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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Sep 21, 2005, 5:28 pm
While one commissioner and a Sheriff do not necessarily a public meeting make, IF the purpose of the conversation is to provide information which will be necessary to a later action by the full commission, this is certainly an ex parte contact. Elected Officials are frequently counseled against such contacts because of the inadvertent ease with which they happen if caution is not exercised. That not withstanding, Ada and other surrounding Counties are in desperate need of a detox center, as well as residential, long term treatement facilities. Nearly everyone incarcerated at the current time is there because of an addiction, first and foremost. WE ALL pay for this social problem at the current time. I am fairly appalled, if not surprised, at Nancy Merrill’s comment….as though Eagle is not impacted by the problem that exists. I understand statutory and political toes will likely be stepped on with this one, but a facility NEEDS to happen, sooner than later. As for whether the jail is a good spot. I think that while those in active addiction have impaired reasoning, the first time ACSO uses information gained by admission to the detox center to make an arrest….the center loses all credibility and ceases to be of utility to those who need it so badly. Those who question the need should log-on to Adasheriff.org and go to the jail roster…look into the eyes of people who need this detox center. I hesitate to say that those who know addiction would not quibble about who pays for what.
Sep 22, 2005, 8:12 am
Once again, what kind of legal advice are the Commissioners receiving from their 12 attorneys and Ted Argyle in the civil division of the prosecuting attorneys’ office? These Commissioners have been around long enough that they should know what consitutes a public meeting and if they don’t, then their lawyers (averaging at least $50K a year for each) should have advised them. The civil division’s only obligation is providing legal advice and services to the county, and primarily to the Commissioners on issues such as public meeting laws. Why aren’t the Commissioners calling their attorneys? Do they not respect their advice?
Ed note–We can only guess who was on the other end of Yazguirre’s cell phone(photo above), but he drove away from the meeting when he hung up.