Judge: Commishes Held Illegal Meeting

The Ada Commishes are stretching out their legal battle over holding a closed meeting last June 15 after Judge William H. Woodland declared the meeting to be illegal. He made the finding in response to a motion for summary judgment filed by the Idaho Attorney General’s office and the commishes are aiming to appeal.

The AG got the case because the Ada prosecutor had an obvious conflict of interest prosecuting the officials he also represents in legal matters. None of the local judges would take the case, hence Woodland was assigned.

The case has gone beyond common sense and raised the ire of GUARDIAN readers and county citizens in general. Simply put the commishes had a CLOSED DOOR meeting with Boise City Councilor Vern Bisterfeldt. According to his Bisterfeldt’s sworn statements and the findings of the court, matters not subject to “executive sessions” were discussed.

The judge agreed with the AG assertions that meetings closed to discuss “litigation or possible litigation” needed to have an attorney present and more substance than speculation by the elected officials closing the meeting to public scrutiny.

State law provides for civil fines up to $150 for each violation. The GUARDIAN suggested nearly a year ago the commishes admit they screwed up and make a donation to charity as penance…it would be hard to prosecute if they said, “We made a mistake. SORRY.”

Instead they hired a private attorney and paid him nearly $18,000 in taxpayer money to defend them. The guy lost the case for them and we hear he is now going to handle the appeal “pro bono” (free to you non-library types).

At least one commish claims the reason for keeping the battle alive is to “clarify the law.” Perhaps it is easy to argue PRINCIPLE if you don’t have to pay the PRINCIPAL. If they want clarification, how about supporting new legislation that will make the rules abundantly clear?

We figure the upcoming county election campaign will have some “clarifications” from voters.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Aldred F. Ames
    Mar 27, 2006, 10:36 pm

    Just part of the culture of the three commissioner form of County Structure. We would be better served by a more representative body of five or seven part-time citizen commissioners with a professional County Administrator.

  2. Elected officials (politicians) in this country, at all levels of government – federal, state, county, and city – seem to be intentionally trying to do the worst job of governing that they can imagine. They must hire consultants to advise them on how and what to screw up next. I am not optimistic. The political class and their masters, the business class, had better start doing a better job of governing or people who have to work for a living will take over, and start running this country for OUR benefit, not theirs.

  3. Each Commissioner should be forced to pay 1/3 of the total bill – if it would cost them $5,000 each they would knock this stupid behavior off TODAY.

    They are masters at spending our money and they really don’t care – because it is not coming out of their pockets. It comes out of our pockets!

    Someone needs to file a lawsuit to force them to personally pay the money back!!

  4. Perhaps Mr. Ames has something there. Elect, say, seven people from among the masses to serve as part-time coordinators of the operation of the County with a full-time person overseeing the day to day operations. Oh wait, that’s already how the City of Boise functions — but the full-time overseer in called Mayor and is elected by city residents instead of appointed by a small group of people. How is that working, by the way? In my opinion the answer is in the quality of the people elected — be it three, five, seven or whatever — not in what figure represents the right numbers or whether they’re full or part time.

  5. I’m with Mr. Ames…

  6. Sounds like our commishes are having the last ” horse-laugh” on the people at the Peoples expense.

    They are not only telling the taxpayers that ” We are above the Law” but if you are stupid enough to try to make us obey the law” we’ll spend your money getting ourselves off the hook.

    Local govt. is corrupt but this is the best example of the flagrant disregard of the law and of the welfare of the people of Ada County that Our County commissioner’s have shown during most of their terms in office.

  7. Meanwhile, the Ada Commission gets convicted for violation of the open meetings law and this website reacts with the kid gloves treatment. Rather than an aw shucks laugh it off with a wise crack or two, I had hoped to see a trustworthy Guardian take-down, complete with green eyeshade accounting of what this legal fiasco is costing all of us.

    For example, Mr. Furey may claim to be pro bono on his appeal for “clarification,” but an appeal means the Idaho Attorney General will have to pay the salaries of state attorneys to present the state’s side – what’s that going to cost us? We taxpayers also pay for the judges. I rather like the Idaho Statesman editorial suggestion that General Wasden bill the Ada Commissioners for what it has cost us so far.

    Guardian did a good job tracking this lawsuit the past few months. In fact, it seems the Commissioner’s story keeps changing just what they talked about with Vern. Last Friday Peavy was wearing the conviction as a badge of honor because the city did end up suing the county about Avimore after all. I thought they claimed the meeting was about EMS. Tony Jones commented several months ago on this site the meeting was about Hammer Flats. Just what did they discuss?

    EDITOR NOTE–Osprey, we agree with you on all counts! We were out of town and played “catch up” on the story, hence no daggers to the heart. You and our friends at the Statesman Editorial page have said it all at this point. Good Job all around.

  8. Sharon Ullman
    Mar 28, 2006, 11:18 pm

    Osprey, unfortunately the Statesman folks were not talking about the Attorney General’s office billing the three commissioners as private individuals for the State’s legal fees. They were talking about the AG’s office billing Ada County, the entity, so property taxpayers could end up paying this bill IN ADDITION to the $18,000 already spent. From Brad Hem’s March 25 front-page headline story, “Deputy Attorney General Bill Von Tagen said he might also consider asking Woodland to charge the county for the state’s legal fees, but he has not calculated what the amount would be.”

    Max said, “Someone needs to file a lawsuit to force them to personally pay the money back!!” Actually, several of us have thought of that before. The commissioners should be paying for this legal exercise out of their own pockets rather than out of ours. They are not doing this on our behalf, but on their own.

    At the commissioners’ March 24 news conference, Fred Tilman explained that the commissioners are entitled to a taxpayer-paid legal defense for all of the many decisions they make on a regular basis. I disagree. The Commission, or rather the entity of Ada County which the Commission represents, IS entitled to a legal defense at the expense of the taxpayers for all acts legally committed by the commissioners, such as making a decision about a subdivision. Nevertheless, that fact does not mean that the commissioners, as individuals, are entitled to a taxpayer-paid legal defense for illegal acts they have committed while doing their jobs.

    For example, if a commissioner were accused of stealing the County’s stash of petty cash, s/he would obviously be expected to pay for his/her own attorney and legal defense. The Open Meeting Law violation is exactly the same, but in this case, all three commissioners were caught committing the civil violation. Therefore, all three commissioners should be required to pay all of the legal fees, including those of the AG’s office, out of the $85,000 + annual salaries they have set for themselves.

    ED NOTE–Sharon Ullman is a candidate for Ada County Commission.

  9. Thank you all for your anger, you should be. The Ada County commissioners have 12 attorneys in the prosecutor’s civil division who have the primary task of providing legal advice to the commissioners. The commissioners are supposed to ask public meetings experts Jim Dickinson and Ted Argyle about whether the public meeting law applies to particular meetings, and are supposed to have the land use attorney, Ax Yewer, at meetings regarding development plans. The commissioners have disregarded their highly paid legal advisors to their detriment, so the ada county tax payers get to pay yet another attorney for legal advice. The commissioners’ excuses are lame; the tax payers of this county should be enraged.

  10. Sharon has my vote!

    ED NOTE–We will interpret that as a vote for the idea. We really don’t want to get into a candidate for and against or letter writing campaigns etc. Glad to discuss views, but the GUARDIAN really needs to refrain from taking positions on candidates.

  11. God (am I allowed to type that?) forbid we “refrain from taking positions on candidates”. I think that is what got us into this mess in the city, county, state and USA. There has to be one decent city, county and/or state in the USA. Where is it?

Get the Guardian by email

Enter your email address: