Saturday, December 02, 2023

Executive session recordings raise questions

Staff Writer | November 10, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners voted Tuesday to seek further clarification on a protection order against Commissioner Steve Bradshaw filed earlier this year by Commissioner Asia Williams. The vote came after a deputy was found to be recording executive sessions.

While details of the protection order, which is sealed, are unavailable to the public, the year-long order prevents Bradshaw from entering the Bonner County Administration Building except to attend regularly scheduled Tuesday business meetings. When he does attend those meetings, a deputy has been instructed to follow him until he leaves the premises.

While Commissioner Luke Omodt has voiced his disapproval of the deputy sitting in on meetings, things got more complicated this week when it was discovered that the deputy has been recording video and audio footage of executive sessions on his body camera — an action that could have legal ramifications.

“I am in shock that anybody would be that foolish,” Omodt said of the situation. “I am sickened by this behavior.”

While Idaho’s open meeting laws do not prohibit recording in an executive session, the distribution of that information could violate federal privacy and other laws, Omodt said. 

Bonner County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Tony Riffel acknowledged that bodycam video of executive sessions exists and has been uploaded to a private server that is not available to the public. However, it is unclear who else may have access to that server.

“There is no prohibition against recording and perhaps further disseminating, maybe even to the public, if the public entity so chooses,” said Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall.

While Marshall said recording and sharing information made in executive session is legally allowed, he said that any public records requests made for those recordings would most likely be denied due to the confidentiality of the information contained in that recording.

“Generally speaking I agree … that most executive sessions are not recorded as they pertain to information that would be inappropriate to be shared outside the organization, i.e. personnel matters or litigation strategies,” Marshall said.

Because of the potential breach of information being talked about in executive sessions, Omodt made a motion to seek further clarification on Williams’ protection order.

“The board of county commissioners actually has no right to do anything related to a civil order of protection,” Williams argued.

The motion passed 2-1, with Williams voting against it.

In addition, Omodt made another motion that the commissioners seek immediate counsel from Marshall regarding the body camera footage that has been taken in executive sessions.

“I would second that, with the understanding of the severity of something accidentally happening to evidence not being presented in its entirety and its unedited version in the near future, that was done today from the time this executive session started up until this moment,” said Bradshaw.

That motion also passed 2-1, with Williams again voting no.

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