Central District Health voids, reissues Stage 3 order to address Open Meeting Law violation

From the Idaho Press

By BLAKE JONES

After learning that its previous order to move Ada County back to Stage 3 violated Idaho’s Open Meeting Law, Central District Health’s Board of Health held an emergency meeting Friday to fix the issue.

The board voided the previous order to close bars and limit gatherings to 50 people, which took effect Wednesday, and issued a new, identical one, which is effective immediately.

During the brief meeting Friday, attorney Michael Kane told the board the violation was caused by the lack of advanced notice for the board’s June 20 emergency meeting. Kane said because of the coronavirus’ accelerating spread in Ada County, health district staff recommended that the board act without 24 hours’ advanced notice to the public to avoid “further injury or damage.”

The Open Meeting Law, however, doesn’t require 24 hours’ advanced meeting notice for emergency meetings.

This issue, rather, was the board’s failure to alert the media ahead of Saturday’s meeting, according to Don Day, who runs the independent news site BoiseDev.com and has a content-share agreement with the Idaho Press. Day wrote in an article Friday that he raised the issue about the lack of notice with the health district.

“Idaho State Code requires that agencies notify the media of the emergency meeting,” Day’s article states. “Central District Health did not inform BoiseDev, even though we are on their media list.”

District staff looked into it and determined that “an inadvertent open meeting violation occurred,” Kane told the board Friday. The board, however, did not discuss BoiseDev or the lack of media notice specifically.

Kane did say the notice wasn’t posted online or at the office “due to employees working from home.”

Idaho’s Open Meeting Law requires government agencies, for regular meetings, to give five days’ notice and post an agenda at least 48 hours beforehand. Special meetings only requires 24 hours’ notice.

For emergency meetings, the law only requires that the agency maintains a list of journalists requesting notification of meetings and makes a “good faith effort” to provide advance notice to them.

The Open Meetings Law, found in Title 74, Chapter 2 of Idaho Code, defines an emergency as “a situation involving injury or damage to persons or property, or immediate financial loss, or the likelihood of such injury, damage or loss.”

Friday’s meeting was accessible to the public via online video conference and phone; a meeting notice and agenda were emailed to the media an hour before the meeting started, as well as posted to the district’s website.

REOPENING STAGES

Though Ada County is in Stage 3 per the health district order, the rest of the state remains in Stage 4 of the governor’s Idaho Rebounds reopening plan, which allows all businesses to be open, with guidelines on social distancing and other safety measures.

Central District Health oversees four counties: Ada, Blaine, Elmore and Valley.

After seeing a spike of COVID-19 cases in Ada County this month, the health district on Monday rolled the county back to Stage 3 of reopening, which forced bars to close and limited gatherings to 50 people.

Health district officials said the county’s numbers of infection were higher than they have been since late March and early April, and said the infection rate rivals that of Blaine County’s rate earlier in the pandemic — which at one point had one of the highest rates in the country, the Idaho Press reported earlier this week.

The week of June 7, Ada County saw 51 COVID-19 cases, according to Central District Health. Last week, Ada County logged 273 cases, and as of late afternoon Friday, 583 cases had been reported for the week in the county.

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