By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Bonner County commissioners entered a special meeting Monday, March 27 with two items on the agenda — first, to determine the language for an advisory question on the May ballot regarding the placement of an RV campground on land between the Bonner County Fairgrounds and sheriff’s complex. The second piece of business was to consider simply moving the campground’s proposed home to land already understood as “fairgrounds designated property.”
Ultimately, neither item underwent a vote, as Commissioners Luke Omodt and Steve Bradshaw voted to abandon the advisory ballot question altogether and instead “revisit” a BOCC memorandum of understanding from 2014 that gave the Fair Board exclusive parking rights on the contested property.
Commissioner Asia Williams cast the lone vote in opposition to both measures, maintaining that the board was not taking the wishes of the community, sheriff or Fair Board into consideration.
The issue has been a long-simmering point of contention between the commissioners, Fair Board and Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, starting in 2022 when the BOCC voted to give late-Fair Director Darcey Smith permission to apply for and accept a grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Rec. to expand RV camping at the fairgrounds.
Wheeler has consistently argued that the land designated for the campground expansion is where he one day hopes to build an all-encompassing Bonner County justice facility. While no concrete plans are in the works for such a project, Wheeler maintains that prior boards have expressed that it is part of their “intentions” for the land.
That conflict picked up steam earlier this month, when Omodt initiated a board discussion to conduct a boundary line adjustment on the property. After much back and forth over the course of several regular business meetings, Williams and Bradshaw voted to put the issue up to voters in the form of a ballot advisory question.
When it came time March 27 to discuss what, exactly, that question should be, the conversation turned instead to the 2014 MOU, which Omodt said he discovered while doing research in order to draft the advisory ballot language.
The MOU, signed by former BOCC Chairman Cary Kelly on May 27, 2014, designated that the parcel in question — now being debated for use of the RV expansion or future justice facility — be “utilized exclusively by the Bonner County Fair Board for fairground parking lot purposes until further notice.”
Omodt attested that the advisory vote was not needed because “for the last 10 years” the land has been used “as fairgrounds property,” and motioned to adjourn the meeting.
Williams disputed Omodt’s claim, arguing that the parcel remained “county property” even under the MOU. She then referenced an email sent to the commissioners March 23 by Fair Board Vice Chair Jody Russell alleging that the Fair Board’s original intentions were to expand the RV park on the north section of the fairgrounds — far from the sheriff’s complex — and that she was “not sure when the campground site proposal moved to the south end of the fairgrounds …”
Williams motioned to allow the Fair Board to make its own decision on the RV park’s location — ostensibly choosing a location different than what was depicted on the 2022 grant application — and to keep the current MOU in place, allowing for fair-related parking on the contested parcel. Her motion died without a second.
According to an agenda posted to the Bonner County Fairgrounds Facebook page March 28, the Fair Board will host a discussion/decision regarding its “desired location for the proposed campground expansion at the Bonner County Fairgrounds and the drafting of a letter to the Bonner County Board of Commissioners reflecting that position” on the evening of March 29. That meeting occurred after the Reader’s press time.
The BOCC’s March 27 special meeting saw mostly debate between Omodt and Williams, with each alleging misrepresentations of the facts by the other.
“Why is this board so intent on making this a campground when … the Fair Board doesn’t want it, the sheriff doesn’t want it [and] the community cannot afford this decision?” Williams asked.
“We can have conjecture, we can have allegation, we can have misrepresentation, or we can go with the legal documents that have been presented and recorded by both bodies,” Omodt later said.
Omodt then reasserted his motion to adjourn the meeting, which Bradshaw seconded, sending the meeting into a frenzy of shouting as members of the public requested to comment with the support of Williams.
Resident Monica Gunter, once allowed to take to the microphone, shared that she worried the $473,000 in IDPR grant funds would end up wasted should the campground be built and later torn down to make way for a new justice complex.
“It is not in the best interest of us,” she said, accusing Omodt and Bradshaw of “playing God” and only pushing for the campground’s southern location to spite Wheeler.
“People want this campground 100%. We’re not saying don’t put in a campground. We’re saying move it over so we never have to plow the thing under,” Gunter added.
Once the board again took up the motion to adjourn, Omodt voted in favor while Williams called it “cowardice to not make a decision” before voting “no.” Bradshaw then also cast a “no” vote, offering his own motion: to “revisit” the parking MOU from 2014 — following the suggestion of Clerk Mike Rosedale, who said it might still be binding and therefore make the land unavailable for other uses — and to abandon the advisory vote.
Asked by Williams for clarification, Bradshaw responded: “I never said anything about changing the MOU, revising the MOU, throwing the MOU away, ignoring the MOU, or any of the other bullshit y’all wanna throw in there and misrepresent, but we are going to revisit it and look at it and we will make a decision on it at that point in time.”
No date was set for that MOU discussion, though Bradshaw indicated it should happen “as soon as possible.”
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