Council violates open meetings law

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

Idaho Falls City Council member Ken Taylor acknowledged he and two council members violated Idaho open meetings law during Thursday night’s budget hearing at City Hall.

Following two hours of intense public testimony, council members and Mayor Jared Fuhriman called for a short recess in the meeting. During the break, Taylor said he and council members Mike Lehto and Ida Hardcastle discussed their stance and voting preference on a proposed property tax increase behind closed doors.

When the meeting resumed a few moments later, Taylor announced to the roughly 50 people in attendance that council members had changed their minds and would not pursue a property tax increase.

Idaho law states: “It is the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

Taylor admitted the breach Friday after he was questioned by the Post Register.

“First off, we screwed up, we did it wrong and I take responsibility,” Taylor said.

During meetings, council members can meet behind closed doors in an executive session, but only for a handful of specific reasons and only if a motion to do so is approved.

No one made a motion to go into executive session Thursday night. After the meeting resumed, council members eventually voted 5-0 to pass the 2012-13 city budget without raising property tax rates.

Because of the apparent open meetings law violation, the validity of the budget vote appeared to be in question.

“If an action, or any deliberation or decision-making that leads to an action, occurs at any meeting which fails to comply with the provisions of sections 67-2340 through 67-2346, Idaho Code, such action shall be null and void,” Idaho law states.

State law also provides for civil penalties of up to $50 for anyone violating the rules.

Taylor, who was traveling Friday, said he spoke with City Attorney Dale Storer and Fuhriman about the issue.

He said the city plans to publicly admit the violation. He said he believes that by coming clean, the budget vote will not become void.

“We’re going to do that, admit guilt,” Taylor said.

Fuhriman and council members Sharon Parry and Tom Hally did not participate in the closed-door discussion, Taylor said.

“I guess it would be really easy to categorize this as a city problem, but the mayor, Tom (Hally) and Sharon (Parry) were out of the loop on the infraction,” Taylor said. “It was Ida and me and Mike, but originally it was me and Mike.”

Efforts to reach Lehto and Hardcastle for comment Friday were unsuccessful. Council member Karen Cornwell was excused from the meeting and not involved in the breach.

Taylor said he made a mistake in the heat of the moment.

“I have never been in that position before and I didn’t know how to proceed,” Taylor said. “I did it wrong. Now, I know.”

Clark Corbin can be reached at 542-6761.

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

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