I was surprised by the last one. I've sat in on a lot of public meetings, and reporters asking questions was always discouraged. So I decided to give it a try. I went to a budget meeting the commissioners were holding today, hoping to get a chance to ask a question near the end.
As the commissioners were wrapping up the segment on the budget, Commissioner Ullman spoke up. "I'd like to point out that we have a reporter in the room, and I wondered if she has any questions?" she asked.
"This is not a public hearing," Commission Chairman Fred Tilman said.
A public hearing, according to Ada County spokesman Rich Wright, is the only type of commission meeting where the public can testify. I was at a public meeting, which just means the public can sit in and listen. Until I got there, I wasn't too clear on which type of meeting the budget meeting was since the agendas posted online aren't labeled "hearing" or "meeting."
Commissioner Ullman persisted and persuaded Commissioner Tilman to at least hear what my question was regarding. (She was really quite nice about it.) When I told him the topic, he said, "We're not discussing that today."
"Will you be discussing it on Tuesday?" I asked, believing Tuesday to be the date of one of the next public hearings.
"Check the agenda," he said. As of this writing, the agendas for next week have not been posted yet.
Chairman Tilman is willing to do interviews with the media outside of meetings, according to Rich Wright. But during meetings, Wright explained, it's his prerogative to not allow reporters to ask questions unless it's a hearing, and to ensure that only questions regarding the topic at hand are asked and answered. Commissioner Ullman, meanwhile, won't talk to newspaper reporters unless it's at a public hearing, or on her blog. Between these two policies, if you want to ask Ullman something and you don't want to run the risk of news competitors seeing your questions and answers on her blog and scooping you, you have to hope for a public hearing where the commission will be talking about what you want to ask about.
It's kind of a limiting format, and there are a whole range of news topics that might never see the light of day if they aren't on the commissioners' agenda.
But points for effort, Commissioner Ullman. Points for effort.
Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman noticed our efforts to report on county business on her new blog, which is called:
I’d like to commend Boise Weekly reporter Lora Volkert for attending several of our meetings this morning. She requested I answer questions for her, either in person or in writing; however, I refer her back to my first blog post [here] with regard to my media policy. Direct communication with the public, rather than through interpretation of a reporter, will provide you the best opportunity to get the real story of what is going on in Ada County government.Have any readers out there tried to contact Ullman "directly"? If so, did she answer your questions?
Though Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman has talked a lot about open government, her responsiveness to reporters during her campaign and even after her victory in November does not exactly jive with openess.
"Great talking with you this morning. I forwarded your questions to Commissioner Ullman and she said she didn’t intend to provide any further comment until the Board took action on the Allied contract. She mentioned something about posting a new entry to her blog… Maybe check that out to see if she provides any new insight there???? That’s the best I can do at this point. I’ll keep you posted as things develop with the Allied contract. If you’d like more sit-down time with one of the other Commissioners I can help arrange that."It's great that Commissioner Ullman blogs so she can communicate directly with constituents. But I doubt her blog has enough readership for her to inform the whole community about what's going on in the Ada County Commission. Citizens have a right to know what their government representatives are doing, and a lot of Ada County residents depend on traditional media to stay informed about local government.
This afternoon, the City Club held a forum for County Commission candidates in Districts 1 and 2. Paul Woods (D), Sharon Ullman (R), Rick Yzaguirre (R) and David Langhorst (D) fielded questions from Jim Weatherby about issues like land use, property taxes, open spaces and planned community development.
The banquet room at the Grove Hotel was packed with concerned citizens and cheap lunch aficionados, alike. Highlights of the forum included: Ullman and Langhorst speaking out against the "at will" personnel system passed by the last commission; Woods clarifying the commissions’ budget and recent money-saving cuts; and Langhorst indicting the “unfettered development” allowed under past commissions.
In other county commission news: BW’s Teresa Shipley trekked out to incumbent Woods’ and challenger Ullman’s neighborhoods to profile the District 1 race for today’s issue. Though Ullman declined an interview at her home, Wood’s spoke with Shipley from his Foothills house north of Hill road about hiking, mountain biking, beer and his fight to protect open spaces.
Check back in next week's BW for a profile of the Yzaguirre/Langhorst race with insights into the two candidates and the places they call home.