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Open Meeting Law complaint filed by sheriff

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 16, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler filed an Open Meeting Law complaint Monday with the Idaho Attorney General contending a March 2 special meeting regarding an RV campground project at the Bonner County Fairgrounds was improperly noticed.

In the complaint, which names Bonner County Commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Luke Omodt, Wheeler said the meeting was noticed as a discussion and decision on a $473,315 Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation grant to help create an RV park at or near the fairgrounds.

Wheeler called on the AG's office to find the March 2 meeting had been improperly noticed and, as a result, void the BOCC vote to approve the replat work.

"I think it's a shame that we have to postpone and possibly lose this project because of somebody's independent actions instead of listening to the legal representation and the vote of those on the Fair Board, who have that authority," Wheeler told the board after being invited to speak about his complaint by District 2 Commissioner Asia Williams at Tuesday's Board of County Commissioners meeting.

Bradshaw declined to pull the item from the agenda, saying he would wait for a ruling by the Attorney General's office.

"When we hear from them, we'll revisit it," the commission chairman said. "And I still fail to see how the Fair Board or the fairgrounds and county property involves the sheriff."

Bradshaw's comments, as well as later comments by Omodt, were criticized by Williams and several audience members, who called their behavior disrespectful and their actions out of line with residents' wishes.

Among those criticizing the board's behavior — and the action to replat the disputed parcel, were the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, which called on the county to put the issue before voters.

Others condemned the board's behavior, saying it amounted to a "wreck" and threatened that if the attitude and actions continued, they would launch recall efforts and work to make it as painful as possible.

Others blasted what they said was a lack of transparency on the board, while others spoke in support of the BCRCC's proposed ballot measure.

"You're not hearing us," Dottie Glass told the board. "You want to dictate to us. And we elected you. You've decided to be the dictator of your own kingdom. I don't know. It's really embarrassing."

In his complaint, Wheeler said the March 2 meeting was noticed on Feb. 24 as being on the IDPR fairgrounds grant.

However, in audio of the meeting, Wheeler said the discussion centered around a boundary line adjustment and the need to re-plat the former National Guard readiness center property. The sheriff contended the move is designed to expand fairgrounds property — and, as a result, is not covered by how the meeting was noticed.

Bill Wilson, who serves as the commissioners' legal counsel, questioned the board during that meeting on how it had been noticed, warning it could be problematic.

"That doesn’t identify surveying work you want to solicit," Wilson told Omodt and Bradshaw when told how the item was noticed. "I don’t know if that is within the scope of the agenized meeting."

Wilson told the duo they were trying to hire someone to do additional work. However, he warned them how it was included in the agenda did not make that clear — or make clear the nature of the work and its potential impact.

"I assume, maybe, if it had been, we would have had more people, other agencies here," Wilson said.

Omodt said the board could still make the motion and then "cure it" at another meeting if it was determined to be noticed improperly.

Idaho Code requires meetings be noticed so probable items of discussion are noticed in a way that makes them clear. Items that require a vote must be identified as an "action item" to make clear that action may be taken.

Following the March 2 meeting, the item again made an appearance at the March 7 meeting, albeit in a more descriptive manner. That agenda makes clear the item is to discuss a boundary line adjustment at the fairgrounds by Sewell & Associates, the firm hired to help with the RV park.

In both a memo associated with the agenda item and at Tuesday's BOCC meeting, Bradshaw and Omodt say the re-plat is needed "due to unforeseen circumstances" to allow for additional work at the site.

The disputed site is referenced as a "vacant parcel to the south" and as county-owned property. Wheeler disputes both claims, saying the site has long been earmarked for a future justice complex.

"This is 15.101 acres of land on the Bonner County Readiness Center subdivision. This is not a vacant parcel of land," Wheeler said.

In an email from Wilson to Wheeler and Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall, he told the pair that those in support of the RV campground were seeking a boundary line adjustment so the site did not straddle two parcels. Because the item had not been noticed in a way he felt was proper, Wilson wrote in the email he advised them to stop any further action.

"This implicates complex issues surrounding the split of authority between the BOCC and the Fair Board that are probably not appropriate for this email but suffice it to say I will not let anything happen out there without giving everyone the opportunity to weigh in on it,” he added.

The county applied for the grant in January 2022 for the RV campground. The project would add 34 RV campsites, including eight pull-through sites.

The site has been a bone of contention between the commission and Wheeler, with each side contending the disputed parcel lies under their purview. A prior effort to locate an ice rink on the property also drew sharp criticism — and an Open Meeting Law complaint, which was ruled valid by the AG's office, prompting the county to pull the project.