Ada County’s meeting room is open for public use once again, no matter the group’s purpose.
On Tuesday, Ada County Commissioners approved a new meeting room policy for the county allowing any group, regardless of political affiliation or purpose, to use the room for events, meetings or presentations. But, in order for groups to use the room, they will have to pay a flat cost plus any additional extra money required to cover additional security, cleaning, IT help or Ada County Sheriff’s Deputies necessary for the event.
This comes six months after an uproar over comments made by Boise State University Political Science Professor Scott Yenor about women in modern society led to Ada County changing its meeting room policy and canceling all events there, political or otherwise until a new policy could be written.
Courthouse meeting room is open to all under new policy
Commissioner Rod Beck said the goal for the new policy, and the fees, is to make the space neutral.
“The intent is for the taxpayer to not be subsidizing the meetings,” Beck said. “That’s the whole purpose of that.”
The flat fee for the room is $294. Each additional Sheriff Deputy is $72 per hour and any Ada County Sheriff Sergeant required for an event is $93 per hour, which will be determined necessary by the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. Additional security employees, who are not armed and are employed by a contractor, are $21 per hour. Extra cleaning is $50 per hour and IT help is $55, or determined by the County’s Chief Information Officer.
Commissioner Ryan Davidson went ahead and voted for the new policy, but he balked at the fees.
“I think they’re too high, but I am probably willing to vote for it just to get this done because this has been on our desk for over a year,” Davidson said. “If we do pass it I will look to recalibrate those.”
This policy change also follows the passage of HB 566, brought by Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, in the 2022 legislative session. This law requires public property to be used by any political party, as long as all parties are given open and equal access.
Flip flops on meeting room policy
The public hearing room on the first floor of the Ada County Courthouse has long played host to public meetings of various groups. This included political organizations, notably the Ada County Republican Central Committee.
When Democrats Diana Lachiondo and Kendra Kenyon took control of the commission in 2019, they changed the county’s policy and passed a new order banning political groups from meeting in the space. Lachiondo, who lost her 2020 reelection bid to Ryan Davidson, told BoiseDev in 2021 Administrative Judge Steven Hippler was concerned about political activity occurring in the courthouse.
Even though the Republicans recaptured the majority in 2020, Davidson and fellow Commissioner Rod Beck have not officially rolled back the previous commission’s order on who can meet in the room. They did, however, allow the GOP to resume meeting there.
Yenor event highlights discrepancy in policy
The Ada County GOP continued to meet at the Ada County Courthouse with no issues until the ConservativeOf Boise PAC started promoting an event set to be held at the Ada County Courthouse with Yenor and an Idaho Freedom Foundation policy analyst in December of last year.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Yenor went viral on TikTok and Idaho Twitter for comments he made at the National Conservatism Conference in Florida where he made comments about programs encouraging women to enter STEM fields and called universities “citadels of our gynecocracy.”
The Idaho 97, a political organization which says it opposes the far-right, called on its supporters to reserve seats at the ConservativesOf event where Yenor was scheduled to speak. At the time, Idaho 97 organizer Emily Walton also inquired with Ada County to book the same room to host one of its events, testing to see if any group, not just a conservative one, could meet there.
Walton never heard back from the county. A review of the meeting schedule for the county’s meeting room showed the only events booked at the courthouse outside of county operations were for the Ada County Republican Central Committee and the ConservativesOf event.
This eventually led to the county canceling all events at the courthouse and reworking its new policy.