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Commission nullifies ice arena agreement

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | March 2, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — The Sandpoint Ice Arena will no longer be built near the Bonner County Fairgrounds and the sheriff’s office. At Tuesday’s weekly business meeting, commissioners nullified the memorandum of understanding between the county and the Sandpoint Community Center Corporation (SC3).

This decision concludes a nearly four-month long public campaign led by Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler against the project, saying among other things that the project was giving away county land and defunding the police.

Public opposition to the project grew after Wheeler posted a press release to the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on Nov. 4. Doubts brought by the public since then have focused on the site location between the sheriff’s office and the fairgrounds — a concern espoused by Wheeler.

On Dec. 6, Wheeler complained to the Bonner County Prosecutor's Office via email, claiming commissioners violated the Open Meeting Law by not providing adequate information about the memorandum of understanding on the Oct. 26 meeting agenda.

The Prosecutor’s Office requested the Idaho Attorney General’s Office investigate the allegations and provide a legal opinion on the situation. The AG’s Office issued a response on Feb. 16, but did not give a definitive legal stance on the matter. Instead, the AG recommended possible future actions that could be taken by county commissioners. However, the response strongly implied that the commission “likely” violated the Open Meeting Law.

“If he [Wheeler] had known that the action item involved the board voting as to whether to convert this parking lot into an ice rink, he would have attended the meeting and voiced his objection,” according to the AG in the Feb. 16 response. “He also believes if the agenda item had been clearer, other members of the public would have also attended the meeting.”

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, deputy prosecutor and legal advisor to the commission, Bill Wilson, advised commissioners to acknowledge the AG’s opinion and initial complaint, instead of ignoring it, which was the commission's other legal option.

“There was a complaint alleged by Daryl Wheeler that the board had improperly approved a lease involving an ice rink. … [A]nd that the agenda item did not adequately identify the subject matter that would be decided on by the board,” Wilson said. “We are here now to correct that problem … I recommended, that the board recognize that error and accept the Attorney

General's opinion, and also that the board recognize that the lease you approved in that meeting is void as a result of this investigation.”

Shortly after, commissioners voted to acknowledge the open meeting law violation, and render the lease between the county and SC3 as void.

Earlier this month, SC3 pivoted their ice rink endeavors from working with the county, to working with the city of Ponderay. SC3 aims to have a functional outdoor rink by the winter of 2022.

“The goal is to build an ice skating rink and have afterschool programs and hockey tournaments,” Commissioner Chair Dan McDonald on Tuesday. “Let’s keep focused on that as opposed to who-gets-credit-for-what, and everything will turn out great.”