Ada County commissioners’ actions brush up against Idaho Open Meeting Law once more

From the Idaho Statesman

BY KEVIN FIXLER

For the second time this year, the Ada County Board of Commissioners has prompted questions about a potential violation of Idaho Open Meeting Law over its handling of an appointment to the region’s public health board.

Just days before the three-member commission was set to convene for public interviews with three doctors competing for a vacancy on the Central District Health Board of Health, at least two of the commissioners exchanged emails identifying one’s preferred candidate. The appointment became baldly partisan, commissioners also acknowledged, once the Ada County Republican Party and other conservative groups threw their support behind one candidate and launched an extensive email campaign, while a progressive organization named The Idaho 97 Project publicly pushed for an opposing applicant.

In a written reply to an Idaho Statesman reporter in the days leading up to the public meeting, Commissioner Rod Beck, who acts as chair of the commission, divulged that he and Commissioner Kendra Kenyon had corresponded about her prior responses to a similar list of questions. Included among those answers in Beck’s possession was Kenyon confirming Dr. Sky Blue, an infectious disease specialist backed by the majority of the region’s medical community, as her top choice.

State law holds that a meeting between two county commissioners constitutes a quorum, but the Idaho Attorney General’s Office does not interpret that to bar all communication between commissioners. However, any private discussions, including emails, that could be seen as “deliberation” on an item coming before a commission for a vote are prohibited.

“ ‘Deliberation’ means the receipt or exchange of information or opinion relating to a decision, but shall not include informal or impromptu discussions of a general nature that do not specifically relate to a matter then pending before the public agency for decision,” Idaho’s law states.

Beck, a Republican who represents District 2, rejected the idea that the email exchange he initiated with Kenyon constituted a potential violation of the state law requiring all public business be conducted in an open forum. Earlier this year, he and fellow Republican Commissioner Ryan Davidson drew scrutiny over a prior CDH board appointment, leading to an investigation by a prosecuting attorney from a neighboring county.

“I see no issues at all regarding the Idaho Open Meeting Law. We at the Ada County Commission follow all relevant laws of the State of Idaho and the Federal Government,” Beck wrote in an email to the Statesman.

Kenyon, who represents District 3 and is the commission’s lone Democrat, also denied that her exchange with Beck ahead of the noticed meeting on Aug. 9 could be construed as a violation of law. After interviews with Blue and Drs. Stan Moss and Ryan Cole, the commission chose to delay its scheduled appointment selection from last week to Tuesday, Aug. 17.

“Never have I deliberated on this matter with my fellow commissioners outside an open meeting that was placed on the agenda for public view,” Kenyon said by email. “For an open meeting violation to occur, deliberations and decision making between two commissioners would need to occur that was not public and noticed.”

From the Idaho Statesman

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