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BOCC scolded for chaotic four-hour meeting

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | April 12, 2023 1:00 AM

After tensions rose to an all-time high at last week’s Bonner County commissioners meeting, many public commenters called out the behaviors of the commissioners Tuesday morning.

Commenter Jim Kelly told commissioners that last week’s meeting was out of control and better rules should be set in place to ensure that chaos doesn’t ensue again.

“If you don’t have rules, people will make up their own,” he said. “Watching commissioners snipe at each other, you know what happens. Have you ever been in a home with a couple who start sniping at each other? You start thinking, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ and you get very uncomfortable and you want to leave. Have respect for each other and the audience will have respect for you.”

Kelly urged the commissioners to treat each other with respect during the meetings, alluding to snide comments that were made between the three last week. Addressing Commissioners Luke Omodt and Steve Bradshaw, he said, “The person who sits between you gentlemen has a name, and her name is Commissioner Asia Williams.”

The commenter also requested clearer policies on whether commissioners would answer questions during the meeting as well as setting a specific time limit for each individual who wants to speak.

Currently, the commission allots the hour before the regular business meeting – which begins at 10 a.m. – for public comments, but there are no time limits on how long each person is allowed to speak.

“You could get someone up here who could stand up here for an hour and read a manifesto,” Kelly said. “I request that you set these time limits and you do not respond to the comments … I know some people behind me won’t like that but here’s what happens: arguments start.”

However, not all public commenters agreed that the meetings would benefit from the lack of dialogue between the public and commissioners during that hour.

“It is necessary for the public to know their concerns or ideas are being heard,” said Brian Domke. “When commissioners remain silent or say, ‘Thank you,’ after being asked a question, it does not really let the public know they’ve been heard or understood.”

Kristen Stycket agreed, asking commissioners how the public was supposed to get answers to their questions if they weren’t getting responses during the meetings.

“It is crucially important for us to know your thought process,” she said. “If you're not answering any questions whatsoever, we will never know that answer. There should be no mystery here.”

While Williams responded to most comments directed her way, Bradshaw remained silent. Omodt reiterated that he felt it was against policy to respond to every question asked during public comments.

“I will continue to follow the ordinance and I will continue to follow the advice of the prosecutor's office,” he said.

After a brief recess before the start of the regular meeting, Omodt moved to postpone a decision on a shared parking agreement between Bonner County and the Panhandle Area Council LLC as well as a handful of human resource items that cover multiple policy updates involving grievance procedures, employee conduct, workplace harassment and employee discipline.

Omodt said he wanted to talk to County Prosecutor Louis Marshall about these issues as multiple prosecutor's office staff he spoke with gave him differing opinions on the updated procedures. However, Williams said these topics have been postponed by Omodt too many times and suggested that he simply vote no on the issues if he didn’t feel he currently had enough information to be in approval of them.

“The prosecutor is the ultimate authority in the prosecutor’s office,” Omodt said. “The series of events that have taken place warrants a one-week delay.”

The decisions were ultimately postponed as Williams was outvoted by Omodt and Bradshaw.

“There are a couple of items on here that I find highly suspicious,” Bradshaw said. Because of this, he sided with Omodt, saying he was not willing to vote yes on them until the issues he had with the procedures were settled for him.

Williams talked about Priest River roads during the District 2 commissioner report, saying she would be headed that way to meet with road and bridge specialists Thursday to discuss how the roads can be improved in the town.

“Our focus is that our residents receive the road care that they deserve,” she said.

Williams also encouraged everyone to attend the Spirit Valley town hall on April 29 at 10 a.m. This event, she said, will help the commissioners better know how residents want to be represented.

“The whole point of the town hall is to get some answers,” she said.

Additionally, the board of commissioners unanimously approved a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant reduction amendment, a $15,000 increase in the county’s road and bridge spending authority, the county’s annual 4,000-ton magnesium chloride purchase and the recreation of the county EMS chief deputy position.