On Dec. 9 and 10, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) held a hearing to determine the fate of some large loads that oil companies want to ship through central Idaho along Highway 12. The meeting was held at the Grove Hotel in downtown Boise, costing the state agency $3,000.
Why go to that expense, especially when free space was available for the meeting less than five blocks away at the Idaho Capitol building?
Jeff Stratten, spokesman for ITD, told IdahoReporter.com that the hearing was held in the hotel because a staffer at the Idaho Department of Administration said no state space able to hold more than 100 people was available for the two-day hearing process. The hotel was chosen after ITD officials scrambled – they had less than a week to locate meeting space – to find a suitable location. Stratten said the staffer tasked with finding a meeting room contacted 15 other locations before settling on the Grove Hotel.
The $3,000 charge included room rental, audio-visual setup, water, and coffee.
Meanwhile, the Senate Auditorium in the Idaho Capitol building, built to seat 200, sat empty on the two days of the hearings, a fact confirmed by Sue Jones, a staffer with House Speaker Lawerence Denney’s office. The auditorium, in addition to its large seating capacity, is also equipped with audio-visual equipment and drop-down screens necessary for visual presentations.
For the general public, the scheduling policy for the Capitol outlines that rooms must be reserved more than 180 days in advance of events, a provision that would have prohibited ITD from scheduling its hearing in the auditorium.
However, ITD doesn’t count as the general public because as a state agency, it is given special consideration. “The State reserves the right to cancel a reservation if the space is required for an official State function, including but not limited to use by an elected official,” says the note on the scheduling website page for the Idaho Capitol.
It’s not as if state agencies don’t already use the large auditorium for other functions. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare held a meeting in the space on Dec. 11, a day after the mega-loads hearing, and Idaho Public Television held a series of debates in the room this year for various electoral races.
Tracy Whittington, tasked with scheduling of state building for the Facilities Services Division within the Department of Administration, was unavailable for comment Friday.