Idaho Attorney General rules two ACHD commissioners violated open meeting law through ‘serial meeting’

From the Idaho Press

By Xavier Ward
xward@idahopress.com

Following an exchange of emails between Ada County Highway District commissioners, the Idaho Attorney General has ruled that ACHD commissioners Jim Hansen and Kent Goldthorpe violated the open meeting laws by creating a “serial meeting” through the email exchange.

The commission had turned Hansen’s emails over to the prosecutor after Hansen sent an email to commissioners Paul Woods and Kent Goldthorpe regarding his conditions for publicly supporting the November ballot measure to raise registration fees. The Attorney General’s Office also determined that Goldthorpe’s conduct was also a violation of open meetings laws.

After receiving Hansen’s email, Goldthorpe forwarded the email to a personal email address, then forwarded the message to personal email accounts of commissioners Paul Woods, Rebecca Arnold and Commission President Sara Baker, according to a letter sent to ACHD director Bruce Wong from the Attorney General’s Office.

Goldthorpe did not supply the Attorney General with a reason he used a personal account for ACHD business, or why he forwarded the email to other commissioners’ non-ACHD emails. The letter “strongly cautions against” using personal email addresses for ACHD business in the future.

Goldthorpe did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline.

“I have always been a strong advocate for open meetings,” Hansen wrote in response to the findings. “I always intend and expect to have the issues that the people I represent care about fully aired in open public processes. The AG’s interpretation is very helpful. Better policies happen when the public is invited to fully engage.”

Hansen’s conduct was first criticized in a staff report that was later handed over to the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The prosecutor then passed the matter to the Attorney General’s Office.

The staff report alleged that Hansen emailing multiple commissioners separately constituted a “serial meeting,” meaning a quorum had been established as three commissioners were involved.

Hansen said at the time he did not believe the emails to be a violation because no decision was reached.

The staff report points out that Idaho law states any meeting of elected officials “is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

Hansen also said at the time that he considered the registration fee matter closed, as the commission had voted to add the measure to the ballot July 11.

However, the commission still needed to verify the ballot language, so the issue was not technically closed, the staff report alleged.

The measure seeks to raise Ada County’s maximum vehicle registration fee from $40 to $70.

Motorists registering a vehicle in Ada County pay the county fee at the same time as the state fee. With the proposed increase, registration costs for Ada County vehicles would be $139 for vehicles 1-2 years old. Vehicles 3-6 years old would cost $120, and any vehicle 7 years or older would have a registration fee of $87.

Because no action has been taken on registration fees since the emails were sent in early August, the commission must simply acknowledge the violation occurred during a meeting prior to Sept. 14 to cure the open meetings violation.

The AG did not recommend that Hansen or Goldthorpe pay a fine for the open meetings infraction.

Xavier Ward covers Ada County for The Idaho Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @XavierAWard.

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