Boise & Garden City

Boise mayor’s private conversation with a lawyer during council meeting draws criticism

Some community activists are angry that Boise Mayor David Bieter had a closed-door meeting with a lawyer for a trucking company during a break in Tuesday’s Boise City Council meeting.

Bieter met with Jason Mau, a Boise lawyer representing R+L Carriers, an Ohio company that proposed a diesel truck terminal next to a mobile home park on Eisenman Road across Interstate 84 from Micron Technology. Over objections from neighbors, the council voted later Tuesday night to overturn the Planning and Zoning Commission’s denial of the terminal, though it withheld final approval pending another review by the city Design Review Commission.

The pair met in the mayor’s office across a lobby from the council chambers during one of several recesses in the five-hour meeting. When the Statesman asked Bieter about the interaction afterward, the mayor said he and Mau discussed a possible delay in the council’s decision.

“That was just about how I don’t know what [the council] is going to do here,” Bieter said. He went on to say that the decision might be delayed because “it’s not always good to start deliberating at 10:30” when the meeting began at 6 p.m.

Bieter acts ex officio in Boise City Council meetings, meaning that he leads the council but typically does not vote except to break a tie. Tuesday’s vote was unanimous, and Bieter did not vote.

Mike Journee, Bieter’s communications director, said the mayor has private meetings with people all the time.

“The mayor wanted [R+L Carriers] to have assurance an outcome would be reached,” Journee said Thursday in a telephone interview.

The meeting between Bieter and Mau took place directly behind the glass entry doors to the mayor’s office, and it appeared they were the only two present in the room. Journee did not say why the meeting happened in the office rather than in the council chambers or the lobby.

Some of those present at the meeting took pictures through the glass and shared them on social media. One was posted on Facebook page ACHD Community Watchdogs.

“It feels like a violation of public trust,” Marisa Keith, one of six people who run the page, said by phone. “People always kind of assume backdoor meetings happen, and then this is actually what that looks like.”

The post had more than 50 shares, with most of the comments angry at the mayor.

Other community members are also upset. Bonnie Hardey, president of the South Eisenman Neighborhood Association, said the closed-door meeting gave the appearance of wrongdoing even if nothing happened during the conversation. She said her group, members of which live in the affected mobile home park, was considering filing an ethics complaint against the mayor.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that Boise City Council members acted improperly when they considered comments in a land-use case that they received outside of official proceedings and were not included in the public record. In that case, the council approved a plan to demolish a Downtown building that the city’s Historic Preservation Commission had voted to save.

The court said council members were allowed to take calls and comments from concerned citizens about topics that would normally be discussed during a public hearing, but the identities of those people, as well as a general summary of what was said, must be shared during the public hearing.

“If there had been a different outcome, perhaps the mayor would have mentioned [the meeting with Mau during the public portion of the council meeting],” Journee said.

Elizabeth Koeckeritz, a senior manager attorney for the city, said she did not believe Bieter violated the state’s open meeting law.

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