Idaho’s grandstanding Attorney General, Raul Labrador, has decided he doesn’t like the process whereby the University of Idaho entered into a business deal with the University of Phoenix. He’s threatening the Idaho Board of Education with a lawsuit unless they “do over” an executive meeting where this forth coming deal was discussed. He’s insisting the deal be discussed in public.
I’m all for shining the light on public processes. But private companies might find this a chilling consideration, should any future businesses consider trading assets our way. Maybe that’s Labrador’s plan: throw cold water on state business deals. I am scratching my head about what he’s thinking unless it’s just my original assertion: he’s grabbing for the spotlight.
I can’t say I like the U of Idaho/ Phoenix deal, but the confidential business process is a long-standing Idaho tradition. Public institutions acquire, partner with, or somehow deal with private entities all the time. The Boards that ostensibly govern those state entities (appointed by the governor, approved by the State Senate) might hear some generalities about the process, or not. The discussions might be in public meetings, or they may not.
Take the 2016 affiliation of the private, for-profit medical school in Meridian with Idaho State University. Those deals were done in similar confidential ways. I don’t know if the Board of Education had discussions back then in executive session. But Labrador wasn’t AG then, he can rightly declare.
The announcement of the conclusion of that deal was heralded by most (but not all) as a wondrous accomplishment. Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine is still a private, for-profit entity, paying Idaho State University an annual sum on their thirty-year lease for the buildings on ISU’s Meridian campus. The payments go right into ISU’s operating budget, with no legislative appropriation. I wonder how many thirty-year leases there are in state contracts. I’ll bet there are a lot. I just know about this one because I asked some questions.
Maybe Labrador is “just asking some questions”. If so, he’s being pretty public about his process.
What business would want to subject a major investment with the whimsical Idaho legislature?
Labrador’s point that there are public meeting laws is fair. And agreeing to support a long-term binding deal by the Board of Education in executive session is clearly not public.
But how is our state going to do business? And a lot of what our state does involves business deals.
I’m no lawyer. But I did spend some time on the easily read “Idaho Open Meeting Law” website that has AG Labrador’s picture quite prominently above the introduction. There, on page 17, in discussing when governmental entities can go into executive session, taken straight out of Idaho Code it says:
(e) To consider preliminary negotiations involving matters of trade or commerce in which the governing body is in competition with governing bodies in other states or nations;
It seems our state, indeed our governing bodies can have nonpublic sessions to consider preliminary business deals.
Since this seems OK under the law, and it’s something Idaho government has been doing for a long time, just what point is AG Labrador making?
Does he have the same sour taste I do about the University of Idaho, the “Flagship University of Idaho” getting in bed with a disreputable, private, for -profit University? If so, that’s a poor excuse to twist the plain words of the law into a bullying action by our states elected head lawyer.
This action, and quite a few others are making Idaho the state doctors are fleeing, and soon lawyers will flock to. Esto Perpetua.