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BOCC can't find middle ground on P&Z applicant policies

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | April 19, 2023 1:00 AM

Bonner County commissioners were unable to agree on the process of how future planning and zoning commission members will be selected at its Tuesday meeting.

Bonner County Planning Director Jake Gabell said that while all positions are currently filled and there is no one up for consideration right now, he wanted to get commissioner approval on the official application process.

“I wanted some specific guidance on how the board intends to do the recruitment process on any future planning commission and zoning commission applicants,” Gabell said. “When future applicants ask, ‘What’s your process?’ I want to actually have a process that’s already been approved.”

Currently, the list of applicant names is closed to the public and the commissioners decide themselves who will be elected. However, the board has been getting some pushback from residents due to the “lack of transparency” in the application process as well as the potential for individuals with ulterior motives getting approved.

Commissioner Asia Williams suggested more public engagement throughout the entire process, with a potential for residents to weigh in on each applicant who applied.

“There have been a lot of people wanting to know how we select people for volunteer positions and advisory boards and where the community input is,” Williams said. “The people need to participate, but in order for them to participate in a meaningful way, we need to open up that door for good communication and meaningful participation.”

Commissioner Steven Bradshaw disagreed with Williams, saying no matter who commissioners choose to select, people will still be unhappy with that choice. Allowing public input would be inviting a plethora of negative, hateful comments regardless of who the applicant was.

“We’re not going to make everybody happy with our decision,” Bradshaw said. “It would be paradise if we did, but that's just not how it works. The process that's been in effect, I think it's a good process; I think it’s an effective process.”

Commissioner Luke Omodt agreed, also stating that just like any other job position, there are policies in place to respect applicant privacy and the board is not going to publicly disclose the names of every applicant they review.

Because of Omodt’s and Bradshaw’s disapproval of opening the applicant list, Williams suggested a middle ground: Asking the public what characteristics or passions they’d like to see in a candidate. For example, she said, the public may prefer candidates who have certain expertise or passions that commissioner’s should look for in the individuals they interview.

However, the two commissioners were still unconvinced and both voted to leave the application policy closed to the public while Williams voted to open it.

In other business, multiple human resource policy updates as well as the reappointment of fair board member Marjorie Tilley failed at Tuesday’s meeting. Williams voted yes on both matters while both Omodt and Bradshaw voted no.

On a more positive note, Williams proposed switching the commissioners’ meeting live streams from YouTube to Rumble, an idea that was suggested by a public commenter at last week’s meeting. Omodt presented the idea that the board offer both options so the public can decide for themselves where to stream the meeting.

“For the people who would like to use Rumble, they can use Rumble,” he said. “But as I’ve asked around, the most common refrain I got was: ‘What is Rumble?’”

Surprisingly, the three commissioners agreed to this and decided to rediscuss the matter at a later meeting once the extra streaming costs have been estimated.

The commissioners also unanimously approved their consent agenda as well as multiple large county purchases and a partial grant reimbursement for a new Gold Hill parking lot.