Wilderness Alliance accuses 3 counties of illegal meeting with Zinke during national monument tour. Commissioner calls lawsuit ‘frivolous.’

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tours the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Wednesday as part of a fact-finding process ordered by President Donald Trump, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monumnet, May 10, 2017 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE – Three county commissions privately met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he swung through Southern Utah in May to review two controversial national monuments – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Now those meetings are coming under scrutiny in a lawsuit filed this week by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance alleging Kane and Garfield County Commissioners violated the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

According to the complaint, the public was not given notice of the May 10 meeting between the county commissioners and Zinke regarding the future of the almost 21-year-old Grand Staircase-Escalante monument. The suit also alleges the county commissioners did not allow members of the public to attend or participate in the meeting.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the Salt Lake City 3rd District Court, states in part:

The closed meetings flagrantly violated multiple provisions of the (Open and Public Meetings) act and, if left unchecked, would shield defendants’ activities on important public policy matters from the light of day and deprive Utah citizens of their right to have their public bodies ‘conduct their deliberations openly’. SUWA brings this action to address this threat and put a stop to Defendants’ backdoor policy discussions with high-level government officials.

Garfield County Commission Chairman Leland Pollock rejected the allegations calling the suit “frivolous.”

“We did nothing wrong,” Pollock said. “I’m not worried about it because we didn’t violate the law.”

This May 10, 2017, St. George News file photo shows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke listening to a man during his visit to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as part of a fact-finding process ordered by President Donald Trump, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, May 10, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

Criticizing SUWA for the legal action filed against him, he said SUWA is known for filing lawsuits when “they don’t get what they want.”

“If SUWA is suing me then I am doing my job,” Pollock said. “SUWA is against everything I am for: mining, timber, coal, cattle grazing, jobs, renewable resources. Everything I’m for they are against.”

Pollock declined to discuss the details of the case, citing advice from his counsel.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that SUWA claims it tried to communicate with the commissioners in a letter dated June 13 written by SUWA’s outside attorney, David Reymann with the Salt Lake City law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless. The commissioners however, never responded.

“Governmental bodies are not entitled to operate and conduct policy discussions in secret, particularly when they are meeting with high-level government officials and discussing matters that would affect thousands of citizens of this state,” Reymann wrote in letters to Pollock and Kane County Commission Chairman Dirk Clayson.

This May 10, 2017, St. George News file photo shows Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with others touring the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Wednesday as part of a fact-finding process ordered by President Donald Trump, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, May 10, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

“The reasons for proper closure of a meeting are limited and narrow,” Reymann’s letter said, “and none of them apply here.”

The suit this week does not name the San Juan County commissioners, although they received a similar prelitigation letter from SUWA.

The San Juan County Commissioners met with Zinke twice in hopes of convincing him to rescind the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument. Those meetings, that SUWA states were also alleged violations of the law, are being handled separately SUWA staff attorney Laura Peterson said, according the Salt Lake Tribune report.

The tour of the two Utah monuments came just shortly after President Donald Trump signed an executive order tasking Zinke with review of 27 national monuments for possible elimination or reduction.

Zinke’s recommendations for two dozen large monuments are slated to be released by the end of next week.

The Garfield and Kane commissions have both passed resolutions advocating for a huge reduction of the 1.9 million-acre monument overlapping the counties’ shared border.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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10 Comments

  • An actual Independent August 19, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    This time they’re mad that County Commissioners met with the Secretary of the Interior when they had the chance. But I can also envision them being angry if local officials had a chance to meet with him and didn’t do so. When did we reach the point where EVERYTHING is cause for outrage?

    • mesaman August 19, 2017 at 9:02 pm

      Southern Utah Wilderness Annoyance will do most anything to be in the spotlight and here’s an example of how desperate they are. With a conservative leadership shifting the balance of power to the masses SUWA might better be labeled Simple Utmost Wasted Action.

  • Proud Rebel August 19, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    They aren’t really angry. This is just the normal harassment to be expected from a bunch of delitantes who have more money than brains, being lead by a bunch of manipulators that couldn’t possibly hold a real job, if their lives depended on it.

  • jaybird August 19, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    When Trump got elected and gave our country’s protective agencies over to people like Zinke who dont care about anything but making $ off it. Disgusting people.

  • actonmac August 20, 2017 at 7:04 am

    SUWA is like a lot of other groups, they have to be against everything to justify their existence.

  • UtahPatriot August 20, 2017 at 7:41 am

    Jaybird – please elaborate. Tell us how Zinke plans to make $$$ off his position as interior secretary. Please be thorough. If you need to, you can use Clinton as a template since she made a few bucks on the side while serving as secretary of state. Please – only use factual evidence that we can all investigate on our own. No yelling and no name-calling.

    As for SUWA, they are more responsible for the fire that destroyed our mountain than the guy with the torch yet no one holds them responsible. Notice how we didn’t hear a peep out of them all summer while the fire was killing all the animals SUWA loves to “protect” from us. Also implicit are the politicians who handed over stewardship of our lands to that group.

    If you want to have a little fun or give your kids a great after-school project, dig into that groups past. Find out where they come from and who founded them.

    • John August 20, 2017 at 9:45 am

      you are so right…and so is actonmac !!

  • comments August 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

    “those godless librul tree-huggers! Lord save us from their wickedness!”

    this sort of article always brings the r-wing loons and nutters out of the wood work. Just amazing.

  • mesaman August 20, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    SUWA is as useless as a 95 year old male’s supply of condoms.

    • comments August 20, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      And you’re referring to your own supply? A very nasty thing to say for a old LDS man, mesa. nasty nasty.

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