SALT LAKE CITY --The debate on whether or not the details of the Maverik Stadium naming rights deal with Utah State could be withheld from public record lasted for nearly three hours on Thursday. When it was all said and done the State Records Committee decided on a 6-1 vote that Utah State's contract with Maverik needs to be open to the public.
The Herald Journal News challenged Utah State and Maverik's refusal to release the contract to the public based on a GRAMA request (Government Records Access Management Act). GRAMA essentially states that all contracts with government entities will be made available to the public. Utah State acting in the interest of Maverik refused the request citing the companies need for business confidentiality.
Utah State was represented by Ryan Brady who is part of their general counsel team, but there were multiple representatives from Maverik present. They countered that revealing the financial details contained in the contract would severely hurt future negotiating power of any deal.
"We believe that the universities and other public entities are going to benefit - and the public, by extension - by creating a business environment in accordance with GRAMA," Brady said to the committee. "I think that's what (the Legislature) was going for when they wanted to make sure that a business entity could deal with the public and not give it all away. That's the way these projects are. Being able to enter into contracts is something we have to do."
Maverik attorney David Hancock added, "we're in a highly competitive business environment, If our expenditures are known to the public, it can be used against us as leverage when we go to the table."
During arguments heard in front of The State Records Committee, The Herald Journal News' managing editor Charles McCollum noted what a dangerous precedent would be created by allowing a small confidentiality clause to keep an entire contract with a government entity secret.
"A ruling today in Maverik's favor could pave the way to carte blanche secrecy," McCollum said.
The Herald Journal News was also supported by the Society of Professional Journalists who were represented by current BYU professor, and former reporter, Joel Campbell
Ultimately, after hours of debate the committee decided that the precedence set by allowing entire contracts with the government to be kept secret was too much.
"I think the spirit of the law is that government contracts are meant to be open to the public," said committee member Holly Richardson."Part of the weighing is the precedent this could set and will set if you can protect entire government contracts with a confidentiality agreement. I don't want to change the precedent."
The one committee member to side with Utah State and Maverik in the final vote was Blaine Breshears.
Even though a decision was made, the arguments could be far from over. Utah State has 30 days to file an appeal to the district courts, and when asked if Utah State would appeal the decision, Brady declined to comment.