Tony Jones: Ada County commissioners show no remorse for breaking law

By Tony Jones - Idaho Statesman

Edition Date: 06/16/07

The recent press release by current and former Ada County Commissioners Fred Tilman, Rick Yzaguirre and Judy Peavey-Derr concerning their 2005 executive session meeting with Vern Bisterfeldt (recently deemed illegal by the Idaho Supreme Court) shows no remorse and even less ownership for their errors.

First, some background. In 2001, Boise voters passed the Foothills Levy by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. The levy was the funding mechanism for a multi-agency compact called the Foothills Policy Plan. This plan was the culmination of years of negotiations between the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho State Land Board, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Boise City, Boise County and Ada County. These seven agencies agreed that the eastern Foothills, including Hammer Flat, were "the highest priority area for open space acquisition."

Even though they actively participated in negotiating the Foothills Policy Plan — and went so far as to prod Boise City to codify it — Ada County reneged on its obligation to enter the plan into its own code. As you'll see, Ada County breached the public trust by operating behind the scenes to subvert the very plan they helped create.

In 2005, when the commissioners convened the illegal meeting, there was a lot more at stake than city-county relationships and a pending application to develop Hammer Flat. Like the tip of an iceberg, this illegal meeting was the first clearly visible portion of a much larger problem. This meeting was the first concrete evidence of Ada County's unilateral decision, contrary to the wishes of their constituents, to undermine the entire Foothills Policy Plan.

For about a year prior to the illegal 2005 meeting, senior Ada County Development Services staff members (Development Services is directly supervised by the commissioners) had been quietly, but actively, working with one or more developers targeting the eastern Boise Foothills.

Remember that time and again, Valley residents list undeveloped Foothills as one of the most important aspects of Treasure Valley quality of life. Plans, secret or otherwise, on the part of any politician to degrade this feature and violate the Foothills Policy Plan insult and injure the public who voted to protect it.

We all agree that democracies function effectively, efficiently, and in everyone's best interests when they operate in a fair and open manner. Businesses, including developers, need to know if other businesses are getting preferential treatment. Citizens need to know if their wishes are being followed or flouted. Businesses should not be afraid to speak up at peril of being blackballed by the very agencies upon which they depend. Citizens should not view the entire system as corrupt and quit participating in their government. Sadly, many have.

The Supreme Court let the commissioners slide on two of the three counts associated with the open meeting violation. However, the court affirmed the third count. Contrary to all their bluster, the commissioners violated the law.

And, in the court of public opinion, the commissioners are guilty of a great deal more.

They are guilty of spending nearly $20,000 of taxpayer money to avoid a paltry personal fine of $150.

They are guilty of trying to justify secret meetings when every thinking person wants more openness in government.

They are guilty of playing favorites with some developers, at the expense of other developers, businesses, and the public. And, they are guilty of circumventing the enormously popular Foothills Policy Plan they helped construct.

Citizens of Ada County deserve more than press releases and posturing from the commissioners. We deserve an apology and better representation. The county also needs to codify and enforce the Foothills Policy Plan it actively helped create.

Tony Jones, a Boise-based economic consultant, is the founder of Jones filed the complaint protesting the June 2005 closed executive session convened by Ada County commissioners.


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