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

50 gather to learn about open meetings, records in Twin Falls workshop

From IDOG

Fifty people gathered in a Twin Falls meeting room on the afternoon of July 18, 2017 to learn about Idaho’s open meeting and public records laws, in a session led by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and sponsored by Idahoans for Openness in Government and the Twin Falls Times-News.

Deputy Attorney General explained that the Idaho Open Meeting Law is “your ticket to the show,” with the show being government. It allows the public to be there and observe the meeting, he noted, but not necessarily participate in the meeting. “So just as you couldn’t go to your child’s play or a show on Broadway and jump up on the stage – though that might be fun – it doesn’t provide for that.”

And Kane said agencies sometimes complain to him about public records requests they receive: “This is just a fishing expedition.” But, he said, “The public records law gives them that right – to fish around. You may have to pay for it, but you have the right to those documents.”

Rules for charging fees for public records requests; how the content determines whether something’s a public record, whether it’s on a government computer or an official’s personal phone; and the need to be in open, public session to make decisions all were among topics explored. This was the 40th open government workshop conducted by IDOG and Wasden since 2004; it was the fourth in Twin Falls.

The first half of the session, held at the Center for the Arts Auditorium, focused on the Idaho Open Meeting Law, and included interactive skits in which members of the audience were called upon to play roles as reporters, government officials and more doing some of the right – and some of the wrong – things needed to comply with the open meeting law.

The second portion of the program focused on the Idaho Public Records Act. Again, audience members were called upon to take on roles in skits to help illustrate what is and isn’t allowed and how the law is supposed to work.

Wasden shared stories from his career that helped highlight the role of the two laws and how they play out in Idaho, as did Betsy Russell, reporter for The Spokesman-Review and president of IDOG. Travis Quast, publisher of the Times-News, welcomed the crowd and served as host.

Attendees gave the experience high marks. In evaluations, a city clerk said the session gave her “information everyone needs.” A school board member said he learned “draft minutes = public record.” “It was quite informative,” wrote a highway district employee. “Great overview of doing the public’s business in public,” said a city worker.

“Every time I attend I learn something more!” wrote one attendee. “So glad I came!”

“Do your homework and know the laws,” was what an elected official said she learned. Plus, something she plans to put to use right away: “Remember that electronic records are public.”

A TV station news director came away with something he plans to put to use: In a public records request, the first two hours of labor and 100 copies are free. And a county commissioner summed up his takeaway from the program like this: “The public has the right to know.”

IDOG is planning additional seminars this year in North Idaho in October in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston.

From IDOG

Groups host refresher on open meeting laws

From KMVT-TV

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —Members of the press, the public and local government met in Twin Falls Tuesday afternoon for a seminar on openness in government.

The roundtable was put together through a partnership between the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and the nonprofit Idahoans for Openness in Government.

The meeting gave those in attendance a refresher, or even a lesson on what is and is not covered by open meeting and public records laws.

“There are some changes in the law year-to-year, but more so than that there are changes in people. That is, local government folks change and you have new city councils and new mosquito abatement districts that are elected or whatever else,” said Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “So to make certain that all those people have that opportunity to learn what the law is and to act in accordance with the law, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

For information on Idaho’s open meetings and public records laws you can visit the attorney general’s website at www.ag.idaho.gov.

From KMVT-TV

Vermont passes ethics, disclosure laws; now Idaho’s one of just two states without

From Eye on Boise/The Spokesman-Review

Thanks to legislative action this year in Vermont, Idaho is now one of just two states in the nation with no requirements for personal financial disclosure by state lawmakers or other elected or appointed officials. Idaho had been one of three states with that distinction. Now it’s just Idaho and Michigan.

S.8, the legislation that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed into law on June 14, includes a series of ethics reforms; it passed the Senate unanimously, and the House, 120-24. Its provisions include:

DISCLOSURE: Requirements for candidates and office-holders to disclose all income sources over $5,000, though not the specific amounts; the requirement includes income for both the candidate and candidate’s spouse. Candidates also will be required to disclose all entities on which they serve; companies in which they or a spouse own more than 10 percent; leases or contracts with the state in which the candidate or spouse has a 10 percent or more interest; and whether the candidate’s spouse or domestic partner is a lobbyist. Also, candidates for statewide offices will be required to release their federal tax returns.

REVOLVING DOOR: Legislators or executive officers will have to wait one year after leaving office before they could become lobbyists.

CONTRACTOR CONTRIBUTIONS: Sole-source contracts with those who have made campaign contributions are prohibited, as are campaign contributions by those holding state sole-source contracts.

ETHICS COMMISSION: Vermont will establish a State Ethics Commission, effective Jan. 1, 2018, with power to accept, review and refer complaints.

CONFLICTS: Every town, city and incorporated village in Vermont is required to adopt conflict-of-interest prohibitions for its elected officials and employees by July 1, 2019. The Vermont Secretary of State will then accept written complaints of violations, forward them to the town in question, and report them to the Ethics Commission.

Vermont’s move comes as the Idaho Legislature has appointed a working group of 10 lawmakers to study possible changes to Idaho’s laws on campaign finance reporting and ethics. Idaho currently has no “revolving door” law or financial disclosure requirements. Those are among the reasons the state earned a “D-minus” in the State Integrity Investigation in 2015, which compared states and their ethics and disclosure laws, practices and enforcement.

From Eye on Boise/The Spokesman-Review

Nampa school board to re-do superintendent hiring, after open meeting complaint

From Idaho Education News

by Clark Corbin

Nampa School District trustees are expected to void hiring “Candidate A,” and formally hire Paula Kellerer as district superintendent Wednesday night.

The following day, Idaho Education News filed a complaint with the Canyon County prosecutor’s office alleging the district violated Idaho’s open meeting law by conducting public business in secret.

Nampa officials then issued a news release announcing Kellerer’s hire. District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck later said Kellerer was “Candidate A.”

Trustees and district officials have denied breaking the open meeting law.

Nevertheless, the board will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday to void its May 9 action and acknowledge that EdNews filed the complaint. The school board is ”willing to take action to void prior action in order to cure any perceived violation,” according to a written statement from the district.

Board members are then expected to offer the job to Kellerer by name and consider her contract.

As part of the board agreeing to void its previous action, Canyon County chief deputy prosecuting attorney Samuel Laugheed will not pursue charges against the district.

“In short, this office will elect against initiating formal enforcement proceedings on behalf of the public as authorized by Idaho Code §74-208 upon the district’s timely performance of the remedial measures it has proposed,” Laugheed wrote in a May 26 letter to Idaho Education News and the school district.

Laugheed wrote that the district’s decision to void its May 9 action was important.

“Such remediation, even absent acknowledgement of actual violation, is sufficient to this office’s inquiry as it remove the taint of impropriety from the action, regardless of whether such impropriety exists in law or public perception,” Laugheed wrote.

Kellerer succeeds outgoing Superintendent David Peterson, who retires June 30. Kellerer most recently served as Northwest Nazarene University’s dean of College of Adult and Graduate Studies.

Click here to read EdNews formal complaint to Canyon County prosecuting attorney.

From Idaho Education News

Light shines on controversial contract

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

COEUR d’ALENE — The Coeur d’Alene School District’s website includes a database of employment contracts for personnel ranging from administrators to teachers.

But when the contract of former Superintendent Matt Handelman was recently updated to include stipulations on his resignation and two months of consulting work, district officials determined the information was not for public consumption.

“I just shook my head and thought ‘Here they go again,’” said Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. “Public agencies do not have it at the top of their head that they are spending public money and the public has the right to know how the money is being spent.”

As part of its reporting for an April 29 story titled, “His job ends…pay doubles,” The Press submitted a public records request for any documents or contracts related to Handleman’s two-month tenure as a consultant with the district. That request was denied by the district, which stated the request is exempt from disclosure under Idaho personnel law.

After two additional attempts to obtain the records by The Press’s attorney, John Magnuson, the district finally conceded Monday night while still maintaining that Handelman’s amended contract is exempt from disclosure.

“It’s a little disturbing to see a public entity, funded by taxpayer money, spend taxpayer money to keep information from the public without any legal basis,” Magnuson said.

In a May 15 letter to Magnuson, Megan O’Dowd, legal counsel for the district, wrote the district believes the amended contract “both qualifies as a public record and is subject to the exception for personnel records identified in Idaho code.” The district, she added, released the amended contract Monday night only because Handelman himself gave written permission allowing them to do so.

“The district has a duty to protect the personnel records of its employees and comply with the process set forth in Idaho statute,” said Casey Morrisroe, school board chair. “A failure to do so could expose the district to potential liability.”

Handelman’s amended contract, approved by trustees on April 21, contains an identical description of his duties as a consultant as the one provided to The Press by Morrisroe. It also states Handelman “will not be required to maintain a desk or office present at the district office, or be present at district meetings and events.”

Morrisroe initially reported to The Press that Handelman would receive an additional $20,000 for his consulting work, almost doubling his monthly salary. The payment means Handelman will be paid more than $44,000 total for May and June.

Throughout Handelman’s search for a new job over the past year, district officials and Handelman himself spoke positively of the time he spent with the district. However, in the amended contract, both Handelman and the district agreed to not “disparage” one another in any communication or action.

The contract also includes a confidentiality clause, with both parties agreeing the contents of the document will not be disclosed or released to “any person, entity, or media” without written consent from the other party. Morrisroe would not say why the confidentiality clause was included in the amended contract.

When Souza was informed of the decision by the Coeur d’Alene School District to not disclose Handelman’s amended contract, she said she contacted the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. Within 30 minutes, Souza said, she was provided with a relevant, 2012 court case from southern Idaho involving a local newspaper and the Blackfoot School District. Magnuson cited the same case in his second request for Handelman’s amended contract.

In that case, a citizen filed a public records request for the separation contract of a superintendent who had retired. When the district refused, citing Idaho personnel law, the citizen took the district to court. The local newspaper joined the suit.

In his decision on the case, Judge David Nye ruled in favor of the citizen and newspaper.

The only difference between the Blackfoot School District’s initial contract with the former superintendent and the separation contract, Nye added, is the separation contract contained language directing district officials to place the separation contract in the superintendent’s personnel file to “protect it from disclosure efforts made under the Idaho Public Records Act.”

“Parties cannot exempt a public record from disclosure and hide it from the public simply by placing it in a personnel file and declaring the personnel file exemption to be applicable to it,” Nye wrote.

The 2012 decision by Nye was a local one and does not set legal precedent for all Idaho counties, Magnuson said. But any judge in Idaho trying a similar case would give Nye’s analysis “considerable weight,” he added.

“If you get your personnel stamp out and stamp it on everything in the world, it doesn’t mean it’s actually exempt,” Magnuson said. “You can go get that stamp, but it isn’t going to carry the day with the guy in the black robe.”

When asked by The Press if legislators should look at public record law next session in light of the Coeur d’Alene School District’s refusal to disclose information, Souza said it should. But more important to Souza is that this instance serve as a reminder to public entities, as well as their legal teams, that they must be aware of the state’s public record laws and any new updates to them.

“We should expect that legal counsel is advising our entities and keeping them up to date,” Souza said. “This decision is five years old and the district is still telling people it can’t be given because it’s in a personnel file, which is obviously misinformation.”

At the Coeur d’Alene School District, Morrisroe said Trina Caudle, director of secondary education, will continue to serve as “acting superintendent.” The additional responsibilities, Morrisroe added, will cause Caudle’s salary to increase by $3,000 per month.

The district’s board of trustees hopes to have an applicant selected to serve as interim superintendent for the 2017-2018 school year, Morrisroe added.

“It is our hope and expectation to have that position filled by June 30,” Morrisroe said. “The board will also be working to develop a nationwide search process to permanently fill our superintendent vacancy. We expect that search to commence in the fall and we look forward to engaging the community in this process.”

The Press has submitted a public records request for Caudle’s amended contract.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Principal repays school credit card charges, announces retirement; public records reveal details

From the Idaho Statesman

RECORDS SHED LIGHT ON BARBIERI’S CALL FOR LESS TRANSPARENCY

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

by Maureen Dolan

COEUR d’ALENE — Rep. Vito Barbieri didn’t want to talk about his plan to change Idaho’s public records law to shield most state lawmakers’ communications from public disclosure.

Ironically, it took a public records request for the Dalton Gardens Republican’s email messages to find out what he was thinking when he proposed this legislation.

Through that public records request, I gleaned some other interesting information showing an existing lack of transparency when it comes to state lawmakers’ email messages.

“It should be noted that the Idaho Legislature has no email retention policy and members may delete emails at any time and at their discretion, except when a public records request has been made. At that point, emails related to that public records request may not be deleted until the request is fulfilled,” wrote Terri Kondeff, Idaho Legislative Services’ chief operations officer, in a message sent with the records I requested.

Now that’s a public records policy Idaho lawmakers should be working to change.

But instead, we have House Bill 233, a measure that would alter Idaho’s Public Records Act to exempt a good chunk of legislators’ emails, text messages and other forms of correspondence from public disclosure. For example, all communications between lawmakers would be exempt.

Rep. Barbieri didn’t return phone calls or respond to email messages I sent him March 1 after he pitched the idea to the Idaho Legislature’s House State Affairs Committee.

My request for copies of email messages related to public records that were sent or received by Barbieri since Jan. 1 returned 80 pages that included 60 messages from people opposed to his bill.

A blend of unique messages and form letters, the sentiment was the same throughout the emails:

  • “The public’s business should be public, with very few exceptions. The communications of our elected officials should not be subject to special privileges that allow them to keep secrets from their constituents.”
  • “We rely on openness in government and public records to keep people informed about their government. Law making is a public business and this bill is restrictive.”
  • “The Idaho Legislature should be increasing transparency with the public rather than hiding from it.”

I received one email response sent by Rep. Barbieri to one of the constituents who contacted him with concerns.

He told the writer he realizes his bill appears to limit transparency in government, but “nothing nefarious is occurring with respect to communications between legislators.”

Rep. Barbieri argued that transparency is necessary when it comes to enforcing policy and law, but not so much for “arriving at a consensus on creating public policy.”

“Ideas are shared and discounted. Ideas are sometimes half-baked. Reaching a consensus necessarily requires brainstorming, and critical analysis of wording, and just as importantly the freedom to speak one’s mind without the concern of public disclosure of the substance of, for example, the critical analyis,” he wrote.

The making of policy, the process of drafting, discussing and finalizing it, need not be transparent, but the process of passing legislation through debate, argument and amendment should be, Barbieri wrote.

He wrote he will not be bringing the bill forward this year because the “particulars of the wording need plenty of work,” and this year’s legislative session is coming to a close.

In the meantime, perhaps we should be ready before the 2018 legislative session to submit a public records request for every email message sent or received by an Idaho lawmaker during the session, before they’re deleted.

From the Coeur d’Alene Press