UI student senate to continue keeping meetings open

From the Associated Press

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — The University of Idaho student senate has decided to keep its meetings open to the public.

Voting Wednesday, the Senate shot down a proposal that would have stamped out the body’s voluntary adherence to Idaho’s open meeting law. The vote was 8-4, with some of the student senators in favor of closing the meetings, saying the body needed private discussions outside the knowledge of the administration.

“If the need arises to oppose the administration, we need to be able to operate behind closed doors,” Sen. James Fox, who voted for the bill, told the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

Sen. Ryan Marsh voted against the bill.

“I feel like we’re trying to get around the rules and laws with this proposal,” he said.

The debate about open meetings began after the Senate went into executive session, a closed meeting allowed only under strict guidelines in the open meeting law, two weeks ago. The Senate cited a private personnel discussion, a valid reason for an executive session.

But senators emerged from the closed meeting and immediately voted to cut the Vandal Taxi program, nicknamed the “drunk bus,” with no public deliberation.

A week later, Sen. Travis Shofner revealed that the Vandal Taxi program was in fact discussed in the closed meeting. Shofner was censured by the Senate for the revelation, and the outcry that followed led to the proposal to end the Senate’s voluntary adherence to the open meeting law.

The bill’s author, senate policy adviser Chris Dockrey, fumed after the vote and refused to indicate whether he would present a different version of his bill in the future.

He did speak in an open forum as the meeting began. “(This bill) will help this organization function more smoothly and achieve more for the students of this university by minimizing unnecessary side dialogue and noise and instead let the issues of the times take center stage,” he said.

Sen. Eric Everett said that passing the bill would have been admitting the senate had done something wrong.

“We have followed the Idaho open meeting law for years and had no problems until now because we are reacting to a perceived wrongdoing,” he said, maintaining the executive session didn’t violate the senate bylaws.

Everett also noted the Senate is entrusted with student money.

“We are spending the student fee dollars, and we are expected to spend it wisely,” he said.

From the Associated Press

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