Corey Norman, Provo’s deputy mayor and public information officer, is fighting a fine that was imposed on him by Utah County Clerk/Auditor Bryan Thompson in May.
The Utah County Board of Commissioners heard arguments from lawyers representing Thompson and Norman at a hearing Tuesday morning to determine the validity of the $250 fine.
The commissioners did not make a decision after hearing the arguments, saying they would discuss the information presented and “inform people of necessary actions or decisions.” No date was specified for when that would take place.
The fine was imposed by Thompson on both Norman and Steven Downs, an assistant to the Orem city manager, for violating the Political Activities of Public Entities Act by reportedly using public resources to advocate for the Bus Rapid Transit project while a citizens group gathered signatures for a referendum initiative intended to halt that project.
The Political Activities of Public Entities Act was passed by the Utah Legislature in 2015 and prohibits “a person from sending an email using the email of a public entity to advocate for or against a ballot proposition.”
Paul Jones, Utah County deputy attorney, represented Thompson at the hearing, and argued the $250 fine was valid, using an email sent from Norman’s city email address as evidence. The email included a video and a link to a website that was favorable toward the controversial BRT project, which a citizens group has attempted to halt by gathering signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.
Most of the argument on the validity of the fine centered on whether or not the petition to stop the BRT project counted as a ballot proposition.
“A referendum is a process,” Jones said. “It is not a thing, it’s not something that is or isn’t, it’s a process.”
As such, he argued, the email Norman sent that contained content favorable to the BRT project counted as a violation against the Political Activities of Public Entities Act.
But Gary Millward, the Provo assistant attorney representing Norman, argued no ballot proposition yet existed, therefore there was no violation of the act.
“In order to violate the section of code, there has to be a ballot proposition,” Millward said. “This is the fundamental flaw in the clerk/auditor’s assessment of a fine in this matter.
"It is the city’s view and Mr. Norman’s view that this commission’s inquiry should end at that question. There was not a ballot proposition on May 31, 2016, and there isn’t one on October 25, 2016, and there hasn’t been one, ever.”
Millward further argued a ballot proposition comes into existence when the city attorney gets the information from the city recorder and creates the proposition.
“It exists from that moment until the election is held and the citizens vote on it,” Millward said.
Commissioner Greg Graves said when the commissioners make a decision on the issue he will abstain from the vote, because he believes Thompson has controversies such as this under his jurisdiction and an appeal should be heard in district court.
“If you have any problem between an election officer, you file with a district court,” Graves said. “We (the commissioners) are in violation.”