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.