AG: Cassia Co. commissioners did not violate law

From the Twin Falls Times-News

By Damon Hunzeker, Staff writer

Members of the Cassia County Board of Commissioners sometimes eat lunch together, sometimes bump into each other around town, sometimes discuss personal opinions privately. But according to a report issued by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office Wednesday, they have not violated the Idaho Open Meetings Act.

In March, 12 residents of the Jackson area sent a letter to Cassia County Attorney Al Barrus alleging various improprieties and negligence from county commissioners regarding the law.

“Because you represent the Cassia County Commission on legal matters, we request that an independent prosecutor be appointed,” they wrote.

Barrus forwarded the complaint to the attorney general’s office – which, five months later, refuted the allegations.

The dispute began several years ago when the Jackson area was re-zoned from Minidoka County coordinates and brought into Cassia County, after which residents claimed emergency-service calls were ineffectually received, based upon confusion arising from the address changes.

Jackson citizens wanted to retain Minidoka County status. Cassia County Planning and Zoning agreed with them. The commissioners disagreed, and the residents were zoned away from their former county.

That happened two years ago. The residents attempted to incorporate a new town – Jackson – which would be part of Minidoka County. The request was denied by Cassia County commissioners.

Meetings and deliberations ensued – often, according to Jackson residents’ complaints, without sufficient notice given to the public and sometimes during executive session.

The Open Meetings Act requires that “all meetings of a governing body of a public agency shall be open to the public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting except as otherwise provided by this act.”

While granting executive-session allowances that prevent the public from attending during those moments, OMA prohibits the agency from taking any final action during that time.

The complainants’ letter includes five specific allegations and asks that their zoning address be returned to Minidoka County.

However, according to the attorney general’s report, the grievances “fail to meet the timing provisions of the OMA” – which requires that, in order to declare a decision null and void, it needs to be brought forth within 30 days of the time that OMA was violated.

That wasn’t done – regardless, the report denies that the commission violated anything in the first place.

While acknowledging the frustrations of Jackson residents regarding inadequate emergency services, the attorney general investigation found no reason to reverse the commission’s zoning-change decision, nor any reason to consider the commission in violation of OMA.

“A review of the record reveals that the board engaged in significant public debate over the issues and provided multiple opportunities for input and commentary from the Jackson residents,” the report states.

From the Twin Falls Times-News

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