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Huntsman Reverses Position on Closed Meetings

Huntsman Reverses Position on Closed Meetings

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Gov. Jon Huntsman has canceled a set of private meetings reportedly scheduled to skirt open meeting law provisions in talks with the state's consumer advocacy body.

He had been set for a series of talks with small groups of the Committee of Consumer Services, which is considering the governor's controversial appointment of former lobbyist Leslie Reberg to serve as its executive director.

The governor has been under fire from consumer activists, editorial writers and citizens writing to newspapers for the way his administration has handled the agency. That includes the firing of its longtime director, Roger Ball, and the appointment of Reberg, which consumer activists see as an attempt to weaken the committee.

Huntsman's office had initially said that the governor planned to meet with the six committee members separately or in small groups because of scheduling conflicts. But five committee members told the Salt Lake Tribune that wasn't the case, and the governor's staff told them their meetings were scheduled specifically so Huntsman could get around the open meetings law.

As long as the number of committee members at each meeting with the governor is less a quorum, the meetings do not have to be public under the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.

Huntsman spokeswoman Tammy Kikuchi said the governor canceled the smaller meetings because he wanted to dispel any perception he was trying to manipulate the process.

"The process has been politicized long enough," she said.

Instead, Huntsman is asking committee members to quickly approve Reberg's appointment.

In a letter sent Friday to committee chairman Dee Jay Hammon, the governor said he is confident the committee will find Leslie Reberg "an ideal candidate."

"Leslie's professional background -- including her extensive management experience in both the private and public sector -- has prepared her well to serve as Utah's chief advocate for residential and small business public utility consumers," Huntsman wrote.

In considering Reberg's nomination, committee members will have to weigh whether her past lobbying for US West, the telephone utility that became Qwest Communications, qualify her to oversee matters as wide ranging as electric deregulation, natural gas quality issues and stranded costs.

"The governor is confident committee members have all the information they need to make an informed decision," Kikuchi said.

Hammon expected the governor to use his planned private meetings to lobby on Reberg's behalf. He said the discussions may have resulted in new information or "may have just muddied the water more."

"It has been quite a roller coaster ride for us," Hammon said. "Now that we have received a formal nomination, though, the challenge will be to get everyone together so we can do our thing."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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