At least five parties, including the Bitterroot Star, have requested copies of the Human Rights Complaints filed by Deputy County Attorney Geoff Mahar against County Attorney Bill Fulbright and Ravalli County. The complaints were withdrawn as part of the stipulations in Mahar’s settlement agreement with the county which was agreed to following a closed door meeting on August 15, 2011.
Because of privacy issues, the Human Rights Bureau forwards requests for information involving complaints to the parties involved. If any party objects to the disclosure of the material, the parties seeking the information are then notified. The Bitterroot Star received notice from Katherine Kountz, Bureau Chief of the Human Rights Bureau of the Department of Labor and Industry, that Mahar has objected to all the requests for the release of the information.
Parties seeking information that has been withheld due to objections can then submit a written request for an official review of that decision. At least one of the requesting parties, Bill LaCroix, of the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance, has already requested a hearing before the Department of Labor and Industry Hearings Bureau. The Bitterroot Star will be requesting a hearing as well. The hearings officer will make a determination as to whether Mahar’s right to privacy clearly exceeds the public’s right to know, or not. No hearing date has been set.
Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell said, “The information contained in those complaints is essential to any understanding of the settlement agreement between Mahar, Fulbright and the County. They should be open to the public for review.” Howell noted that the Bitterroot Star also had a complaint pending with the county about the lack of proper public notice for the meeting on August 15, when the settlement was agreed upon. The county has not responded to that complaint.
The Bitterroot Star sent an original request for copies of the complaints to the County Commissioners. Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher told the newspaper that the county did not have a copy of the complaints and that he had never seen one. He said he learned of the content of the complaints through conversation at the negotiation meetings. Human Resources Director Robert Jenni also stated that the county was not in possession of the complaints. He said that he had read a copy of a complaint at a negotiation meeting but did not retain the copy. The county sent a letter directing the Bitterroot Star to the Human Rights Bureau with the request.