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Cheers & Jeers

Marty Trillhaase
February 27, 2004
Idaho Falls Post Register

JEERS to Jefferson County Clerk Christine Boulter. Where did this elected official learn about open courts?

Saddam Hussein's Baghdad?

For almost three weeks, Boulter seemingly has done everything in her power to keep you from finding out why Shana Parkinson Whitmore was charged with Jefferson County's Feb. 2 double homicide.

At issue is the record of a probable-cause hearing that outlines why law enforcement and prosecutors believe she murdered her ex-husband, Gregg Whitmore, and Gregg Whitmore's girlfriend, Karen Cummings. Based on that evidence, Shana Parkinson Whitmore faces two counts of first-degree murder and burglary.

This is not some obscure document. It is routinely provided to the public - which has every reason to know what its police and prosecutors are doing. We don't have star chambers in this country.

But Boulter has repeatedly denied this newspaper's requests to examine an audiotape recording of the probable-cause hearing. That creates suspicions that otherwise wouldn't exist.

And when Magistrate Michael Kennedy overruled her Wednesday, she frustrated the intent of his ruling by having the tape rushed to a stenographer - and out of reach of reporters - for transcription. That didn't stop reporter Ben Botkin from getting it, and his story appears on the cover of today's paper.

But there's something disturbing about a county clerk who wants to keep the public's business to herself. Send Boulter back to school, preferably somewhere where the Bill of Rights is still observed.

CHEERS to state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise. It remains to seen whether the social-conservative wing of the Idaho GOP will overrun her. But Sorensen, an 18-year legislative veteran, has shown once again why she's such an asset to the Legislature and why her imminent retirement should be cause for concern by all Idahoans of good will.

Sorensen is chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. On Wednesday, she exercised her option as chairwoman not to conduct a hearing on a measure that would make intolerance toward gays a part of the Idaho Constitution.

That may not be the end of it. Sorensen's power is not absolute, and if the Senate Republican leadership insists, the bill could still get to the floor. If it passes there, the issue would be on the ballot this fall.

This really isn't about preventing gay marriage, however. Idaho law already forbids it. If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the pro-gay marriage ruling in Massachusetts, no state constitution can stop it.

This is about the ongoing civil war within the Republican Party. Conservatives hope to use this vote against moderate lawmakers in this spring's primary.

And they don't care who gets hurt in the process - which will be just about everybody if the ballot measure triggers another divisive fall campaign and adds to Idaho's already national - if undeserved - reputation for intolerance.

CHEERS to state Sen. Laird Noh, R-Kimberly. After 24 years in the state Senate, he's retiring.

Noh is the atypical politician - a quiet, thoughtful moderate who often shuns the limelight and shows little interest in climbing the political ladder.

As chairman of the pivotal Senate Resources and Environment Committee, he was part of the old school that included people such as former Senate Education Chairman John Hansen, R-Idaho Falls, and former House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairman Steve Antone, R-Rupert. Whatever their own personal views of legislation or causes, everybody got a fair shake in their committees.

Noh's record includes setting up state oversight of the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, something that helped mollify the site's critics elsewhere in Idaho. He helped create a program to protect Idaho's rivers, including the Henry's Fork. He contributed to stronger state surface mining bonding and reclamation standards. He played key roles in designating Idaho's Birds of Prey area and has been a steady, pragmatic hand on salmon and water issues.

The biggest tribute may come later, however. Once he's gone from the Legislature, you're bound to notice the difference.

CHEERS to Bill Manwill, the embattled member of the Iona-Bonneville Sewer District Board. Manwill, the target of a recall campaign, is a proponent of studying a regional sewer system that includes Ammon, Shelley, Bonneville and Bingham counties. Iona-Bonneville now sends its sewage to the Idaho Falls treatment plant, and moving to a new plant will mean higher rates. How much more is a matter of dispute.

On Wednesday, Manwill faced a choice. He could obstruct the process of filling three vacancies on the sewer district board - in which case the courts would resolve the matter. Or he could break the stalemate politically. Because fellow board member Earl Stephens rejected Manwill's initial choices, Manwill wound up supporting the nomination of one of his toughest critics, Susan Ring.

Once Ring was appointed, the die was cast. Ring and Stephens voted to pull the sewer district out of the regional system.

Manwill isn't happy about the outcome - he still faces a recall election in late May - but he showed some class by doing what was right at some personal cost.

JEERS to Charles R. King, director of the U.S. Forest Service's Office of Occupational Safety and Health. You still don't know who's responsible for last summer's deaths of forest firefighters Jeff Allen and Shane Heath. Why? Ask King.

Allen and Heath died July 22 on the Cramer Fire while clearing a helicopter landing pad on a hillside in the Salmon-Challis National Forest.

Late last year, the Forest Service concluded managers, not the firefighters, made a series of mistakes that led to the tragedy.

But the agency blanked out the names of everyone involved except Allen and Heath. So it's impossible to tell who was responsible. So far, the only names to surface were former Forest Supervisor George Matejko, North Fork District Ranger Patty Bates and Cramer Fire incident commander Alan Hackett.

A new version of the report is hardly better. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, King released the job titles of some staffers - but still no names. That means, for example, whoever ordered Allen and Heath to go clear the helicopter site remains a government secret.

Such secrecy is something new. The agency didn't hide information about two earlier fatal fires - Storm King Mountain, Colo., in 1994 and the 2001 Thirtymile Fire in Washington state.

So here's what this means: Next year, potential forest firefighters may not know whether the people they're following were involved in Cramer. And the public will remain clueless about whether the Forest Service has learned anything from its mistakes.


Originally posted at http://www.postregister.com/story.php?accnum=618984-02272004&today=2004-02-27%2000:00:00

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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