San Juan County Utah shuns Media and Navajo Officials
Weekend Edition | February 26, 2012 | By: NP writer
Why is San Juan County really giving the Navajo Nation a hard time?
On February 15, 2012, Navajo Human Rights, Executive Director Leonard Gorman and Policy Analyst Lauren Bernally-Long were denied immediate access to obtain all public records and recordings of San Juan County commissioners meeting. But late last week, The Navajo Human Rights Commission finally got access to those public records.
Initial reports said, San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson told Navajo officials their attorney would need to assess the recordings before releasing them. During the meeting on Feb. 21, Navajo officials questioned San Juan County clerk Norman Johnson why that decision was given to finally provide those public records.
Johnson said, the Navajo Human Rights Commission written request utilizing Utah’s GRAMA and having learned from his state colleagues who are also state clerks that public records from public meetings should be made readily available to the public as soon as possible. Johnson also noted that he never consulted the county’s attorney, which was the main reason he refused to allow Gorman immediate access to county records on February 15, 2012.
Both Gorman and Public Information Officer for the Navajo Human Rights Commission Rachelle Todea attended the San Juan County commissioner meeting on February 21, in Monticello it was reported they both recorded the meeting when Gorman testified about the incident when San Juan County Clerk Norman Johnson denied them immediate access.
At this meeting, the media was also told to refrain from recording the meeting. Gorman voiced a concern, “Media personnel certainly realized the violation by raising their concerns that the sacredness of the public’s access to government records must be upheld.”
On February 16, 2012, Gorman met with Navajo Department of Justice attorneys Michelle Begay and Dana Bobroff, and Navajo Human Rights Commission attorney Naomi L. White to discuss the incident when their staff members were denied access to public records.
As a result of that meeting, Navajo officials put in a second request and asserted their right to public records asserting the Open Meetings procedures and GRAMA, which lead to the release of the public records.
Navajo officials stressed when it comes to Navajo Human Rights Commission access to information request, the request doesn’t impact us only. There are processes and procedures that must be complied with.
Utah attorney general site clearly defines the Government Records Access and Management Act and it states it is a comprehensive law dealing with management of government records. GRAMA states who has access to records and how the law is enforced. It is an attempt to balance the public’s constitutional right of access to information concerning public business, the individual’s constitutional right of privacy when the government gathers personal data, and the public policy interest in allowing a government to restrict access to certain records for the public good.