Open government seminars set in North Idaho

From IDOG

The public is invited to attend an upcoming free seminar on Idaho’s key open government laws – the Idaho Open Meeting Law and the Idaho Public Records Law – on May 29 in Moscow or Lewiston, or May 30 in Coeur d’Alene, led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

It’s a chance to learn what is covered by these important laws and how to comply, in a fun and accessible format. Presenters in addition to Wasden will include Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane and IDOG President Betsy Russell. Government agency employees, public officials, reporters, editors and photographers from all media, and interested citizens all are invited.

These sessions are recommended by the Office of the Attorney General, the Association of Idaho Cities, the Idaho Association of Counties and the Idaho Press Club. Admission is free; because space is limited, attendees are asked to RSVP:

  • Tues. May 29 – MOSCOW – Co-sponsored by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
    Moscow City Hall, Council Chambers, 206 E. Third St. ~ 1 pm
    RSVP to Devin Rokyta, (208) 882-5561 ext. 4637 or drokyta@dnews.com
  • Tues. May 29 – LEWISTON – Co-sponsored by the Lewiston Tribune and LCSC
    Lewis-Clark State College, Sacajawea Hall, 4 th St. & 7 th Ave. ~ 6 pm
    RSVP to A.L. “Butch” Alford Jr. (208) 848-2250 or alajr@lmtribune.com
  • Wed. May 30 – COEUR D’ALENE – Co-sponsored by The Coeur d’Alene Press,
    Coeur d’Alene Resort, Bay 4, 115 S. 2 nd St. ~ 1 pm
    RSVP to Holly Paszczynska, (208) 664-8176 ext. 2016 or hollyp@cdapress.com

IDOG and Wasden have been holding these sessions around the state since 2004. They are funded in part by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation through the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Best of the West Foundation, and the Idaho Media Project at Boise State University. Next year’s sessions will be in the Treasure Valley.

IDOG is a non-profit coalition for open government whose mission is to promote open government and freedom of information. There’s more information, plus an online “User’s Guide” to Idaho’s open government laws, available at IDOG’s website, www.openidaho.org.

From IDOG

A tax on public records? Idaho agency says yes, for now

From KUER 90.1 NPR Utah

Spurred by questions from KUER News, the Idaho State Tax Commission expects to introduce legislation next year that would prevent public agencies from collecting sales tax on documents and other records released by officials, KUER has learned.

Until a change is introduced, existing state law regarding taxes on copies of public records is open to interpretation, a Tax Commission spokeswoman wrote in an email. As of Friday, the Tax Commission website still notes that a sales tax can be charged.

“The Idaho State Tax Commission wants to thank you for bringing the issue of sales tax and public records request copies to our attention. It prompted us to evaluate the Idaho statutes,” spokeswoman Renee Eymann wrote. “The Tax Commission intends to bring legislation next year to clarify in the code that public records aren’t subject to sales tax in the interest of openness and transparency in government.”

The Idaho governor’s office must approve the proposed legislation before it goes to lawmakers. The state’s next legislative session begins in January 2019.

The Tax Commission’s aim to clarify Idaho public record law follows a request submitted earlier this year by KUER News to the Pocatello Police Department. Claire Jones, a KUER newsroom assistant working on an upcoming podcast, asked for records on calls for service in the southern Idaho city.

Pocatello police applied redactions to records that tallied more than 200 pages, charging $145.80 for the time spent to complete the effort and copying costs. Idaho and other state and federal laws allow government agencies to assess fees to process and reproduce public records. In an unusual twist, the Pocatello department also charged a 6 percent sales tax of $8.75 on top of the cost to reproduce the records.

“I’ve never heard of that. That sounds extremely odd” to assess a tax on copies of public records, said Adam Marshall, an attorney with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for journalists. “The fact that no one in state government can point to a statute where it gives an agency the authority to charge a sales tax speaks volumes about this issue.”

Pocatello City Attorney Jared Johnson acknowledged that the interpretation of the law can vary. Pocatello has chosen to charge a sales tax on copies of public records, he said.

“It’s not clear in the code whether in fact that can’t be done,” he said.

A screen capture from the Idaho State Tax Commission website shows that state agencies may assess a sales tax on copies of public records. A Tax Commission spokeswoman said that the agency expects to introduce legislation next year to clarify state law that public records are not subject to sales tax. CREDIT KUER NEWS

The state Attorney General’s Office, in contrast, does not collect sales tax on reproduced public records, spokesman Scott Graf said.

How much money Pocatello or other Idaho agencies may have collected from the practice is unknown. It is also unclear how often officials in the state charge a sales tax when releasing public records. The Tax Commission does not track what portion of an agency’s reported sales tax revenue comes from released copies of requested public records, Eymann, the commission’s spokeswoman, said.

“The only way to determine that would be to contact each government entity separately to see if they have the information,” she wrote in a separate email.

After reviewing the assessed fees, Pocatello police decreased the sales tax from $8.75 to 43 cents. But the amount of money isn’t the issue, said Betsy Russell, president of the Idaho Press Club and a veteran journalist.

“The point is to preserve citizen access to government records, not to soak people for extra money,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”

From KUER 90.1 NPR Utah

Let the sun shine in: Idahoans deserve to know all the donors

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

Updated May 23, 2018 08:01 PM

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

Is ‘The Idahoan’ a newspaper?

From the Columbia Journalism Review

By Jon Allsop, CJR

THE IDAHOAN IS A NEWSPAPER; at least, that’s what its publisher says. As of this week, the Idaho Attorney General’s office agrees with him. But journalists in the state, as well as the local Democratic Party, see it differently. They say the 48-page, two-section publication—which was printed on newsprint and dropped through the mailboxes of voters statewide early this month—is scarcely concealed campaigning material, designed to drum up support for conservative Republican candidates ahead of closely contested elections like this week’s primaries.

In The Idahoan’s inaugural editorial, longtime political operatives Lou Esposito and Patrick Malloy laid out plans to run editions in advance of future local election cycles, as well as the opening of state legislative sessions. Although Esposito says he wants to print more regularly in the future, this schedule struck many observers as suspicious. On May 4, Idaho Democrats cried foul, asking the state government to investigate whether the publication is attempting to circumvent campaign disclosure laws by disguising a political mailer as a newspaper.

An image of The Idahoan, courtesy of Betsy Russell

On Monday, Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane ruled that while The Idahoan bears striking similarities to campaign literature, it qualifies as a newspaper under an exemption in Idaho’s Sunshine Law, which stipulates that newspapers needn’t disclose their funding as long as they aren’t controlled by a party or candidate. He added that The Idahoan may not qualify for an exemption under broader, federal campaign laws because “it appears that The Idahoan is controlled by political committees.” But as Idaho’s newspaper exemption doesn’t take PAC control into account, The Idahoan—for the time being, at least—is under no obligation to disclose its funders.

Esposito is a veteran Idaho PAC player, and many of The Idahoan’s advertisers are PACs. He denies that he controls any of the PAC money coming into the publication’s coffers. Nonetheless, its appearance on the scene, and the state’s subsequent “newspaper” ruling, has riled up many local journalists and commentators.

The Idahoan invites comparisons to a national wave of pop-up publications which look and feel like traditional news, but are, in fact, run by political operatives or hardline ideologues seeking to give chosen candidates a boost

Lewiston Tribune writer Marty Trillhaase called The Idahoan a “dark money ‘newspaper’” and an “end-run” around the Sunshine Law in a column published last week. In an interview with CJR, Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed’s Western correspondent, adds that “just because it’s printed on newsprint does not make it a newspaper.” And Betsy Russell, Boise bureau chief for the Idaho Press-Tribune and president of the Idaho Press Club, says the publication “points to a need for Idaho to tighten its campaign finance reporting laws, to close loopholes like this one, or our citizens will get oddball stuff like this going out before elections and evading reporting requirements.”

The Idahoan invites comparisons to a national wave of pop-up publications which look and feel like traditional news, but are, in fact, run by political operatives or hardline ideologues seeking to give chosen candidates a boost. Last September, the AP outed the Republican Governors Association as clandestine funders of The Free Telegraph, while earlier this year, Politico reported on a mysterious endorsement for Arizona GOP Senate candidate Kelli Ward in the Arizona Monitor—a website of still-unknown origin which featured little else besides its Ward endorsement, and which shut down after Politico published its report. While Ward’s campaign denied setting up the Monitor, the story’s coauthor, Shawn Musgrave, says it “used [the site’s endorsement], on the level of other publications that covered her,” and that “it was very easy, especially if you’re not digging around the site, to consider the site to be like any other. It had the feeling of a small-town…news website.”

More recently, Politico’s Jason Schwartz reported on the emergence of yet more opaque right-wing outlets across the country, dubbing them “baby Breitbarts.” In a phone interview with CJR, Esposito says he doesn’t recall hearing about this wave of sites, and that the idea to launch a publication like The Idahoanwas first bandied around among his associates several years ago. (The name was registered by Wayne Hoffman, currently the head of the influential Idaho Freedom Foundation, in 2007, with ownership switching to Malloy in April. Hoffman did not respond to an inquiry from CJR.)

Esposito says The Idahoan has been transparent, marking clearly on the masthead that it has a conservative bent, and prominently listing him and Malloy as its publishers. “The long and the short of it is there’s really no place for conservatives in Idaho to get information on issues, and/or candidates, and so we felt it was time to correct that,” he says. “There’s nothing nefarious about it. There was a major gap in information and we endeavored to fill that.”

Local reporters like Russell say conservatives do get plenty of coverage in state media. That said, The Idahoan is undoubtedly more upfront about its leanings than many of the publications identified by Politico. It contains straight-up information on candidates from both parties—as well as on how to vote—and Esposito says he intends to open up advertising to candidates—including Democrats—in future editions. Meanwhile, current advertisers and partners—which include PACs with pro-gun, pro-market, and pro-life positions—are clearly marked. Indeed, Esposito says he wants to give these advertisers increased exposure.

Still, The Idahoan has not been fully forthcoming about who is paying for it. While compulsory PAC filings released last weeknamed two local businessmen who part-funded it, much of the rest of the cost was stumped up by investors who remain anonymous. And given that The Idahoan delivered print copies statewide, that cost was likely substantial.

I was just in Idaho this past weekend, and my mom saved all the political mailings that arrive, just so I can see the array that land in her mailbox. The Idahoan is just a slightly less glossy version of the other stuff.

Esposito says it’s hypocritical for others in the media to say he should name his backers. “We are a private enterprise, so we don’t feel any obligation to disclose our business or business practices any more than any other business,” he says. “If people have a problem with us then I guess it’s time for The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and the Idaho Statesman, and the Idaho Press-Tribune to start fully releasing all of their financial information.” Esposito feels his publication is being singled out because critics don’t like the speech it contains. “People know the intent, they know, when this hits their mailbox, they’re gonna get conservative information, conservative endorsements, conservative viewpoints. If they don’t like it they can decide to shred it, or throw it in recycling, or do whatever they want to do with it. That’s their right.”

But many mainstream publications do disclose where their money comes from. And as critics of The Idahoan point out, most newspapers don’t exist to boost specific candidates and issues at election time.

The effectiveness of the publication is uncertain. “I was just in Idaho this past weekend, and my mom saved all the political mailings that arrive, just so I can see the array that land in her mailbox,” says Petersen. “The Idahoan is just a slightly less glossy version of the other stuff that has been coming.” Russell adds that its print edition was riddled with typos and other errors, inviting the scorn of some locals.

Colin Nash@colinmnash

One of my opponents is Barb Vanderpool, but the Idahoan says otherwise…

Tuesday’s primaries were at best a mixed bag for the candidates endorsed by The Idahoan—its pick for a House seat, Russ Fulcher, won his race, but firebrand gubernatorial candidate Raul Labrador lost out to relative moderate Brad Little, and further down the ballot, conservative state legislators and candidates suffered setbacks. “If it was [an ad masquerading as a paper], it was a huge financial investment in a campaign tactic that isn’t typically effective,” writes Justin Vaughn, a professor at Boise State University, in an email. “So whether it was legal or ethical is one thing, but whether it was strategically sound seems unlikely, particularly in light of the underperformance of the ultra-conservative wing in last night’s primary.”

With many midterm races set to be tight, however, it seems likely that at least one of the growing number of conservative news sources might have an impact somewhere in the US. As Politico reported, a site called the Maine Examiner, which appeared to have ties to the Maine GOP, levied potent attacks against a Democratic candidate for mayor of Lewiston ahead of an election which he lost by just 145 votes in December. These partisan publications are, of course, allowed to operate and brand themselves as they wish, within the boundaries of campaign laws. But even where they’re judged to have satisfied those rules, the directly political nature of their work means they should offer up full transparency, articulating not just their worldview and top staff, but where their money has come from.

“Anyone can send out anything they want. We have freedom of speech in this country,” says Russell. “But the Sunshine Law ensures transparency, so that when electioneering communications are going out, the people who receive them also know who they’re getting them from, who’s paying for them, who’s behind this, so that they can make their own decisions about the credibility of those publications.”

From the Columbia Journalism Review

Senate committee chairman apologizes after improper closed meeting

From The Spokesman-Review

An Idaho Senate committee chairman apologized Tuesday for violating Senate rules a day earlier by convening an impromptu – and likely illegal – closed meeting of his committee, over a move to force a hearing on House-passed legislation to legalize medical use of CBD oil, which is extracted from cannabis, in Idaho.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, also informed his committee that a vote taken Monday to kill the bill wasn’t valid – because the bill wasn’t on the committee’s agenda.

“That was not an appropriate thing to do,” he said of his actions a day earlier. “I apologize to the committee for any of us getting into trouble.”

The CBD oil bill remains pending in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Heider said.

“I don’t know if I’ll bring it out at some point,” he said. “The status is right now it’s in my drawer. Believe me, I’m getting lots of emails about that.”

In the Idaho Legislature, a committee chair can unilaterally kill a bill by not scheduling a hearing on it. But that can be overridden by moves like calling the bill from the floor of the Senate or House, a parliamentary move that is rare, but does occur.

On Monday, Sen. Tony Potts, R-Idaho Falls, made an unexpected motion to hold a hearing on the bill on the spot, though the measure wasn’t on the committee’s agenda. An angry Heider led his committee behind closed doors in his office, where shouting could be heard. Reporters were kept outside. Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television, knocked on the door and informed Heider he was violating the Idaho Open Meeting Law.

After six minutes, the committee reconvened in its regular hearing room and approved a substitute motion to hold the CBD oil bill in committee. Potts’ motion “kinda threw us off,” Heider said, “because he was not on the agenda. That’s also a violation. So it kinda threw me off a bit.”

Heider said he’s holding the bill because lots of people want him to, including prosecutors, law enforcement, the governor’s office and the state Office of Drug Policy.

Gov. Butch Otter’s office had no comment Tuesday, but last week, Otter hinted at a “Capitol for a Day” session in eastern Idaho that if the bill passes, he might veto it again, as he did an earlier measure in 2015.

“I feel like it really is opening the door to marijuana in our state,” Heider said. “We are the bastion of freedom from marijuana in our state, and I like living here.”

CBD oil has only trace amounts of THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. Idaho is involved in a drug trial in which more than 30 Idaho children with intractable epilepsy are being treated with a commercial version of CBD oil called Epidiolex. Success has been reported in reducing the children’s seizures.

The issue prompted comments from all three leading GOP candidates for governor of Idaho, with 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador blasting the “Otter-Little administration” for trying to “manipulate the Legislature, usurp the legislative process, and deny our citizens a voice in this important debate.”

Little, who had been in Idaho Falls but arrived in Boise in time to preside over a late-afternoon Senate floor session on Tuesday, said he hadn’t read the bill or heard the details of the dustup. Little said he hopes CBD oil can become available commercially through programs like Idaho’s current drug trial.

“It’s got to be quality-controlled, that’s the issue,” he said.

The third leading GOP candidate in the race, physician and businessman Tommy Ahlquist, said, “Since day one of this campaign, I have supported the legalization of CBD oil that helps sick people as long as the THC is removed and it’s prescribed by a doctor.” He said he’d “work with the Legislature to build a legislative agenda that prevents situations like this.”

From The Spokesman-Review

Court: Idaho nuclear waste documents won’t be made public

From the Associated Press

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. officials don’t have to provide details about proposed shipments of extremely radioactive spent commercial nuclear fuel to the country’s top government nuclear research laboratory in Idaho, a federal court has ruled.

The ruling was a major setback to a lawsuit filed by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had a long history of legal battles with the Energy Department over nuclear waste entering the state and a firm belief that residents had a right to know the agency’s plans.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Tuesday ruled the agency acted properly in withholding information sought by Andrus in a Freedom of Information Act request he filed in January 2015.

That decision means the documents will not be released to the public anytime soon, but they ultimately could be as another part of Andrus’ argument has yet to play out and the case remains open.

Andrus, a Democrat who died in August at age 85, filed the lawsuit in September 2015 after receiving heavily blacked-out documents from the federal agency about the spent commercial nuclear fuel shipments. His daughter, Tracy Andrus, has been substituted with the court’s approval as the plaintiff in the case.

The former governor’s longtime aide, Marc Johnson, said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s ruling in favor of the Department of Energy, “particularly after waiting so long to see what DOE really has in mind for further waste in Idaho.”

The lawsuit seeks information about several hundred pounds of proposed research shipments of spent commercial nuclear fuel the federal agency wants to send to the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s top federal nuclear research lab. The shipments required a waiver to a nuclear waste agreement the Energy Department and Idaho signed in 1995 limiting nuclear waste shipments to Idaho. The agreement followed federal court victories by then Gov. Andrus at a time when he feared the state was becoming a repository for the nation’s nuclear waste.

Andrus, before his death from complications from cancer, contended that signing such a waiver would open the state up to receiving tons of nuclear waste from around the nation, and is why he sought information about the Energy Department’s plans.

In August 2016, Winmill ordered the Energy Department to provide the court with the documents Andrus wanted to determine whether the agency’s redactions fell within exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. Winmill on Tuesday ruled they did.

“The court will sustain DOE’s assertion of privilege, and not require it to provide the plaintiff with a copy of any of the documents,” he wrote.

Energy Department officials didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from The Associated Press on Wednesday. The agency has previously said it wants to better understand “high burnup” spent fuel that is accumulating at nuclear power plants in the U.S. The fuel stays longer in nuclear reactors than other nuclear fuel and produces more energy. But its spent fuel comes out hotter and more radioactive than fuel that does not stay so long in reactors.

In Winmill’s 2016 order, he also directed the Energy Department to determine whether the redacted material “would relate to the public’s interest, rather than that of the agency itself.” He said if the information wasn’t in the public’s interest, the agency had to explain why, and not just site the policy underlying the exemption.

Winmill in that order is telling the Energy Department to explain why releasing the information would not be in the public interest of Idaho residents, said Andrus’ lawyer, Laird Lucas, with the Advocates for the West legal firm that often represents environmental groups. He said the federal agency hasn’t yet responded to that part of Winmill’s order.

The former governor in a 2016 interview with The Associated Press said he filed the lawsuit because “we have to know what’s going on.”

The Energy Department’s “stonewalling and reluctance lends credence to my suspicion,” he said. “That’s all I have right now — a strong suspicion backed up by a history of an agency that has run roughshod over the public for way too many years.”

From the Associated Press

Former Rep. Gary Ingram, author of Idaho Open Meeting Law, dies at age 84

From The Spokesman-Review

By Betsy Z. Russell

Former Idaho state Rep. Gary Ingram, the author of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, has died at the age of 84.

Ingram, who served in the Idaho House from 1973 to 1980, was a longtime advocate for open government in Idaho. In 2009, he was recognized with the Max Dalton Open Government Award sponsored by the Idaho Newspaper Foundation.

“Gary Ingram has spent the last 35 years working to defend the basic principle that citizens should have open access to their government,” INF Executive Director Tom Grote, of McCall, Idaho, said when Ingram won the award.

“I was saddened to learn of Representative Ingram’s passing,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “His legacy as the father of Idaho’s Open Meetings Law ensures transparency and confidence that our republic will carry on. Through his work, he brought light to Idaho government at every level.”

Ingram came to Idaho from St. Paul, Minn. A lifelong Republican and former Kootenai County GOP chairman, he served four terms in the House and chaired the House Local Government Committee.

The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires Idaho governmental boards, commissions and councils to meet openly and provide public notice of their meetings. The preamble that Ingram wrote for the law, which remains in Idaho state law today, says, “Formation of public policy at open meetings. The people of the state of Idaho in creating the instruments of government that serve them, do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies so created. Therefore, the Legislature finds and declares that it is the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

“He was a principled person and a firm believer in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” said longtime friend and fishing partner Bob Hollingsworth. “Also he was a person that if somebody did something that was against the Constitution, he let ‘em know right away – he was good that way.”

In 2012, Ingram returned to the Idaho House temporarily, serving as a substitute for then-Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Ingram served on the Kootenai County GOP central committee until his death.

Current Kootenai County GOP Chair Brent Regan said in a statement, “Gary was a valued member of the Republican Central Committee where his opinions and advice were sought and respected. He will be missed and remembered.”

Ingram is survived by his wife, Thelma, four children and other family members. His death came just one day after his 84th birthday.

From The Spokesman-Review

Justice Dept. won’t release national monument documents

From the Associated Press

By Keith Ridler, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Documents possibly outlining legal justifications for President Donald Trump to shrink national monuments don’t have to be provided to an Idaho environmental law firm because they’re protected communications, federal officials say.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit from Advocates for the West seeking the information.

The environmental law firm filed a public records request for documents on the national monuments earlier this year, and the Justice Department released more than 60 pages in May.

The agency withheld 12 pages, however, contending they are protected by attorney-client privilege and intra-agency communication rules, making them exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests.

“The FOIA request that is the subject of this lawsuit implicates certain information that is protected from disclosure by one or more statutory exemptions,” the Justice Department wrote in the court document. “Disclosure of such information is not required.”

Advocates for the West filed the lawsuit in Idaho’s U.S. District Court last month, asking a judge to force the government to turn over the information that the group suspects makes a legal argument for shrinking national monuments.

“We believe there may well have been a new Department of Justice interpretation in order to provide them with cover, and that’s what we’re trying to get at,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates of the West. “The top lawyers in the county advising the president on what the law says should be information that all of us get to review.”

The monuments have been created under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic or geographically or culturally important.

National monuments that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that Trump shrink include Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou. Zinke has also recommended that Trump shrink two marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

“We have never seen an event like this in the history of the Antiquities Act,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University environmental policy professor and public lands expert. “I don’t think the normal rules apply anymore.”

Freemuth said the interpretation of language within the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which deals with lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, would likely play a role in potential legal battles if Trump decides to shrink some monuments.

Whatever happens will likely be precedent setting for national monuments, Freemuth said.

The U.S. has more than 120, ranging from the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York to many others scattered across the U.S. West, including Bears Ears that covers 1.3 million acres.

Trump is expected to offer more details about his plans for that and other monuments when he visits Utah in early December.

If he announces a significant reduction in the size of a national monument, said Lucas, “I can assure you there will be one or more cases filed very quickly.”

Those lawsuits could result in the Justice Department making public the documents Advocates for the West is seeking, he said.

From the Associated Press

Complaint charges agency skirted Open Meeting Law

From BoiseDev.com

A group of connected Boiseans hopes to stop a downtown baseball and soccer stadium in its tracks, and is willing to press their case with the county prosecutor to do it.

A complaint filed late last month with the Ada County Prosecutor alleges the Greater Boise Auditorium District worked to circumvent Idaho’s open meetings law in order to conceal dealings with the developer of a proposed downtown Boise stadium.

The five-page complaint includes a string of email messages involving GBAD executive director Pat Rice and Greenstone Properties principal Chris Schoen.  Greenstone is hoping to build a stadium on land currently owned by St. Luke’s Health System near the Boise River in a complex deal that would include tax dollars, public bonds and private funding.

The Concerned Boise Taxpayers group led by former Albersons CEO Gary Michael and former Idaho Stampede lead investor Bill Ilett sent the letter to the Ada County Prosecutor on October 24th. BoiseDev was provided a copy of the letter and supporting documents from CBT.

READ THE COMPLAINT

“Since I have 5 board members and a quorum requires a public meeting, I’d recommend an hour each in groups of 2+1,” Rice wrote to Schoen in September of 2014.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 10.44.15 AM.png

That e-mail, with carbon copies to John Brunelle with the Capital City Development Corporation and Jade Riley in Mayor Dave Bieter’s office among others, is the central piece of evidence in the CBT complaint.

“I can’t have more than two at a time otherwise it is a quorum”
— Pat Rice in en email to LeAnn Hume on October 2, 2014

In a follow up message to LeAnn Hume of Cushman & Wakefield Alliance, Rice again reiterated the importance of keeping his board in small group meetings.

“2 board members can meet. Then if we can tentatively plan for another meeting at 5 for 2 more board members that could work. As I mentioned previously, I can’t have more than two at a time otherwise it is a quorum.”

The Michael & Ilett group requested thousands of documents from the City of Boise, CCDC and GBAD via public records requests, and provided many of those documents to media outlets including BoiseDev.

“As we searched through the documents provided in response to our public records requests, it was clear to us that the Idaho Open Meeting law was ignored,” Michael said. “We want it investigated and, if the law was violated, we want it brought to light.”

When contacted, the Ada County Prosecutor would not comment on the existence of the letter.

“Disclosure of such records would compromise any ongoing investigation that might be taking place by disclosing complaining witnesses and the details of any statutory default that might have taken place,” Ada County Prosecutor Jan M. Bennetts wrote.

Rice had not seen the complaint when contacted last week by BoiseDev. After review, he was unable to comment fully on the record.

“This is a complaint in progress,” Rice said. “If the county prosecutor contacts us, we are going to cooperate fully. ”

He emphasized that though the City of Boise is working to move the project forward, his agency has had no formal involvement to this point.

“We are not committed to the project at this stage and the board has not seen any type of formal proposal.”

“It’s clearly a violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law”
— Betsy Russell, Idaho Press Club president

After reviewing the complaint, Idaho Press Club president Betsy Russell expressed concern over the meetings as outlined.

“It’s clearly a violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law,” she said.  “The point of the law is to ensure that the public’s business is done openly and that the public can observe it.”

Russell also serves with Idahoans for Openness in Government and says that group holds seminars on this very topic.

“It appears to me to be a classic case of what we call a ‘serial meeting’,” she said.  “Elaborate subterfuges designed to avoid a quorum and allow a series of smaller meetings to substitute for an open public one as a public agency deliberates on a topic not only would defeat the whole purpose of the open meeting law – they also clearly violate it.”

Ilett says that’s the central argument behind their complaint.

“The documents show that City Hall and GBAD have been very devious in the way they have pushed the project forward, working with the out-of-town developer for the past two-plus years without public disclosure,” he said.

Michael said this tactic is about one thing: stopping public dollars for a stadium.

“Our overall goal is simple. We do not want the baseball stadium built with public funds. It is the wrong project in the wrong place. ”

From BoiseDev.com

Public records show three donors behind PAC targeting I.F. mayor

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

A political action committee purported to represent a number of concerned Idaho Falls businessmen has seen almost all of its contributions come from companies run by three well-known area business owners.

Campaign finance documents filed by the Businesses for Growth PAC, which has targeted Mayor Rebecca Casper by taking out advertising encouraging voters to support “anybody but Casper,” show the entity was almost entirely funded by companies tied to three individuals: Former Bonneville County Republican Central Committee Chairman Doyle Beck, attorney Bryan Smith and Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot.

Chairman Adam Frugoli said his PAC has taken aim at Casper because of recent tax and fee increases, as well as concerns about government transparency and city employee morale.

“This is what we are concerned about at Businesses for Growth,” he said.

Forbes recently named VanderSloot the state’s wealthiest man.

None of the contributions are given individually, instead listed under a variety of corporate entities and LLCs which the donors control.

Melaleuca gave $5,000, the largest single contribution to the PAC. Spokesman Tony Lima said VanderSloot was on international travel Wednesday and unable to comment.

The Idaho Jet Center, Sunnyside Industrial and Professional Park, and BRP Inc. gave contributions of $1,000. Beck is the president of Idaho Jet Center, the manager of Sunnyside and the director of BRP, according to filings with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

In addition, two other LLCs, Degrand Resources LLC and C4 Hundred LLC, made $1,000 contributions. Searches of the secretary of state’s database turned up no hits for either company. However, C4 Hundred is registered in Montana, and Beck is listed as a manager, and Degrand Resources lists the same post office box as BECO Construction, where Beck is the president.

In all, companies tied to Beck gave $5,000 to Businesses for Growth.

“I think we need a mayor that supports businesses, and I think we need more openness,” Beck said.

Smith’s medical debt collection business, Medical Recovery Services, gave another $2,500.

A final $2,500 contribution came from JBC Construction, where Idaho Falls resident Brian Christensen is listed as the president. Another $100 has been pledged by Stelth Holding Co. LLC but not yet received. That company lists Ronald Hopkins of Ammon as a member and its registered agent.

Filings indicate that Businesses for Growth has spent about $9,900 of the roughly $15,000 in donations on advertising opposing Casper. Expenditures include almost $2,700 to Rich Broadcasting, $2,000 to Lamar Media of Baton Rouge, La., and $5,100 to Riverbend Communications, where VanderSloot is listed as the manager.

Casper didn’t return a phone call seeking comment by deadline.

From the Idaho Falls Post Register