Like President Bill Clinton who had trouble with the meaning of “is,” Ada County officials are wrangling with “when is a meeting not a meeting?”
In a good faith effort to err on the good side of Idaho’s “Open Meeting Law,” the Ada county commissioners posted a legal agenda item for Wednesday which included a meeting at the ultra exclusive private Arid Club to discuss “Commitments on a Detox Center.”
The commissioners destroyed their credibility by altering the posted on-line agenda AFTER THE FACT, eliminating any mention of “the meeting that never was.”
When media reporters and the GUARDIAN showed up for what was advertised as a public meeting, the meeting was suddenly canceled. Sheriff Gary Raney and Commission Chairman Rick Yzaguirre were both conferring via cell phone in the parking lot of the Arid Club at meeting time. Several mayors and city councilors from Ada County cities were already inside, but Raney insisted there was no meeting. To prove his point he eventually drove away in his hot new hemi car.
He said since only one commissioner (Yzaguirre) was present,
their meeting was not really a meeting. The GUARDIAN quoted an Idaho Attorney General’s open meeting law guide book which cautions against evading the law by meeting with less than a quorum present. More phone calls and more buzz between Raney and Yzaguirre. Both Raney and Yzaguirre made comments about the detox center being in jeopardy due to media attention.
Yzaguirre gathered his thoughts and did a pretty good on camera interview when he told Channel 2 the meeting should have been open to media and public and he (and the other commissioners) questioned the propriety of holding a meeting at an exclusive private club. He indicated that is why the other two members stayed away. He too drove off without attending.
Lost in all this drama is the issue at hand. The need for a drug and alcohol detox center is probably uncontested by all concerned, but how to fund such a facility is problematic.
In a nutshell, Raney figures it will cost $3 million to add a detox center in his new medical wing of the jail. He has stumped around the county at various city council meetings pitching a plan to have the county pony up $1 million, Boise City chip in another million and the hospitals share the third $1 million. He figures it will cost about $800,000 a year to operate.
Apparently the non meeting at the Arid Club was hosted by Ed Dahlberg, the head honcho at St. Lukes, to discuss his hospital’s role or non role in the plan.
Elected officials at all levels cannot expect to enjoy the public trust when they attend quiet private meetings with big money executives without media oversight. Everyone should attend the same meetings regardless of economic or social status.
The Idaho Statesman took heat from the sheriff and Yzaguirre for the Wednesday front page story detailing Raney’s plan. The paper is torn (no pun intended) between informing its readers and honoring the politico’s goal of establishing a detox treatment center in Ada County.
The goals should NOT be mutually exclusive.
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