Thursday, December 10, 2009

Idaho Open Meeting Law

Yesterday the ACHD commission had a visit from an Assistant Idaho Attorney General to give us what in essence was a primer on the Idaho Open Meeting Law. There have been a few changes in the last legislative session or two, which quite frankly I think were prompted by l'affaire Judy Peavey Derr and the $35,000 tax bill to Ada County taxpayers so she could fight a $150 fine for violating the open meeting law.

Two important components of the Open Meeting Law are notice and review. Citizens need to be informed of when and where the meetings are and what's on the agenda and this should be done in a timely manner. There will be times when this is not possible and the law allows for that. This constitutes the notice.

Review is providing minutes of the meetings so that the public, who may not have been there (may? let's be real and call it weren't) can review the actions taken at the public meetings. There is a bare minimum of what is required in the minutes like which members were present and what actions were taken. This is pretty bare stuff. But it is just a minimum and a public body can go beyond the minimum as much, or as little, as they want. (I believe this is an area of the law which is deficient, but that's a fight for another day.)

What struck me about his presentation were the questions from the ACHD commissioners.

As you know, I have been advocating since January 2009 for more transparency in ACHD dealings. I think we should tape all our meetings, not just those at the dais, because those pre-commission meetings are where we give direction to staff and truly make our decisions in the giving of that direction.

One of the questions was do we have to tape the meetings? The answer was no, of course, but the attorney also pointed out that more transparency and information given to the public was better than less. I don't think that answer was greeted with much regard or happiness.

Another question was, if we decide to tape all our meetings and "forget" to tape a meeting, is that a violation? The answer, no because it's not required under the law.

The winner of the most patently obvious question designed to put a shiv in one's back (mine and Sharon Ullman's) was thus, "if someone writes something in a blog and it's not right (read doesn't give glowing paeans to ACHD) is there some recourse? Remember the incident with Sharon Ullman's blog that I previously detailed? Well, there was a very strong letter that followed, although the final draft was less inflammatory than the second draft. You can read the ACHD "response" on Sharon's blogsite.

I think some on the ACHD Commission forget that we have a First Amendment right to free speech under our Constitution, the same Constitution that the ACHD Commissioners swear to uphold. Sometimes things get written or things get said that one doesn't agree with. Sometimes you just have to live with those and sometimes you fight free speech with more free speech as the other commissioners did with responding to Sharon Ullman's blog. In this case, the free speech wasn't really free to taxpayers since the ACHD attorney was tasked with writing the letter(s) and he's the highest paid person at ACHD. But you get my point.

Anyway, the answer to that question was as public officials, the rules of libel are different than for an average person. But simply having an opinion is not libel. And reporting on what happens in a public meeting is certainly not actionable and is certainly not libelous. And sometimes the reporting that happens in a blog is the only reporting on public meetings that occurs - which is sad but true in so many cases.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Items of Interest

Here is a small compendium of things ACHD followers might find of interest. Certainly you will never see these reported in the media.

Remember the Blueprint for Good Growth? It's moving again, somewhat, and one figure that may shock you is that a review of all the comprehensive plans from the 6 cities and Ada County show a buildout of population in Ada County of 2.7 million people. Of course, that's in 75 years, however, since we are now at a little over 400,000 population, we're talking 8 times as populated. If you want to see what's happening with Blueprint go here and click on the update in the Work Session.

Construction projects bid by ACHD are coming in vastly under what was estimated. This is obviously due to the economy. Construction firms are hungry and there isn't a lot of work in the private sector for them to do. For example, the Ten Mile Rd project from Franklin Rd to Cherry Lane came in $2.5 million under estimate/budget. The savings will be put to the project on Eagle Rd from Victory Rd to Ridenbaugh to accelerate that construction. A lot of people will be happy about this, I'm sure.

Earlier this year, I told you that we had some surplus property for sale. The auctions on those properties are now a go. (You must understand that the wheels of government grind exceedingly slow.) This is a great deal for taxpayers since currently, the land creates no income for ACHD, has to be maintained and it's off the tax rolls meaning every other property makes up for it. UPDATE The properties are offered by silent auction from December 21st thru January 4. Good luck if you're bidding.

ACHD uses the Community Work Program inmates from the Ada County jail to help keep weeds down and pick up leaves from the sidewalks and gutters. This is really a win/win. If you know of a public location that needs attention, give ACHD a call at 387-6100.

I've noticed that the Statesman does not include the ACHD agendas in their "what's happening in government" section. You can easily access our agendas. This page also gets you to the archives where you can review documents presented at the regular meetings, view video of the meetings, and now can view documents presented at the work sessions or pre/post commission meetings. Anything not at the dais alas, is not officially recorded or taped - yet. Someday, someday ACHD will see the wisdom of transparency. Now I know that ACHD meetings seem dry as dust, but don't tell me you don't find this column pretty darn interesting!