Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wide Disparities in Funding Among Ogden Council Candidates

The nine candidates running for four seats on the Ogden City Council this year have filed their first round of campaign finance disclosure statements. Here is a summary of their disclosures:

     Contributions     Expenditures
Municipal Ward 1
  Neil K. Garner (I)$0$25
  Pamela Shupe Stevens$0$25
Municipal Ward 3
  Turner C. Bitton$4,698$3,734
  Doug Stephens (I)$3,800$2,312
At-Large A
  Sheri Morreale$1,000$997
  Stephen D. Thompson$1,868$568
  Marcia L. White$10,015$3,384
At-Large B
  Bart Blair (I)$0$25
  Courtney Jon White$80$32

The disparity of fundraising and expenditures among the four races is striking. While there has been virtually no financial activity yet in the Municipal Ward 1 and At-Large B races, the campaigns for the Municipal Ward 3 and At-Large A seats appear to be in full swing.

Utah's municipal elections are nonpartisan, with primary elections used to eliminate all but the top two candidates. Because only the At-Large A seat (currently held by retiring council member Susie Van Hooser) has more than two candidates, it is the only seat involved in next week's primary. Thus, it's hardly surprising that the three candidates for that seat have already raised and spent significant funds. What's somewhat more interesting is the apparent early start in the Municipal Ward 3 race.

Among the candidates, there are also significant disparities in the sources of the funds raised.

In the Municipal Ward 3 race, Turner Bitton's statement lists 51 separate contributions. The largest is $500 from Tim Gill of Denver, Colorado, but most of the contributions come from individuals in Ogden. Incumbent Doug Stephens has listed six contributions on his statement, including a $1500 donation to his own campaign and another $1500 (the maximum amount) from the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors PAC.

In the At-Large A race, Sheri Morreale lists two contributions: a $500 loan from herself and a $500 in-kind contribution from Comet Enterprises of 2417 Grant Avenue. Stephen Thompson lists three small contributions from himself, plus $300 from Republican legislator Jeremy Peterson and $1500 from ABATE, a motorcycling advocacy organization of which Thompson is an officer. Marcia White, meanwhile, lists 59 separate contributions, of which the largest are $1000 from Guy and Colleen Letendre of Ogden, $657 from White herself, and $500 each from five different contributors including the Mike Caldwell for Mayor campaign.

The Ogden Ethics Project is an advocate for integrity and transparency in campaign financing, so that elected officials do not feel beholden, or give the appearance of being beholden, to special interests. Our platform calls for stricter legal limits on certain types of contributions, and we encourage candidates to voluntarily decline contributions that are (or appear to be) ethically questionable.

Without drawing any conclusions at this time, we feel that all of the larger contributions from businesses and other organizations listed above deserve further scrutiny. Some of these contributions are effectively anonymous, with no way to identify the individual(s) who actually contributed the funds. Others represent narrow interests that should not play a disproportionate role in the decisions of elected officials.

The complete candidate disclosure statements can be downloaded from the Ogden elections web page.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Line Item Budget Posted on Ogden City Web Site

For the first time ever, Ogden City has posted a version of its detailed, line-item budget on its public web site,

Until now, the city has posted only a far less detailed version of its budget: the official version that the city council approves each June. Even the council members have rarely, if ever, seen the line-item detail.

As an example, the expenses for the mayor’s office are broken into only five categories in the official budget, but into 28 categories in the line-item budget.

Last winter, however, Ogden citizen Dan Schroeder learned of the existence of a line-item budget printout kept in the city’s Finance Department. He filed a public records request for the document that was initially denied but finally approved after a time-consuming appeal.

Even then, the city refused to provide the document in electronic form, instead producing a 676-page printout and charging Schroeder $169 (25 cents per page) for it. At the time, Chief Deputy City Attorney Mara Brown stated that the city was refusing to release an electronic version because “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

Schroeder then scanned the printed pages and, in early April, posted a searchable electronic version of the document on the Ogden Ethics Project web site (

As the city’s new budget was being prepared this spring, city council member Amy Wicks specifically asked the administration to provide an electronic copy of the line-item budget.

The Ogden Ethics project wishes to thank council member Wicks for her successful efforts to promote government transparency. We also thank Mayor Mike Caldwell and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Johnson for their apparent change of heart in agreeing to make the line-item budget freely and conveniently available to all.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ogden City Line-Item Budget Released to Public

In an effort to promote greater transparency in Ogden City’s finances, the Ogden Ethics Project has obtained and posted a copy of the city’s detailed line-item budget. Interested citizens can now download a copy of this document from

As far as we can determine, no such document has ever before been released to the public. According to Assistant City Attorney Mara Brown, the line-item budget was not widely disseminated even within the city administration, and was not shared with the city council or its staff.

Ogden’s official budget document is posted on the city’s web site but is far less detailed. To give just one example, whereas the official budget breaks down the city’s golf-course-related expenditures into just ten major categories, the line-item budget breaks these down further into more than 100 sub-categories, with staffing, supplies, utilities, and other expenses assigned to either El Monte or Mt. Ogden Golf Course and further broken down between the grounds and pro shops.

For reasons that remain unclear, the city administration was reluctant to release the line-item budget document. A formal request for it, filed pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, was denied on January 9. The city then rejected repeated attempts to discuss or negotiate the denial. Finally, during a formal appeal hearing before the city’s Records Review Board, the administration agreed to release a copy of the document—but only in printed form, at a total cost of $169 (25 cents per page). The administration refused to provide an electronic copy of the document because, in Brown’s words, “we are able to track it as a record if it’s in print format” and because an electronic copy “can be manipulated.”

In total, obtaining a copy of the line-item budget required about a dozen hours of personal time spent over a period of two months. The printed pages have, of course, now been scanned and processed with optical character recognition software to facilitate searching.

The present version of the line-item budget includes actual revenue and expense information from fiscal years 2011 and 2012, plus budget numbers for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Soon the Ogden City Council will begin its consideration of the FY 2014 budget. We hope that the council will demand to see line-item detail during that process, and that the administration will provide that detail promptly upon request.