Friday, September 21, 2012

Prosecutor: Sun Valley investigation ‘ongoing’

Report on city audit still not released to public

Express Staff Writer

Jim Thomas

Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said this week that a criminal investigation based on a hired consultant’s forensic audit of the city of Sun Valley is “ongoing” but he could not reveal specifics about the status of the inquest.

On Aug. 28, Thomas issued a subpoena to the city to produce the audit report and the records used to produce it. The subpoena was issued pursuant to a grand jury investigation involving “former” and/or “present” employees of the city of Sun Valley, the subpoena states.

The subpoenaed documents were originally due on Sept. 4 for a grand jury hearing in 5th District Court in Hailey. However, Thomas granted the city an extension to Sept. 7 to produce the subpoenaed documents due to the “voluminous” amount of material being subpoenaed.

In an email Wednesday to the Idaho Mountain Express, Thomas said that his office continues to review all of the documentation provided by “various parties.” He stated that the city has complied with all subpoena requests.

Thomas declined to comment on whether the grand jury hearing has been conducted.

“All matters of the grand jury, including when and if they meet, are under seal by the court,” he stated in the email. “I do not comment on any action or inaction of any grand jury process.”

Mayor Dewayne Briscoe and the Sun Valley City Council received a final report on the forensic audit during an executive session on Aug. 24.  The forensic audit—commissioned voluntarily by the city in April—and related legal fees have cost city taxpayers some $273,000. It studied fiscal year 2011 at the city.

During a special City Council meeting Thursday, Sept. 13, Briscoe said he has spent the last few weeks going through a name-clearing appeals process that will continue for another few weeks.

“I can’t identify individuals, but the process is ongoing,” he said.

Earlier this month, Briscoe said that personnel mentioned in the report will be given the sections of the report that pertain specifically to them.

“These employees will have the opportunity to respond or appeal to any findings in the report,” he said. “The council has recommended that I then take any necessary administrative actions, including disciplinary actions and/or terminations that are warranted by the findings of the report.”

The long-awaited report is expected to shed light on a series of incidents that have shrouded Sun Valley City Hall in mystery since last fall. These incidents include alleged financial irregularities, a break-in at the Elkhorn Fire Station resulting in stolen documents and erased files, resignations by staff members, employees being placed on both paid and unpaid administrative leave, lawsuits filed against the city, and countersuits filed by the city.

The city denied a Sept. 5 Idaho Mountain Express public records request seeking a copy of the report on the forensic audit.

“The city of Sun Valley recognizes and agrees that the citizens and public have great interest in obtaining this report, and the city supports disclosure,” City Attorney Adam King stated in a Sept. 10 letter to the Express.

However, King said Idaho Supreme Court precedents indicate that such reports, when individuals are “identified,” may require a name-clearing hearing before disclosure to the public.

“Even then, such information may be personnel-related and exempt from disclosure,” King stated in the letter.

King said that releasing an edited version of the report would be impractical because of the ability for persons to be identified by the context.

“The city of Sun Valley prefers to disclose to the public the forensic audit, but at the same time, must protect the rights of individuals who may be identified in the document,” King stated.

Brennan Rego:

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