Ada County: Keeping public comments out of public view

Here's a draft of our Tuesday editorial.

Question: Where are public comments not suitable for public viewing?

Answer: In that alternative governing reality known as the Ada County Courthouse.

The Statesman has filed a public records request for 150 written comments on the controversial Dynamis waste-to-energy plant proposal. We haven’t received the comments: just a letter saying it will cost $110 to provide them.

Why? The county wants its lawyers to sift through the comments and black out any “protected information.”

Who are the lawyers trying to protect?

The Ada County residents who finally got their say on this project — nearly 2 1/2 years after Ada County gave Dynamis $2 million in public money to design this plant? Doubtful.

In this case, it appears, the lawyers aren’t working for the taxpayers. Instead, they seem to be doing the bidding of two of their bosses at the courthouse, Commissioners Sharon Ullman and Rick Yzaguirre, who have shown disdain for the public and disrespect for the public process throughout this long, sorry Dynamis saga.

Let’s remember, after all, that Ada County residents only got a chance to comment when the planning and zoning commission opted to hold a hearing last month. The hearing wasn’t the commissioners’ idea, so perhaps they’re so out of practice that they’ve forgotten the function of a public process.

Which is, of course, to let the public have a say about this unpopular and unproven plan to “gasify” Ada County landfill garbage into electricity. Ullman and Yzaguirre may be sold on Dynamis — but Ullman lost in the May GOP primary, and public outcry over the proposal was certainly a factor.

Instead of slowing down the process, and allowing a full and transparent review of the project, Yzaguirre and Ullman seem determined to push Dynamis through the bureaucratic pipeline before Ullman’s term ends in January — and before the balance of power shifts on the three-member commission.

So what does the county have to hide? Is there something in these public comments that Yzaguirre and Ullman want to conceal from public view, while they continue to railroad this dubious project? When elected officials squander their credibility, as Yzaguirre and Ullman have, their motivations are subject to questions of this type.

There is at least some hope on the horizon.

On Thursday, the Statesman hosted a workshop, led by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, to brief reporters, elected officials and the public about Idaho sunshine laws. Among those in attendance: Commissioner David Case, the courthouse’s one steadfast Dynamis skeptic, and Commissioner-elect Jim Tibbs.

Perhaps, when Tibbs joins Case, Ada County will again have a quorum of commissioners who believe the public has a right to know what’s going on in the courthouse.

Now there’s a concept.