Attorney general says Ada officials broke law

From the Idaho Statesman

By Brad Hem, Idaho Statesman

Ada County commissioners broke three Idaho laws when they met privately with a Boise City Council member to discuss city-county relations and a proposed development east of Boise, the Idaho attorney general’s office said in a civil complaint Wednesday.

Commission Chairman Rick Yzaguirre and commissioners Judy Peavey-Derr and Fred Tilman voted to meet June 15 with Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt in executive session because, they have said, they were discussing issues that could lead to lawsuits. Bisterfeldt and Yzaguirre later acknowledged they also brought up issues that could have been discussed in an open meeting.

State law requires government bodies to meet publicly so residents can scrutinize their actions. The law allows elected officials to choose to use executive sessions to discuss personnel matters, real estate purchases and other sensitive matters, including discussion about potential lawsuits with legal counsel. In the civil complaint filed Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General William von Tagen noted the commissioners’ attorney was not at the meeting.

“No valid reason existed for the defendants to hold an executive session on June 15, 2005,” von Tagen wrote. “The deliberations that took place with Councilman Bisterfeldt constituted an illegal meeting of the Ada County Board of County Commissioners in violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law.”

Von Tagen also said the commissioners violated two other laws because they failed to record minutes of the meeting, as required by law. The commissioners, who have consistently denied breaking the law, have 20 days to respond to the complaint.

Peavey-Derr said the commissioners did not intend to hold an illegal meeting, and they were still reviewing the complaint before deciding how to respond.

“We’re analyzing it at this point,” she said. “We thought we were doing the right thing.”

If the commissioners deny the AG’s allegations, a judge would decide the case.

The maximum penalty for holding an illegal meeting is a $150 fine for each commissioner. Commissioners would pay it personally, not from county money.

The AG’s office investigated the matter after getting a complaint from Tony Jones, an opponent of Skyline Development’s proposed 1,000-home development in the Foothills east of Boise. The commissioners discussed the development with Bisterfeldt during the meeting.

“I’m pleased (the AG) agrees with me,” Jones said. “Though it’s not really cause for much celebration. A $150 penalty is not much of a deterrent when you consider the project could be worth tens of millions of dollars.”

Von Tagen said the penalty is not the point for his office.

“We’re not so much interested in penalties,” he said. “We’re just interested in deterring violations of the Open Meeting Law.”

From the Idaho Statesman

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