Comm. Bradshaw Does Not Grasp Transparency
by Shari Dovale
If elected officials do not have the public trust, they will not last long in office. Maintaining the trust of the community is essential.
When 2 of the 3 Bonner County Commissioners were replaced in the last election, you would think the public made their message clear. They were sick and tired of the lack of transparency running through the County.
The public would no longer put up with the back-door deals and hidden decisions of which the commissioners seemed so fond.
Yet, in this week’s business meeting, Chairman Steve Bradshaw made it clear that he liked the backroom shenanigans and did not want them to change.
“Every policy change that has come before the board in the last 4 years has been discussed in executive session,” Bradshaw stated during the public meeting.
“That is the time the 3 commissioners can actually have a conversation on an item that is going to be voted on. And so after that executive session, that policy change or that policy adaptation would either be shot down or moved forward,” he continued. “When it is moved forward, then it is on the agenda and made public at that point.”
“I am not willing to change that,” Bradshaw said.
Transparency seems to be a word that has different definitions for different people. Bradshaw seems to think that if a back room decision is made, then brought out to the public after it is said and done, this qualifies for 100% transparency. He is wrong.
‘Open meetings’ mean that every part of a public meeting is required to be open to public view. This does not mean that everything requires a public comment, though most should allow for that to happen.
It should also be remembered that once a majority, or quorum, of board members is present, any gathering can be a de facto meeting if board business is discussed. This can be at any gathering, such as meeting in someone’s office or a Christmas party at someone’s house. If they discuss board business, it is considered a public meeting.
Another problem for Bradshaw, as well as many elected officials, is why they should be having ‘executive sessions.’ These sessions should not be standard for every issue. They are not meant to give the elected officials a chance to talk or discuss the issues.
Executive sessions are set up for very specific reasons. In Idaho, it is laid out very clearly in the Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual which has been updated this month by Attorney General Raul Labrador.
It clearly states that the only reasons for an executive session are:
- Consider personnel matters
- Deliberate regarding an acquisition of an interest in real property
- Consider records that are exempt from public disclosure
- Consider preliminary negotiations involving matters of trade or commerce in which this governing body is in competition with another governing body
- Communicate with legal counsel regarding pending/imminently-likely litigation
- Communicate with risk manager/insurer regarding pending/imminently-likely claims
No where does it say anything about the elected officials needing their private time to consider together what they may have to vote on later.
They do not need to be making their backroom deals. They do not need to bully anyone into voting with them. They do not need to wait to bring it to the public only after they have the votes that they need, and have made their decisions between themselves.
Hackles were raised through the meeting with many getting onboard to protest. Members of the public weighed in, as well as County Clerk Mike Rosedale:
“The time to go into executive session is when you’re talking about something that is expressly, narrowly defined by statute. Every other instance needs to be public. A public meeting.
If you then leave that narrowly defined scope of statute, you need to immediately go back to a public meeting.
Executive session is not meant to talk about anything you want to talk about, it is meant to talk about that issue that’s narrowly defined by statute.”
It would seem that Chairman Bradshaw is too comfortable in the wrong ways that business has been conducted through the County building in the past several years. He is certainly putting up a big fight to maintain this status quo.
This has turned into a bit of a scrabble-squabble in that the definition of the word “Transparency” has gotten lost on Chairman Bradshaw.
Additionally, the entire controversy brings forth questions as to whether or not the policy changes over the last 4 years were lawful, and whether they should remain on the books, or be revisited.
We look forward to the new commissioners proving that they do understand the definition, and true meaning, of Transparency.