Dear Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead:
This open letter is in response to your office’s decision to file class A misdemeanor charges against several sponsors of a petition that was circulating in our community.
The purpose of the petition was to allow county residents an opportunity to vote on the Tooele County Commission’s decision to rezone a piece of property in Stansbury Park from commercial to high density residential. Over 2,800 registered Tooele County voters felt strongly enough about the decision to sign their names to the petition and request an opportunity to vote.
I strongly favored a “No” vote on this re-zone issue if it would have been on the ballot because I feel the county commission made an unwise decision overturning the recommendation of the Tooele County Planning Commission in favor of the developer. However, that is not the purpose of this letter. Rather, my concern, and the reason I am writing this letter, stems from your office’s subsequent decision to turn a civil matter into a criminal one, and to further open a wound that instead we should be trying to heal.
It is a poor decision by your office to prosecute several of our citizens because they disagreed with the actions by elected county officials, and tried to get those actions reversed through the initiative process. Instead, in the interests of justice and for the public good, your office should have exercised its prosecutorial discretion and refused to proceed criminally.
In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence cited King George’s failure to redress grievances as justification for independence. That principle of disagreeing with a government action — enshrined in the First Amendment’s guarantee of everyone’s right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances” — is precisely what motivated these good citizens to collect petition signatures in the first place. That was their only intent.
You — with prompting from the developer who is motivated to benefit financially from the rezone — felt the petition gatherers failed to follow all the legal, technical details, and therefore concluded that the initiative would not go on the ballot. That question of civil election law is perhaps justifiable given the facts. Your decision to then proceed criminally and bring charges against the petition gatherers certainly is not.
While you may argue a law was broken, the petition gatherers were concerned about the impacts this decision had on their community. For your office to file criminal charges against these fellow citizens is mean-spirited and a spiteful use of your prosecutorial discretion. It also is wrong. It sends a strong, negative message to discourage those who may try the signature gathering process in future years, or who otherwise might disagree with a decision of the county’s elected officials. Perhaps that is your intent.
As a Tooele County resident, former elected leader, and friend, I strongly urge you to drop these criminal charges against these citizens who simply had the betterment of our community at heart.
Charlie Roberts is a resident of Stansbury Park and a former Tooele City mayor and Tooele City councilman.