Military Reserve Bike Park opponents request investigation into process

From the Idaho Press

By MARGARET CARMEL

BOISE — City Council is poised to approve a controversial mountain bike skills park in the Military Reserve, amid resistance to the project.

On Friday, Boise attorney Bruce Bistline delivered a letter on behalf of three groups to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office requesting an investigation into both the process Boise City Council used to approve the project and an alleged open meetings law violation. According to Ada County spokeswoman Kate McGwire, the office has received the letter and is currently reviewing it.

Bistline is also challenging Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in the November election.

The proposed park has stirred up a lot of opposition, both from nearby residents who oppose the project itself and those who feel that the city was not transparent enough in the planning process for the multi-acre, $2 million park.

The park was initially proposed in January 2018 and will be fully paid for by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation as a donation. Once complete, the park would revert to city management. The park was proposed by the foundation, but the project was kept secret from the public until the Boise City Council voted to approve it on the consent agenda at a March meeting to formally accept the donation and enter into the development agreement.

City officials said the foundation wished to remain anonymous until the the project was approved by council, which meant that it was rolled out to the public once it passed. An open house was held immediately after the announcement, where residents could provide input on the new dog park and restrooms that will be built in the neighboring flood basin as part of the project but not offer input about whether or not the park should be constructed.After two rounds of appeals, City Council voted last week to approve the permits necessary to build the park but required the Parks and Recreation Commission to hold a public hearing on the project on Nov. 15. However, this will only be about the master plan for the park itself and not whether the agreements to build it should be approved. Those agreements were unanimously authorized at Thursday’s Parks and Recreation Commission meeting and are on City Council’s consent agenda for Tuesday.

Bistline, who is representing Hailey-based nonprofit Wildlands Defense, Friends of Military Reserve and Colorado-based nonprofit Great Old Broads for Wilderness, said accepting a gift without allowing the public to weigh in is not appropriate.

“It’s like deciding you’re going on a trip, buying a ticket and then asking your family what they think about you going on a trip,” he said.

In his letter, Bistline cites city code outlining the duties of the Parks and Recreation Commission, which includes reviewing development and licensing agreements of projects over $1,500 as evidence that the process was handled improperly. Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway defended the process, saying although that is a duty of the commission, because the Albertson Foundation did not want the public to know about the donation until it was approved by council, going before the commission was not possible.

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This is not the first time the city has followed a similar process with accepting a donation. Several projects, including the rebuild of Rhodes Skatepark and Esther Simplot Park, were paid for with donations that were not publicized until council voted to approve them.

“From a (city) staff standpoint and from a foundation standpoint it appeared as though the bike skills park would have been a great gift from the city,” he said. “I don’t think anybody anticipated that the neighborhood would have the reaction that they had.”

Although council approved the hillside and floodplain development permits to construct the park last week, at the meeting, several council members voiced concerns about the current policy to allow donors to remain anonymous and not share projects until after they are approved. Holloway said that once his office receives guidance from council he will work on a new policy that will allow public input before project approval.

“In the future one of the options is we would say to the donor, ‘Before we accept the gift there is going to be some public process outside of your giving to gauge public reaction to the gift,’ depending on what that gift is,” he said.

Bistline also alleges that council broke Idaho open meetings law by discussing the project in a series of memos instead of talking about the project at a work session or council meeting and instead used memos to alert council of the project. Council President Lauren McLean confirmed in an email provided to the Idaho Press by Bistline that the project was originally planned for an executive session in January but was taken off because it did not meet the requirements for what could be discussed behind closed doors.

Opponents of the bike park have completed extensive public record requests to look at memos and other documents related to the project, but 248 of those were considered exempt because of attorney/client privilege, according to the packet included with Bistline’s letter.

“We believe from this record and the Council’s decision (last week) it is now reasonable to conclude the Council was engaging in a private deliberative process ‘via’ a stunningly large number of internally circulated ‘memos’ for the express purpose of concealing that deliberative process,” Bistline’s letter said.

City spokesman Mike Journee said council stands behind its actions thus far.

“I think that mayor and council, as they made clear Tuesday night, felt comfortable with the process and felt comfortable with their decision,” he said.

From the Idaho Press

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