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For the week of Nov. 17, 1999 through Nov. 23, 1999

McHanville issues too serious for hairsplitting


Hairsplitting is a most unattractive and irksome trait. Among public officials, it can be a dangerous one.

The Blaine County Commissioners are engaged in some serious hairsplitting. They claim they are providing public notice of the meetings in which they are discussing and deliberating upon the future of the McHanville area.

What they are really doing is meeting the letter of the law, but violating its spirit. What they are doing allows the public a peek into planning through news reports, but denies anyone but landowners and selected individuals the chance to participate in formation of a plan for the critical area south of Ketchum.

The commissioners are not publishing notice of their meetings about McHanville in any newspaper. Instead, they are posting notices at the County Courthouse in Hailey and sending notices to landowners and others by request.

State law requires that notice of special meetings be provided at least 24 hours in advance. The law allows posting instead of publication in a newspaper.

Even so, posting as the primary means of notifying the general public means that people who have not requested notification—that includes most residents—would have to visit the courthouse to find out about the meeting.

The last time we looked most residents’ lists of Things to Do Today didn’t include "visit courthouse to find out what commissioners are up to."

The lists didn’t include "gaze into the future." Yet, to know what day a notice of a special meeting is posted, all residents would have to be psychics.

They would also have to be able to divine that the "Notice of Quorum" on the posted page is really a "Notice of Special Meeting."

By design or by default, the commissioners timed the release of the notice of this week’s meeting with McHanville landowners so that it was impossible to publish in the newspaper that goes to press on Tuesday nights. The commissioners’ office faxed a notice to the newspaper last Wednesday for a meeting that occurred yesterday at 4 p.m.

The timing sidestepped any possibility of widespread dissemination.

The commissioners are meeting the letter of the Idaho Open Meeting law, but violating its spirit. The law declares "it is the policy of this state that the formation of public policy is public business and shall not be conducted in secret."

But how secret is secret? If a handful of people know about a meeting, but in fact the general public does not, is it secret? Analogies about trees falling in the forest come to mind.

Development of property in the nine-block area that is McHanville has the potential to seriously damage Ketchum’s downtown and to destroy the county’s ban on commercial strip development that has been in place for more than 25 years.

The potential impacts are too serious for silly meeting notice games that in fact deny the public the right to observe, attend and participate in planning what their valley will become—before the county commissioners make it a fait accompli.

The games should stop.

 

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