Apr 28, 2015

Commission starts choosing new board members in private

Park County commissioners are choosing to be less transparent in the way they pick members for the county’s public boards.

Starting with Friday’s selection of three new members for the Park County Fair Board, commissioners are now conducting their interviews with candidates — and their deliberations on who to choose — behind closed doors.

Expect to see more executive sessions.
The interview process had been public for many years, though it was generally rare for members of the public or media representatives to actually attend.

“From my way of thinking, it makes [things] difficult interacting with an applicant, especially when we have people — no offense — from the press there,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said in an interview. “I have had applicants in the past, when outside people have been there, [that] have been a little nervous and basically watch what they say.”

He made the decision after conferring with Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis and County Attorney Bryan Skoric, who said commissioners could chose to hold the interviews in executive session. State law says a governing body can exclude the public and meet in executive session “to consider the appointment ... of a public officer.”

Tilden said during Friday’s commission meeting that he’s received comments from past applicants that “they can’t be candid ... in the public eye.”

When asked if that’s a concern, considering the candidates are applying to public boards, Tilden said he thinks “it’s a different deal once you’ve been appointed to a board: you accept that responsibility that you’re going to have to do your job in front of the public. ... But when you’re interviewing, and trying to basically influence the board, I really think to you need to have an open, honest, candid conversation.”

“Especially if the position you’re interviewing for has been controversial in the past,” added Commissioner Lee Livingston. “That’s where they might not feel that they can be as candid in a public setting.”

The fair board positions qualify as having been controversial, as all three appointments were to replace board members who quit over differences with the commission.

“Especially if the position you’re interviewing for has been controversial in the past — that’s where they might not feel that they can be as candid in a public setting,” Livingston said of applicants.

Commissioner Tim French said making the process private also ensures a candidate can’t sit in on another applicant’s interview and learn the questions they’ll be asked in advance.

The commissioners’ long-time executive assistant, Peggy Ruble, said that during her 30-plus years on the job, board interviews have generally been conducted in public. However, Ruble said there have been periods where commissioners held them in executive session.

Tilden plans to stick with closed-door interviews.

“From now on, that’s going to be my policy,” he said. “For us to be in a position to make the best choice possible, we need to have a candid conversation with our applicants.”

Commissioners appoint people to a dozen different boards, whose duties range from steering the county’s libraries, to making planning and zoning recommendations, to overseeing the Yellowstone Regional Airport.

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