Monday, September 25, 2023

Public comment again absent from BOCC

Staff Writer | July 12, 2023 1:00 AM

There were again no public comments at the Bonner County commissioners Tuesday meeting after Commissioner Steve Bradshaw once more called a recess almost immediately after the meeting started.

Bradshaw began the meeting by reading a Bonner County ordinance regarding the commissioner meetings. The ordinance states that meetings are for the board to conduct business publicly as required by law.

“Regular business meetings do not constitute a public hearing wherein the public has a right to be heard on every agendized item,” the commissioner read. “However, at the discretion of the chair, everyone may be afforded an opportunity to speak on a particular issue if recognized by the chair. Any unrecognized comment or disruptive behavior will be grounds for removal.”

After finishing the ordinance, Bradshaw immediately called for a recess until 10 a.m., when the regular business meeting was set to begin. As he walked out of the room, Commissioner Asia Williams asked if she could challenge the chairman’s decision. He briefly paused and told Williams she could do whatever she wanted, but the meeting was recessed. Bradshaw then left the room. However, his response didn’t satisfy Williams, who continued speaking to the audience, contending that he did not, in fact, have the power to deny the public a comment section.

“The comment period is not part of the agenda,” she said. “It’s actually before the agenda.”

Williams told the audience that she would remain available to have discussions with them personally, despite the official public comment section supposedly not taking place each week. She also stated that the ordinance implies that the commissioners will give the community plenty of opportunity to participate in a meaningful way with the board.

“There is nothing that [Bradshaw] stated that removes that,” she said.

However despite her protests, the meeting did recess until the regular business meeting at 10 a.m.

While there was not as much of an uproar from the audience members as last time, many still voiced their displeasure with the way the commissioners were handling things. Some made verbal remarks while others held up printed out signs for the commissioners to see that said things like, “Rebuked by their own party,” and “Cowards suppress speech.”

Commissioner Luke Omodt said he was ashamed of how the commissioner meetings have been playing out the past few months. What was meant to be a civil place for residents to voice their concerns has become so hostile, he said, that many county department heads refuse to come to the meetings due to the hostility.

“I’m embarrassed by these meetings,” he said. “That includes the board, but that also includes some members of the public.”

It is unclear when the public comment section will return to the Bonner County commissioner meetings, if ever.

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