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.


At December 13, 2009 at 10:56 PM , Anonymous District 1 said...

How could it be?
The attached photos of the bus signs (in ACHD's letter to VRT) illustrate how common sense is lacking in VRT and ACHD.

WHO in the hellll would stick a bus sign right in front of a speed sign? There are many misplaced signs around town. When a bus might have to stop at a traffic light for a RED light, that is a pretty good place for bus stop/sign. NOT on the other side of the intersection to block traffic, and not 40 yards prior to the traffic light to force two stops..

McKee's letter supports her negative attitude and her skills (spelling, grammar, and manners). The ACHD letter only illustrates poor management by the Director and the Commissioners (since McKee is the Pres the strike is on her).


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