County Commission joins in ‘Friend of the Court’ lawsuit
By Craig Bennett
Iron County Today
Iron County Commissioners have unanimously voted to approve the filing an Amicus Curiae or “Friend of the Court” brief supporting the Kane and Garfield County Commissioners in the lawsuit, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) versus the Kane and Garfield County Commissioners. The lawsuit is in opposition to a private meeting held with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discuss the size of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments.
A (friend of the court) is defined as, an individual or group interested in influencing the outcome of a lawsuit but not an actual party to the suit. The statement amicus curiae is Latin for “friend of the court.”
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) filed the lawsuit on August 15 in Utah’s Third District Court, alleging that Kane and Farfield Counties violated Utah’s Open and Public Meetings act when county commissioners met with Secretary Zinke and others in a closed -door meeting to discuss the fate of the two monuments. In the lawsuit, SUWA asserts that about May 10, Kane and Garfield County Commissioners and others met. The meeting was not publicly noticed and county commissioners did not allow members of the public to attend or participate in the meeting.
According to the SUWA website (suwa.org), the organization is being represented by the Salt Lake City law firm of Parr Brown Gee and Loveless. Attorney Davis Reymann said, “These commission meetings are textbook violations of Utah’s Open and Public Meetings Act. Because the commissioners met with Secretary Zinke and other officials and discussed the future of these national monuments, they need to provide public notice and allow the public an opportunity to attend the meeting. That’s the whole point of the Act: for state and local government to conduct public business out in the open.”
“The Utah Open and Public Meetings Act requires county commissioners to deliberate and take actions openly and transparently. Kane and Garfield county commissions’ secret meetings with Secretary Zinke and other government officials about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are unlawful and cannot continue. SUWA members in these counties have an intense interest in protecting Utah’s national monuments and would have attended these meetings and vocally advocated for their protection had they known about them,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Iron County Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff said, “We believe that there is a difference between a legal meeting with a quorum present and a meeting with a Government official. We have no problem with the statute but the line is crossed when all meetings are designated as public meetings.”
In a leaked memo from Secretary Zinke to President Trump, Zinke recommended that two Utah monuments – Bears Ears and Grand Staircase be reduced, along with two others, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregons Cascade – Siskiyou.
National Monument designations are designed to add protections for lands known for their natural beauty and historical significance with the goal of preserving them for future generations. The restrictions aren’t as stringent as for National Parks, but some policies include limits on mining, timber cutting and recreational activities such as riding off-road vehicles.
The monuments under review were designated in the last two decades by four presidents. No other United States President has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have reduced the monuments in size or redrawn the boundaries 18 different times.