After open meeting violation, council re-passes city budget, apologizes

From the Idaho Falls Post Register
Members of the Idaho Falls City Council conducted a “do-over” Wednesday night, voting to adopt the city’s 2013 budget after publicly apologizing for breaking Idaho’s open meeting laws.

The violation occurred Aug. 23 during a recess of the city’s budget hearing when council members Ken Taylor, Mike Lehto and Ida Hardcastle held a closed-doors discussion on how they would vote on the $186 million spending plan.

Idaho law requires that governments conduct deliberations and votes in public. The violation of the law voided last week’s budget vote, forcing council members to vote again Wednesday night. Once again, they unanimously approved the budget that relies on the same property tax collections as during the previous three years.

Council members did not make any changes to the structure of the budget and never discussed a previous proposal to raise property taxes. They also did not conduct a full-blown budget hearing.

Resident Bryan Smith, an attorney who fought the proposal to raise taxes, asked to speak during Wednesday’s meeting. He was denied the floor after council members told him the session was not advertised as an official public hearing.

The Wednesday night meeting drew a near-capacity crowd despite only one day’s notice. It was first announced Tuesday. A lengthy and technical debate over open meetings law and the definition of a quorum consumed the first hour of the meeting.

Taylor said the violation was unintentional but added that he was wiser because of the lessons he learned. With his voice breaking at times, he asked for the public’s forgiveness and restored trust.

“I had no idea I had potentially violated open meetings law,” Taylor said. “I merely wanted to find a quiet place where we could visit with each other (during a recess in the meeting) without interruption.”

Lehto apologized and asked for additional open meetings training after saying there are significant “gray areas” in the law.

“I further believe that we are entering an era now, sadly, of public service that is going to be based, perhaps, on distrust and not the spirit of the law or the intent of the law, which I firmly believe the council did not violate,” Lehto said.

The tension increased when council member Sharon Parry said city attorney Dale Storer could not represent her on matters concerning open meetings because of what she described as his personal and professional conflicts.

Parry then called on her husband, attorney Steven Parry, to issue a statement on her behalf. The statement referenced a July 12 opinion column written by Storer that appeared in the Post Register. Storer’s column made reference to Sharon Parry and open meetings law.

Later in the statement, Parry criticized Storer for not intervening during the Aug. 23 violation and made accusations of secret “telephone polls” between council members that Parry said also violated open meetings laws.

“You, collectively, have a serious systematic problem that needs to be addressed,” Steven Parry said, reading from a prepared statement.

Council members agreed to discuss those issues and accusations at a later meeting after Sharon Parry asked Mayor Jared Fuhriman whether he wanted to “go toe-to-toe now and discuss these things.”

Clark Corbin can be reached at 542-6761.

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

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