How does the AG spend his time? Utah’s top cop wants to keep his calendar secret
Nov 14, 2023, 10:40 PM | Updated: Nov 15, 2023, 7:37 am
SALT LAKE CITY – What’s Utah’s top law enforcer up to on a daily basis?
Attorney General Sean Reyes is working to keep that a secret.
He’s drawn public criticism for splashy trips across the globe, prompting many Utahns and the KSL Investigators to ask how he spends his time. But the Attorney General’s Office contends the public isn’t entitled to see his schedule under Utah’s open records law.
KSL asked for a copy of his weekly calendar a year ago, kicking off a lengthy legal battle that’s now headed to court.
“When you fight to keep something this basic from the public, you have to wonder what’s in it,” said attorney David Reymann, who’s representing KSL TV in our efforts to track Reyes’ time.
The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment for this story.
"When you fight to keep something this basic from the public, you have to wonder what's in it."
At 10 on @KSL5TV, we're taking you inside a year-long public records fight to understand how one of Utah's most powerful elected officials spends his time on the clock & taxpayer $$$ pic.twitter.com/JCiJpcD6bn
— Daniella Rivera KSL (@DaniellaKSL) November 14, 2023
Reyes, one of Utah’s most powerful elected officials, has made headlines for several controversial trips during his 10 years in the job. Last year, he and Utah’s Senate president scored a free trip to the World Cup on a foreign government’s dime. In 2020, he went to Las Vegas and raised alarm, but no proof, of what he called “voting irregularities.”
He’s stayed in a lingering spotlight for his close ties to embattled Utah charity Operation Underground Railroad and its founder Tim Ballard. Reyes flew to Colombia with the group in 2014.
Campaign finance records shed light on his top dollar stays in luxury resorts, along with a hog hunting adventure in Texas with a price tag of over $46,000.
Reyes has said he travels on his own time, and his campaign defended its spending Tuesday in a statement to KSL. Donors footed the bill for Reyes to hunt the hogs from a helicopter and bring along families of people who’ve died during military service for the expedition as well, said Alan Crooks, general consultant for Reyes’ campaign.
“AG Reyes has devoted himself to keeping office and campaign separate over the past decade,” Crooks said. “While some of our fundraisers are historically held at nice venues, no taxpayer dollars are ever used.”
Outside of those splashy trips and curated social media posts, how Reyes spends his time is hard to track. So, KSL took its fight for copies of his calendar to Utah’s State Records Committee in May.
In refusing to release the calendar, the Attorney General’s Office insisted the schedule – hosted on the public office’s email system and available for certain employees to see and update – is not subject to release under Utah’s public record law. His office said that’s in part because it contains not just professional entries, but also personal ones.
The State Records Committee said Reyes can redact his personal business but ordered the office to release his work-related calendar entries.
“If a public official chooses to intertwine personal items with his government calendar, he must accept the obligation of transparency that goes with that,” the committee’s order states.
“The fact that the calendar is kept on the office’s system does not make it any less of a personal calendar,” attorney Lonny Pehrson, representing the Attorney General’s Office, argued at the May hearing.
In response to the office’s concerns about potential threats to Reyes’ safety if the public knows about where his recurring meetings take place, the committee also allowed Reyes to redact the addresses of his meetings.
Rather than release the records, Reyes appealed the order to Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.
It’s a choice within his legal rights but one Reymann said is disappointing.
“He’s a public official. He’s doing the public’s business, or at least he should be, “Reymann said. “And the public is entitled to know what he’s doing with his time and with taxpayer money.”
A committee made up of top legislative leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to order an audit of Reyes and his office. The move came after 26 lawmakers signed a letter calling for a review of its travel policies and whether Reyes’ ties to Ballard involved “state resources” or impaired Reyes’ judgment. The Attorney General’s Office said in response that it welcomes the review and it “does great work.”
KSL asked several other of Utah’s elected officials for their calendars and received varying responses. Reyes’ office was the only one to contend he keeps a schedule, but the public doesn’t have a right to see it.
The KSL Investigators will continue to pursue access to these records. A hearing in the court case has not yet been scheduled.
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