Saturday, June 25, 2011

Utah Fires Three Archaelogists for Purely Political Reasons Under Guise of Budget Cuts

Convince me this isn't political payback because someone got cut out of a lot of money when the development didn't go forth as planned due to the objections raised by the state archaeologists.

Utah fires its state archaeologists
By Brandon Loomis
and judy fahys

The Salt Lake Tribune
First published Jun 21 2011 12:40PM
Updated Jun 23, 2011 10:57AM

The Utah Department of Community and Culture on Tuesday laid off the state archaeologist and two assistants, leaving the Antiquities section with just two employees: those responsible for maintaining a database necessary for development of roads, railways, buildings and other projects.

Department acting Director Mike Hansen said he was simply carrying out budget cuts ordered by the Legislature to eliminate programs that receive state funds and that do not carry out requirements of state or federal law. A plan from state Human Resources suggested consolidating the three positions into one new "forensic archeologist" job that will be posted Wednesday.

"The hard news today was we had to reduce three to one," he said. "We’re very excited and hopeful to get a good response."

But assistant state archaeologist Ronald Rood, who was among those dismissed, said in a professional association website post that Utah "showed its disdain for archaeology and Utah’s vast cultural heritage." In a separate interview with The Tribune, he said that no other programs in the state Division of History had been cut and suggested there may have been a political motive behind the change: to eliminate employees who sought to protect archaeological sites threatened by development.

Rood, along with state archaeologist Kevin Jones and physical anthropologist Derinna Kopp, who also lost their jobs Tuesday, stepped into the view of Gov. Gary Herbert, lawmakers and the Utah Transit Authority in recent years when they raised concerns about a proposed commuter rail station planned in Draper. UTA proposed the train stop and mixed-use development on the footprint of an ancient American Indian village, the earliest known location of corn farming in the Great Basin.

"We always have tried to stand up for archaeology," Rood said.

"We were pretty vocal over the issue of the [rail] station down in Draper that was going to be placed over a 3,000-year-old archaeological site."

Hansen flatly denied the suggestion the firings were politically motivated. When asked about any possible connection to the Draper FrontRunner station, he said, "absolutely not." [Right. Did the newspaper expect the politician/paid hack to ADMIT it was pay-back to the archaeologists for getting in the way?]

Allyson Isom, communications director for Herbert, also denied ulterior motives.

"Unfortunately," she said, "these cuts were mandated by the Legislature."

The Legislative Fiscal Analyst Office prepared a "menu" of $550 million of possible budget cuts, including $154,300 in potential savings by cutting two positions in the historic preservation program. While the Legislature did order reductions, the details of how to implement them were left to the executive branch.

"It isn’t a statement on the value of archaeology," Isom said, noting that the Department of Natural Resources, the state Department of Transportation and the Public Lands Coordinating Council all employ archaeologists. "The state remains committed to archaeology in other offices. It is our heritage, our identity, and we have to preserve it."

The archeology team is part of the state Historic Preservation office, which was responsible, among other tasks, for reviewing archaeological sites in development zones, cataloging human remains found on state and private lands for repatriation to American Indian tribes in accordance with state and federal law, namely the U.S. Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990. The team also conducted educational programs for Utah’s fourth- and seventh-graders and during an annual Archaeology Week with field trips and lecturers.

When they were asked to leave the building Tuesday morning, the three archaeologists walked away from partly written reports and forensic evaluations of about 100 sets of skeletal remains. About three were under active review in the laboratory.

The proposed Draper rail station had political tendrils reaching into the UTA board — where trustee and developer Terry Diehl had an interest in development plans around the station — and the Legislature, where attorney and then-House Speaker Greg Curtis had pushed the Department of Natural Resources to delay a conservation easement planned for the site because a client wanted to trade for the land to develop the station.

But Herbert, a former president of the Utah Association of Realtors, won the praise of preservationists and tribes by ultimately signing a deal preserving 252 acres of the ancient American Indian village through a conservation easement granted to the nonprofit Utah Open Lands. UTA agreed to build its station and accompanying development farther north.
Seems that Herbert, or a close friend of his or big contributor to his campaign coffers, along with Greg Curtis, and others, were cut out of money when publicity heated up about the proposed location of the rail station.  Herbert cut his losses and made himself look like a big hero to preservationists and Native American groups by allowing the conservation easement to go through, but the other guys have egg on their faces.  Herbert's is a good guy - NOT.  As Governor, he's in charge of the "Executive Branch" of state government that was given the authority by the State Legislature to make the necessary "budget cuts."  Three people under his control who caused trouble for he and his buddies were fired.  The Governor preserved one "new" position for the State Archaeological Office but didn't offer it to any of the three former employees.  So, how much money was actually saved?  But no, it's not about politics at all.

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