Burley and Cassia County officials sidestep state open-meeting law

From the Twin Falls Times-News

BURLEY — A collection of city of Burley and Cassia County officials dodged potential violations of Idaho open-meeting laws Tuesday morning by asking one Burley Public Safety Committee member to leave negotiations for shared police services.

Both sides met Tuesday in Burley to discuss the expired contract for Burley’s $1.5 million annual share of Cassia County Sheriff’s Office costs, but there was a problem before the meeting started. With Burley city councilmen Casey Andersen and Jay Lenkersdorfer in attendance, Tuesday’s gathering was, in effect, an improperly scheduled meeting of Burley’s three-member safety committee.

Idaho open meeting law dictates that any gathering of the majority of a governing body must be announced and posted in a public location at least 24 hours prior to the meeting’s start. Tuesday’s meeting was not, which presented a problem when Burley Mayor Terry Greenman asked for it to be conducted behind closed doors.

“We don’t want this to be in the papers,” Greenman said after requesting to close the gathering to the public. “We don’t negotiate in the papers. And Sheriff, you have taken the liberty of going to the papers now with several comments. We see that as spin, and you’re spinning your side of this already for the public benefit, and frankly that’s uncalled for.”

But before the gathering could proceed, Burley City Attorney Kelly Anthon, Cassia County Prosecutor Al Barrus and County Administrator Kerry McMurray left to confer on its legality with both Andersen and Lenkersdorfer present. Both men volunteered to excuse themselves, and ultimately, Andersen lost a coin flip and was asked to leave.

“We have two of them here,” Anthon said of the committee after meeting with Barrus and McMurray, “so if we conduct a meeting and discuss business, we’ll have a violation of law because we did not provide notice.”

With Andersen out of the picture, the gathering was closed to the public and private negotiations moved forward. Greenman, Lenkersdorfer and Anthon were joined by City Administrator Mark Mitton. County representation included Barrus, McMurray, Commissioner Paul Christensen, Sheriff Randy Kidd and Undersheriff George Warrell.

While city and county officials’ actions helped them avoid any violation of Idaho law, their decision didn’t exactly meet muster with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s guidelines for holding public meetings.

According to Wasden’s Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual: “The requirement that the Open Meeting Law be complied with whenever a quorum of a governing body meets to deliberate or make a decision should not be evaded by holding smaller meetings with less than a quorum present or by having a go-between contact each of the governing body members to ascertain his/her sentiment.”

Cassia County officials will hold a properly scheduled and announced meeting to discuss road matters and law-enforcement issues at 8:30 a.m. today at the Cassia County Courthouse in Burley.

From the Twin Falls Times-News

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