Thursday, June 20, 2024

Open meeting laws at forefront of commission meeting

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| January 25, 2023 1:00 AM

Instead of dipping their toes gently into county business, commissioners dove headfirst into disorder at Tuesday’s business meeting.

Despite voting to adopt the order of the agenda, commission chairman Steve Bradshaw mixed up the order and called for public comment and approval of the consent agenda prior to an agenda item that was supposed to be a report from the District 2 commissioner.

Before the mix-up was sorted out, resident Dan Rose under the guise of public comment, brought up open meeting laws. He questioned why special meetings’ minutes weren’t published and suggested that officials call a special workshop on the topic.

Getting back on track, Commissioner Asia Williams gave her report on the prior week’s activities that, among many other things, included telling the standing-room-only attendees that she reached out to the Attorney General's office for clarity regarding open meeting laws in order to ensure that Bonner County was in compliance with that law and that some education and training was going to be offered to the community and employees.

She also said that often after an executive session, the board reconvenes and votes on issues discussed privately, and she encouraged everyone to remain for that portion of the meeting.

“I would offer that after I speak we’re going into public comment," she said. "If you have an issue or concern you want addressed, or you want to see on an agenda item, speak up and I can review that until the board decides whether or not we are going to agendize it.”

Commissioner Luke Omodt said that he appreciates the discussion about open meeting laws and clarifying the agenda items. He said that he spent time reading the manual and met with Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall about the subject of open meetings.

He said that he found the county’s current practices “is in alignment with Idaho Code 74-201, that our current practice is what we should be doing.” He acknowledged that there was room for improvement.

Omodt said that he wanted to clarify open meeting laws as they pertain to executive session. “Some of the things we go into executive session about regard personnel. And regardless of whether or not you work for the county, your rights do not end at the county door.”

He said that these discussions were about personal personnel matters and that employees are entitled to privacy.

He also said that in the last three weeks, he’s been notified of 15 lawsuits involving Bonner County and that they keep coming. He emphasized the county’s responsibility is to be fiscally responsible — something he promised his constituents when he ran for office. He said that he’s open to having meetings about meetings and looks forward to setting a date in the near future.

After Omodt concluded his update, Williams pointed out that District 3’s representative’s report wasn’t on the agenda.

“When you’re talking about some things that, for instance, Mr. Rose brought up, when you add something, that’s actually adding it onto the agenda and not giving time for a rebuttal. I didn’t want to interrupt, but in the future, we need that on the agenda because the community has the right to know that he’s going to speak, and they might have a desire to call him and say what are you going to talk about or what are you going to do?”

Commissioners proceeded through the agenda, however, that wasn’t the end of discussion about meetings. An agenda item presented by Human Resources Director, Cindy Binkerd, revising the Workplace Conduct Policy 400.4, which prohibits extra-meeting discussions between county department heads and one commissioner, generated a lively and sometimes somewhat tense discussion.

Williams said that the wording in the revised policy would make sure that the community knows what discussions a commissioner was having as well as the other commissioners. She said the transparency would eliminate a commissioner from being blindsided by a discussion they weren’t privy to. She also pointed out that it had been approved by legal.

After a lengthy debate that included questioning if the matter could be discussed in executive session, Bradshaw asked for a motion to table the policy revision. Omodt so moved and Bradshaw stepped down as chair to second it. Bradshaw and Omodt voted in favor. Williams voted no.

County commission meetings are held weekly at the County Administration Building, 1500 Highway 200, Suite 338. They are available live-stream and on Zoom. The commissioners have been asked to speak into the microphones so they can be heard.