mist and $60 for the special vaccine recommended for those over 65.

The health department will be following up with flu shot clinics starting Monday at elementary and junior high schools in the Ogden and Weber school districts, open to students, parents and neighbors. Vaccines are available at reduced cost to those under 18 who don’t have insurance.