A group of connected Boiseans hopes to stop a downtown baseball and soccer stadium in its tracks, and is willing to press their case with the county prosecutor to do it.
A complaint filed late last month with the Ada County Prosecutor alleges the Greater Boise Auditorium District worked to circumvent Idaho’s open meetings law in order to conceal dealings with the developer of a proposed downtown Boise stadium.
The five-page complaint includes a string of email messages involving GBAD executive director Pat Rice and Greenstone Properties principal Chris Schoen. Greenstone is hoping to build a stadium on land currently owned by St. Luke’s Health System near the Boise River in a complex deal that would include tax dollars, public bonds and private funding.
The Concerned Boise Taxpayers group led by former Albersons CEO Gary Michael and former Idaho Stampede lead investor Bill Ilett sent the letter to the Ada County Prosecutor on October 24th. BoiseDev was provided a copy of the letter and supporting documents from CBT.
“Since I have 5 board members and a quorum requires a public meeting, I’d recommend an hour each in groups of 2+1,” Rice wrote to Schoen in September of 2014.
That e-mail, with carbon copies to John Brunelle with the Capital City Development Corporation and Jade Riley in Mayor Dave Bieter’s office among others, is the central piece of evidence in the CBT complaint.
In a follow up message to LeAnn Hume of Cushman & Wakefield Alliance, Rice again reiterated the importance of keeping his board in small group meetings.
“2 board members can meet. Then if we can tentatively plan for another meeting at 5 for 2 more board members that could work. As I mentioned previously, I can’t have more than two at a time otherwise it is a quorum.”
The Michael & Ilett group requested thousands of documents from the City of Boise, CCDC and GBAD via public records requests, and provided many of those documents to media outlets including BoiseDev.
“As we searched through the documents provided in response to our public records requests, it was clear to us that the Idaho Open Meeting law was ignored,” Michael said. “We want it investigated and, if the law was violated, we want it brought to light.”
When contacted, the Ada County Prosecutor would not comment on the existence of the letter.
“Disclosure of such records would compromise any ongoing investigation that might be taking place by disclosing complaining witnesses and the details of any statutory default that might have taken place,” Ada County Prosecutor Jan M. Bennetts wrote.
Rice had not seen the complaint when contacted last week by BoiseDev. After review, he was unable to comment fully on the record.
“This is a complaint in progress,” Rice said. “If the county prosecutor contacts us, we are going to cooperate fully. “
He emphasized that though the City of Boise is working to move the project forward, his agency has had no formal involvement to this point.
“We are not committed to the project at this stage and the board has not seen any type of formal proposal.”
After reviewing the complaint, Idaho Press Club president Betsy Russell expressed concern over the meetings as outlined.
“It’s clearly a violation of the Idaho Open Meeting Law,” she said. “The point of the law is to ensure that the public’s business is done openly and that the public can observe it.”
Russell also serves with Idahoans for Openness in Government and says that group holds seminars on this very topic.
“It appears to me to be a classic case of what we call a ‘serial meeting’,” she said. “Elaborate subterfuges designed to avoid a quorum and allow a series of smaller meetings to substitute for an open public one as a public agency deliberates on a topic not only would defeat the whole purpose of the open meeting law – they also clearly violate it.”
Ilett says that’s the central argument behind their complaint.
“The documents show that City Hall and GBAD have been very devious in the way they have pushed the project forward, working with the out-of-town developer for the past two-plus years without public disclosure,” he said.
Michael said this tactic is about one thing: stopping public dollars for a stadium.
“Our overall goal is simple. We do not want the baseball stadium built with public funds. It is the wrong project in the wrong place. “