By Ben Olson
In a sprawling special meeting Nov. 16, the Bonner County board of commissioners covered a laundry list of topics, ultimately passing several motions involving retention of outside legal counsel, the legality of a sheriff’s deputy recording executive sessions with a body camera and the attempts by one commissioner to obtain the email records of another via public records requests.
For the first order of business Chairman Luke Omodt introduced a motion to cure any violations of open meeting law that had occurred during the Nov. 7 meeting of the BOCC. It is not known what specific motion or motions were cured because they were passed during the executive session portion of the meeting; however, Commissioner Asia Williams told the Reader they had to do with “litigation,” and that there wasn’t an attorney present in order to pass those motions, so they were voided with a unanimous vote.
The next topic under discussion Nov. 16 involved retaining outside legal representation for Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale to be represented by the law firm Holland and Hart regarding tort litigation from Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer, who is currently suing Bonner County for $3.5 million.
Rosedale spoke at length during the meeting to address recent accusations against his office regarding potential fraud with the Bonner County Fair Board.
“The accusations by Sheriff [Daryl] Wheeler and his son-in-law [Deputy Prosecutor] Scott Bauer against my office, my comptroller and Hayden Ross first revolved around a claim that there was failure to disclose any potential fraud at the fairgrounds,” Rosedale told the Reader in an email. “I have been accused that my office wrongfully/negligently and perhaps with criminal intent told Hayden Ross to not audit the fairground activities.”
Rosedale sent the Reader documents to back up his claim that the clerk’s office was not responsible for auditing the Fair Board, referencing an email from Hayden Ross external auditor Tony Matson, which confirmed with Rosedale, “As we discussed today, the Bonner County Fairgrounds FY2022 financial information will not be included, and is not part of, the county’s audit or audited financial statements.”
Furthermore, Rosedale pointed to another accusation that his office stated there was no fraud at the Fair Board, referring to a questionnaire he had filled out and contained multiple responses, including, “[the] issue at the fairgrounds is still unknown and it is not under our purview/control.” “There is some allegation of some financial mismanagement by the past fair director, but the fair is separate from the county and does not affect our grants that I am aware of,” Rosedale wrote in the fraud questionnaire.
Rosedale told the Reader in a follow-up email, “I do audit that portion of the Fairground’s funds that we levy (collect taxes for) and pay out (which go to salaries, benefits and $20,000 for ribbons). We have never audited those other financial activities of the fair as we can’t see them or check their veracity, such as rodeo revenues, all the cash transactions, etc.”
Rosedale said at the Nov. 16 meeting that he required outside counsel because the accusations by Wheeler and Bauer were being waged, “in the court of public opinion.”
Following up on that assertion, Rosedale wrote, “Sheriff Wheeler has an attorney (Scott Bauer, his son-in-law) working for him. And Scott Bauer himself is railing against my office and my staff and external auditor, most recently in the form of a notice of tort. … [O]ur prosecutor’s office is not defending me in this and I was left to fight this myself with no legal representation. I had little choice but to ask for representation from somewhere else.”
Commissioner Asia Williams opposed the motion, claiming an impending tort litigation is not an actual lawsuit yet, therefore retaining counsel would not be financially prudent. Prosecutor Louis Marshall informed the board that his “office has a right to defend ourselves,” which he indicated would be in written form.
The board made a motion to expand the Holland and Hart contract to represent Rosedale, with Commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Omodt voting in favor and Williams voting against.
Next on the agenda was an action item to utilize Idaho Code 31-802 to obtain emails from Williams through public records requests submitted by Omodt.
That section of statute establishes the powers of boards of commissioners to “supervise the official conduct of all county officers, and appointed boards or commissions of the county charged with assessing, collecting, safekeeping, management or disbursement of the public moneys and revenues,” as well as seeing that “they faithfully perform their duties” and “direct prosecution for delinquencies; approve the official bonds of county officers, and when necessary, require them to make reports, and to present their books and accounts for inspection.”
“This is a continued showing of this board intentionally trying to just be different for one commissioner than another,” Williams argued. “What does the board of commissioners need in my email box?”
“It’s not the emails, it’s the tax dollars being spent on special privileges and the coordinated lack of transparency from the sheriff, prosecutor and commissioner,” Omodt wrote in an email to the Reader. “The public has a right to know where the tax dollars are being spent; it is literally my job to supervise the expenditure of county tax dollars.”
In an email to the Reader, Williams wrote, “Until the community demands that Omodt and Bradshaw focus on the business of the county, things will not improve.”
Williams put forward a motion to deny any requests for the board to access her emails, but it died for lack of a second. Omodt then moved to use Idaho Code 31-802 to obtain Williams’ emails, which Bradshaw amended to include the line, “pending legal interpretation,” before the motion passed with Bradshaw and Omodt voting in favor and Williams against.
The next agenda item dealt with whether the judge who issued a civil protective order against Bradshaw for alleged threats made toward Williams had intended that the deputy assigned to supervise the BOCC be allowed to record executive sessions on his body camera. The agenda item asked whether the BOCC should hire outside counsel to investigate that question.
“A deputy prosecutor is currently suing Bonner County for $3.5 million,” Omodt wrote. “The Bonner County Fair Board gets a prosecuting attorney to attend their meetings but the BOCC does not. I have repeatedly asked for legal advice, receiving no response, then been accused of wilfully breaking the law in writing by our own attorney, and then had the same attorney initiate a serial meeting, which is an open meeting law violation.”
Bradshaw spoke briefly about questions of legality involving the deputy filming during a closed-door executive session, wondering, “Does this constitute a Bonnergate? We will get clarification on this,” referring to a trip he was making to Coeur d’Alene to address the matter with legal officials there.
Bradshaw would neither confirm nor deny the trip to the Coeur d’Alene federal building in a follow up email to the Reader, but stated he believed, “there is an effort to surreptitiously record and video my every move in the administration building and executive sessions,” and that “entrapment” was one of his concerns.
“I’m not sure what the law considers ‘spying,’ but I feel like this would fall dangerously close to that edge of the envelope,” Bradshaw wrote, adding that he has made a request for the footage to be preserved and retained in its original format, as well as a list of everyone who has viewed, copied or accessed the footage.
Williams contended that the deputy wouldn’t need to be present during the executive session portion of the meeting if Bradshaw simply attended the meetings via Zoom.
“The answer is able to be fixed instantly. Excuse yourself from in-person executive sessions,” she said, referring to Bradshaw.
“An elected official cannot serve the residents of Bonner County remotely,” Omodt wrote to the Reader in the days following the Nov. 16 meeting. “The voters of Bonner County choose who represents them, not a judge, and the Constitution and laws of the state of Idaho determines when an elected official is removed from office.”
Bradshaw declined to comment on that topic.
The motion passed for the county to receive clarification on the judge’s civil protective order regarding recording or filming during executive session, with Omodt and Bradshaw voting “yes” and Williams abstaining because of a conflict of interest. Williams then stated she would request a “deck hearing” for Bonner County to represent her in defense of this motion and would refer the matter to the attorney general’s office for “corruption.”
A subsequent motion seeking written counsel from the Bonner County Prosecutor’s Office regarding the surveillance of executive sessions passed unanimously, with Williams stating the board is never barred from asking for a legal opinion from the prosecutor.
Omodt introduced the final agenda item, which would have retroactively eliminated the attorney-client privilege for the entire BOCC from the moment they took office on Jan. 9, 2023 to the present.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office unilaterally gave away my individual attorney client privilege as a commissioner while protecting Commissioner Williams,” Omdot wrote to the Reader. “Rules for thee and not for me is not how a republic is supposed to work. I am 100% sure that this privilege is being used to block my public records requests.”
Williams pushed back on the motion, claiming the agenda item was first titled in such a way to address her alone, but was expanded to include all the individual board members.
“We shouldn’t play ring around the retard,” Williams said, eliciting several gasps from the audience and one member of the public stating, “That’s so offensive.”
Omodt voted in favor of the motion while Williams voted against, but the motion died after Bradshaw abstained, saying, “From what I’ve seen, we don’t have attorney client privilege anymore.”
After just over an hour, Omodt adjourned the meeting.
*Note, this story contains the following corrections: Tony Matson was identified as “Hayden Ross attorney” when he is actually the “external auditor.” Also, Matson’s email was characterized to be “instructing” Bonner County, when in actuality it was a confirmation email. Also, Rosedale requested to add the following statement: “Rosedale told the Reader in a follow-up email, ‘I do audit that portion of the Fairground’s funds that we levy (collect taxes for) and pay out (which go to salaries, benefits and $20,000 for ribbons). We have never audited those other financial activities of the fair as we can’t see them or check their veracity, such as rodeo revenues, all the cash transactions, etc.'”
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