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Contention dominates BOCC meeting

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | May 31, 2023 1:00 AM

A contentious Bonner County commision meeting led to two recesses during the public comment section, including one that ended public comment almost half an hour early.

The first speaker, Spencer Hutchings, opened his comment by addressing Commissioner Luke Omodt about the proposed RV campground adjacent to the Bonner County Fairgrounds.

“We once again, Commissioner Omodt, refuse to give up on the fairgrounds camp expansion even though the fair board told you they don't want it,” Hutchings said. “The fair board wrote you a letter and said they didn't want the money for the grant. You guys are still pushing forward? Are you the fair board?”

Hutchings then paused, apparently waiting for a direct answer from the commissioner. This seemed to catch Omodt by surprise, who responded that he “believed he was a commissioner.”

“And you guys are still pushing forward?” Hutchings asked. “Do you need to call a friend? Maybe Dan McDonald? Maybe he can tell us why we’re still continuing forward. It doesn't make sense.”

The exchange prompted Commissioner Steve Bradshaw to warn Hutchings to keep his comments civil.

“It just doesn't make sense,” Hutchings continued. “You tell me what makes sense and I'll stop on this.”

Omodt said he had a response to Hutching’s questions, but he preferred to give his answers after his time was up so it wouldn’t turn into an argument that would waste the public’s time. Hutchings responded that he would prefer to stand so he could easily respond when Omodt “spewed a lie.”

“It was lovely talking to you,” Omodt said. “One of the things I’m noticing as I'm reading about the Idaho Republican Party platform is about civility and comity. And in the interest of providing other citizens the opportunity to speak, I will wait for my time. Thank you.”

Hutchings quickly responded to Omodt’s refusal to comment.

“Civility ends when lying starts,” he said. “There’s no point for civility anymore when lying starts.”

Hutchings was again warned about keeping his comments civil and, when he started to repeat his claims about Omodt “spewing lies to the public,” the commissioner cut him off.

“Yes, and we let you speak every week regardless,” Omodt said.

Hutchings asked Omodt to explain further, hoping to get specific instances where Omodt believes he lied to the public. However, he was not given further explanation as Bradshaw told him his time was up as he was not going to allow the public comment time to be taken up by a back-and-forth argument. When Hutchings attempted to continue speaking, Bradshaw called a 10-minute recess.

The break failed to ease the tension with many of the commenters asked about the ongoing issues with the proposed RV campground. Some residents believe that the property where the campground will sit has actually been set aside for a new justice center, although there are no documents supporting that belief.

“The reason for the campground is that it makes the fairgrounds more solvent and self-supporting which uses less tax dollars,” Bradshaw said. “There’s no agenda, there's no plot against the sheriff. We’ve always seen to it that he gets what he needs, whatever we have to do to get that done. All the B.S. that you want to throw at us, it’s all B.S. And you’re free to speak your mind as long as you don’t make it an attack.”

Commissioner Asia Williams also joined the conversation, saying while she appreciated Bradshaw’s response, she wasn’t sure he was getting to the root of the public’s questions.

“I am thankful you gave a response but I want to make sure we’re answering the question that I’m hearing from the community,” she said. “It isn’t, ‘Should the fairgrounds become more independent?’ The question is, if the existing fair [board] voted unanimously, why are we wanting as a board to tell them where to place it instead of allowing them to place it where they’re saying they want it on existing fairground land? Why are we as a board stuck on the location?”

Bradshaw responded by saying the piece of property adjacent to the existing fairgrounds is the only feasible spot to put an extra 34 camping spaces as there isn’t any room on the existing fairgrounds site without limiting space that has already been designated for other uses.

“If you were to put it anywhere on the existing fairgrounds, then you wouldn’t have places to park,” he said. When Williams attempted to continue talking about the topic, he proceeded to say that enough of the public comment time had been spent by commissioners talking and the meeting would proceed with the next person waiting to speak.

“But this is what the public asked for, too, is answers,” she said.

Williams attempted to respond further but was cut off.

“I’m chairing this meeting, you will be silent while [the next commenter] starts talking,” Bradshaw cut in.

However, that answer was not acceptable to Williams, who said she deserves the same respect as everyone else in the room and wanted to finish answering the public’s questions before the meeting proceeded.

“No, you just can’t follow the rules of the meeting,” Bradshaw said. “You do it on purpose so you can hijack the meeting and I’m not going to allow it … We don’t interrupt you when it’s your turn to speak, and it’s not your turn to speak.”

Williams and Bradshaw continued to speak over one another for a few more seconds before Bradshaw decided to put an end to the argument altogether.

“Okay fine, we will recess until 10,” Bradshaw said. “Thank you, Commissioner Williams. Thank this lady right here.”