Friday, December 08, 2023

Sergeant at arms will stay at BOCC meetings

Staff Writer | September 20, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A sergeant at arms will be staying at the Bonner County commissioners meetings following a 2-1 vote Tuesday seeking brief discontinuation of the position.

Bonner County Commissioner Asia Williams noted that a sergeant at arms position was created after the commissioners voted this summer to adopt Robert’s Rules of Order for their meetings. A county employee was appointed to act as the sergeant in arms — which Commissioners Luke Omodt and Steve Bradshaw said is currently the only feasible option as both the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office and Sandpoint Police Department said they would not be willing to fill that role.

However, Williams, as well as the county’s legal and risk management teams, said they had concerns about a county employee being chosen for that position. According to Williams, having a county employee in that role could open the county up to legal repercussions.

“For example, if an officer were to come up and say, ‘I’m going to remove you,’ there’s a difference than if a county employee said [that],” she said.

Williams said should the commissioners wish to continue using a county employee for the position, they should amend that individual’s job description as well as set up appropriate insurance for the new job expectations. However, the commissioner said that the county’s risk management team did not advise a county employee for the position and recommended hiring someone else with immunity.

“Insurance is volatile for lots of people, but it is very volatile for public agencies,” Williams said. “We should not engage in activities that are tinkering with our support beams right now until we can actually land all the insurance that we need.”

Additionally, Williams said it was unfair to put any county employee in a negative position with the county residents, as this could cause more strife in the county.

“I don’t think we need to add a little bit more gasoline to a fire that’s still smoldering here,” she said.

Williams made a motion to discontinue utilizing a county employee as the sergeant at arms until the legal and risk management teams give clearance that that individual will meet the county’s risk assessment.

Omodt said he was opposed to discontinuing the position, even for a short period of time. Referencing the multiple residents who have spoken to him about their concerns regarding the aggression that is shown at the commissioner meetings, he said he was glad there was anyone even willing to do this job.

“I will never, ever vote against something that protects the ability of the public … to be able to participate in county government,” he said.

Williams attempted to correct Omodt, saying she is not trying to completely rid of the position but was trying to ensure the county does not find itself in more legal trouble because of this new position.

“Never once did I say, ‘We don’t need a sergeant at arms,’” she said. “That battle’s been lost; we have Robert’s Rules of Order. But the way in which you implement it should require and demand you show how you’re going to mitigate this significant concern. You will leave Bonner County with the risk associated with appointing a county employee to a job that they are not trained for, they are not listed as and they are not insured under, which was also part of the argument from risk [management].”

Bradshaw also voiced his opinion on the matter, saying the county is at a crossroads concerning how to address who will sit as the sergeant at arms. A Bonner County Sheriff’s Office deputy will be required to be at the Tuesday meetings for the next 11 months per a restraining order that was issued to Bradshaw by Williams — a deputy which Bradshaw said would make a great sergeant at arms. Unfortunately, the commissioner said, that deputy is unable to perform those duties because the sheriff’s office has claimed that the Administration Building — where the commissioner meetings are held — is out of their jurisdiction.

“[They said] their jurisdiction is not in the city of Sandpoint,” he said. “But last I checked, it was damn sure in the county of Bonner. So to say they don’t have jurisdiction here would be to say, if somebody robs the Chevron Station over there on the corner, they can’t arrest them because it’s not their jurisdiction. But the city is damn well in the county of Bonner and they do have jurisdiction. So we’re placed in a position where our deputies can’t do the job that they took an oath to do because the [sheriff’s office] has instructed them not to.”

Bradshaw told Williams that if she can find any law enforcement officer that is willing and allowed to do the job of a sergeant at arms, he would be more than happy to continue this discussion. As of now, though, that option seems to be off the table for the commissioners, he said.

After some arguing among the commissioners and a brief recess, the meeting was resumed and the motion died in a 2-1 vote, with Omodt and Bradshaw voting against it.

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