Man’s battle with Ada County leads to an award

From the Idaho Statesman

Curtis Massood receives the honor in recognition of his efforts on behalf of open government.

BY JOE ESTRELLA – jestrella@idahostatesman.com
Edition Date: 05/10/08

Curtis Massood wasn’t looking for a fight when he asked Ada County for permission to build a billboard adjacent to a small coffee shop at 1035 E. Fairview Ave.

But he got one.

On Friday, two years after the county denied his request, the owner of Canyon Outdoor Media in Boise was presented with the 2008 Max Dalton Open Government Award for a successful lawsuit that declared the county’s e-mail system inaccessible to the public.

Along with the award, Massood received a $2,000 check, which he donated to The Shepherd’s Home, a children’s group shelter home in McCall.

The Max Dalton Award is dedicated to a former Idaho resident whose 1981 lawsuit against the Idaho Dairy Products Commission resulted in a landmark Idaho Supreme Court ruling reinforcing the public’s right to have access to state records.

“Curtis Massood has done an incredible service to the citizens of Ada County by ensuring the spirit of the Idaho Public Records Act is fulfilled,” said Idaho Newspaper Foundation Executive Director Tom Grote.

The legal fight with the county began when Kandy Sealy, a 50-year-old widow, and her father, an 88-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, opened a coffee shop at the site on East Fairview Avenue after being greenlighted by the Ada County Department of Health, Massood said.

County planning officials told Sealy she needed to deal with Meridian city officials because the site was in that city’s impact area and would eventually be annexed, Massood said. When Sealy approached Meridian, he said, she was told she needed a $120,000 city sewer line to her shop.

In the meantime, the county had denied Massood’s request to put up his billboard adjacent to the coffee shop, arguing that it did not have the authority because the property would soon become part of Meridian, he said.

“I told the commissioners that they were trying to force annexation,” Massood said.

Acting under the Freedom of Information Act, Massood asked to see all e-mails between county employees and county agencies involving his case. What he got was a bill for $5,685.12, which the county claimed was the cost of complying with his request. He paid the bill, only to receive a second for $164,700.

“It was a real mess,” said Massood, who estimates it cost up to $80,000 in lawyer’s fees to win his case. “But the Legislature has clearly stated that e-mails are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”

The two sides landed in court last year.

Massood said the county fell into a trap when it told Judge Kathryn Sticklen that it would involve too much work to retrieve the e-mails.

Sticklen ruled late last year that such a system put county e-mails out of the public’s reach and ordered that the county produce the e-mails.

“They finally had to admit that it would only require about two or three hours of work,” Massood said “We finally got about 20 of them last week, and some today (Friday).”

Massood’s billboard finally went up about two weeks ago, he said.

However, the story did not have a happy ending for Sealy or her father.

Their coffee shop was open for only a short time before they had to close it because most of their capital had been consumed in their fight with the county, Massood said.

Joe Estrella: 377-6465

From the Idaho Statesman

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