By Soncirey Mitchell
Before they could adopt the order of the agenda, an argument broke out among the Bonner County board of commissioners at their regular Jan. 16 business meeting, when Chair Luke Omodt moved to amend the 10 standing rules previously adopted on Dec. 19, 2023.
“Recent events have led to the need for the original rules and language to be updated to conduct the business of Bonner County,” Omodt said, referring to the chaotic Jan. 9 business meeting that saw numerous angry breakdowns of communication, loud crosstalk and recesses that stretched the meeting from its 9 a.m. start until adjournment at approximately 3 p.m.
He later motioned to make a minor change to the previously adopted fifth rule and add an 11th.
Rule 11 states that, “After a motion has been made and seconded, voting will be confined to those in favor, ‘yea/yes’; those opposed, ‘nay/no’; or those who are neutral, ‘abstain.’ The chair may direct the clerk to proceed with the vote with all motions requiring two-thirds to pass. Attempts to filibuster a vote will be ruled out of order. Those who do not vote agree with the decision of the majority.”
Williams opposed the motion as, according to her, legal counsel did not approve it, and she believed that it gave the majority the power to alter a minority vote. Omodt later clarified that those abstaining will not have their vote altered to reflect the majority ruling, but rather their vote will simply not be recorded.
Williams cited Robert’s Rules of Order, which the board adopted on Jan. 18, 2023, in an attempt to draw her fellow commissioners into a discussion.
“There has been a misrepresentation of what deliberation is and what it is not. The open meeting law manual is quite clear when it states, ‘The term deliberation is also a defined term and means the receipt or exchange of information or opinion relating to a decision,’” Omodt responded.
“Robert’s Rules of Order actually specifically discusses deliberation — it has to do with the exchange, and it says it has to be exhaustive and to the point,” said Williams, further arguing that her attempts to force deliberation do not constitute “filibustering.”
“If you stopped trying to limit me, I actually will talk less because we would just do my point and I would be done, but now I spend time talking about all the things you guys put forward to stop me from talking,” she added.
Omodt’s motion to adopt an 11th rule of conduct and alter the fifth passed with Williams dissenting. The revised fifth rule states: “Debate on all motions will be limited to twice per speaker and five minutes per turn [changed from ‘time’]; debate can be extended or limited by a majority vote of the BOCC.”
Omodt then moved to alter the order of the agenda by postponing six of Williams’ seven items, as she had not filed them with the proper memorandums for action items as stipulated by the BOCC Meeting Agenda Submission Procedure.
Williams’ items included discussions about community issues, events, projects, open meeting rules, legal opinions and upcoming guests at her pre-business meeting “Commissioner Chats,” and would have taken the place of her usual commissioner report, which Omodt and Commissioner Steve Bradshaw voted to strike from the agenda in perpetuity during the Jan. 9 meeting.
“There is no memo that’s needed for me to provide information to the community, you guys are just being unreasonably difficult,” said Williams, explaining that although she labeled her discussion items as “action items” on the agenda, they didn’t actually require a vote. According to her, commissioners label everything an action item in executive sessions as a “catch-all” in case discussion necessitates an unexpected motion.
“Actually, discussing something is an action. Action is discussion. It’s a verb,” said Williams.
“What is the memo that you would anticipate seeing on [a] discussion regarding legal opinions. What am I motioning? ‘Will you please listen to me?’ There isn’t a motion for that,” she later added.
The motion to postpone six of Williams’ items passed with her dissent.
For the meeting’s final action item, Williams motioned that “the board of county commissioners, in compliance with [Idaho Code] 31-1701, move forward with a full and complete audit [going back an undetermined number of years] of the financial transactions of the county as it relates to the fair.”
I.C. 31-1701 stipulates that “[t]he board of county commissioners of every county shall cause to be made, annually, a full and complete audit of the financial transactions of the county.”
In a nod to objections raised by her fellow commissioners in past meetings — including on Jan. 9 — Williams acknowledged that the comprehensive audit will be an additional cost to taxpayers and may take more than a year to complete.
“We are moving forward, finding what we need to do in the future, but I believe there is an obligation of the board to address what didn’t happen in the past,” she said.
Omodt seconded her motion, but argued that the board already voted to conduct an audit during its Oct. 24, 2023 business meeting.
“Fact: The board has not done that. Fact: You suspended indefinitely the ability to do that. Fact: This rule says we should do it annually,” said Williams, referencing the board’s decision on Jan. 9 to indefinitely postpone her motion to send out a request for proposal for a forensic fair audit.
“In order to have an audit for 2024, we have to bring the Fair Board into compliance for 2023 so that we have a starting point for audits. What happened prior to 2023 will be addressed after we get forward with the county business for the Fair Board,” said Bradshaw.
William’s motion to audit the fair passed unanimously.
With her discussion items removed from the agenda, Williams signed up to speak during the public comment section. Omodt bypassed her comment and successfully motioned to enter into executive session.
“‘Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of a dictatorship,’” said Williams, repeating a quote widely attributed to young adult fiction author Bruce Coville, according to Goodreads and other sources.
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