BOCC weekly business meeting overshadowed by flurry of legal filings

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

Despite the deceptively ordinary agenda, the bulk of the Bonner County board of commissioners regular business meeting on Feb. 27 was devoted to arguing about freedom of speech and the legal ramifications of BOCC Chair Luke Omodt trespassing residents Rick Cramer and Dave Bowman on Jan. 26 — and beneath it all, the tensions simmering between some members of the board and the prosecutor and sheriff’s offices. 

Attorney Daniel Sheckler, representing Cramer, issued a notice of tort claim against Omodt, Commissioner Steve Bradshaw and Bonner County on Feb. 26, which he shared with the Reader. Commissioner Asia Williams subsequently added four items to the Tuesday, Feb. 27 executive session agenda regarding the removal of the trespasses against Bowman and Cramer, as well as any potential settlements with the men.

“I guess I don’t understand why we would use public funds to have a settlement for political supporters of yours, Commissioner Williams,” said Omodt before the approval of the agenda. 

Bonner County Commissioners Luke Omodt, left; Asia Williams, center; and Steve Bradshaw, right. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

According to the notice, Cramer requested Omodt, Bradshaw or the county as a whole pay him $750,000. It further specifies that he chose that amount to incentivize county officials to not deprive “citizens of their civil rights.”

Omodt trespassed Cramer and Bowman due to what he termed “disruptive and disorderly behavior [that] has interrupted the lawful meetings of Bonner County for months.” He subsequently placed the two men under citizen’s arrest, with the help of the Sandpoint Police Department, when they refused to leave a Jan. 26 meeting. The board officially voted to trespass Bowman, but not Cramer, during the Feb. 6 business meeting.

The notice of tort alleges “deprivation of rights without due process,” “false arrest without probable cause” and “defamation by implication,” resulting in “reputational harm, public embarrassment, the loss of constitutional rights, the loss of liberty, mental anguish and other suffering.”

Sheckler argues that Cramer’s inability to give public comment infringes on his First Amendment rights, and that though he’s allowed to participate over Zoom, the fact that not all county meetings are streamed online further deprives him of his right to access government services.

Williams, who has a professional background in risk management, has repeatedly advised that the trespasses, and subsequent actions taken by Omodt, could result in future litigation.

“That wouldn’t matter who the person is — we are facing litigation, as it stands, for a decision that you [Omodt] chose to make in the absence of listening to our legal [advisers],” said Williams, later adding that the board has “no grounds to stand on at this time” to defend against the claim.

“[Y]ou have sent a correspondence to both parties saying that they were trespassed,” she continued. “You did it on the day that they were already in the building within five minutes, and then you told them that you would follow up with a letter to them, which has not happened.”

According to Williams, the “settlement” discussions she scheduled for executive session would not necessarily result in a monetary loss to the county, but rather, “It could be an apology letter from Commissioner Omodt and Commissioner Bradshaw for trespassing them — for having somebody illegally arrested.” 

She later clarified that it was unclear whether the trespasses were illegal.

“This should be mitigated before we end up with ridiculously high attorney fees that [people] are requesting to be recouped,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter if this case, from both of these, was only worth $10, I guarantee you the legal fees will topple that.”

After easily approving regular business like the alteration of a data entry administrator job description and Justice Services budget adjustments, the meeting transitioned to a contentious public comment section.

Resident George Gehrig argued for freedom of speech during business meetings, stating, “I have requested a levy of a civil penalty for Commissioner Omodt’s repeated Open Meeting Law violations.” He cited Omodt’s past decisions to allow or ban public comment depending on the meeting, and a revision made to a special meeting agenda on Feb. 23, which did not meet the required 24-hour advance publication deadline.

According to the Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual, “[T]he Open Meeting Law does not expressly require the opportunity for public comment,” and further stipulates, “A public agency may adopt reasonable rules and regulations to ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and to ensure orderly behavior on the part of those persons attending the meeting.”

Gehrig concluded his comment by reading an email from Omodt into the record, in which he stated, “Mr. Gehrig, your comprehension of Idaho statute is probably similar to the other members of your merry band of malcontents and the driver of your clown car … It’s my understanding that there are a number of transplants from more liberal, urban areas such as Western Washington who project virtue while being easily confused by facts, laws and ethics.”

Bonner County Republican Central Committee member Dan Rose — a vocal opponent of Omodt and Bradshaw — gave the two commissioners “Affidavits of Maladministration of County Officers Oath of Office,” signed by himself and Richard Gray. The affidavits — obtained by the Reader through a public records request — demand that Bradshaw and Omodt restate their oaths of office using the language from the Idaho Constitution as follows:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Idaho, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of senator (or representative, as the case may be) according to the best of my ability.” The two affiants alleged that the commissioners added the words “and laws” to their oaths, undermining the authority of the constitutions, and are therefore not entitled to the “powers granted to [them] by the people.”

The meeting adjourned following testimony by resident Dave Bowman, who encouraged voters not to reelect Omodt in the upcoming May 21 Republican primary election. He touched on the fact that County Prosecutor Louis Marshall, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Coroner Robert Beers served Omodt with a cease and desist letter on Feb. 21, following his decision to order I.T. Director Jacob Storms “to alter the credentials of Sergeant Marcus Robbins such that he can no longer safeguard certain digital public records legally under the authority and control of the Bonner County Prosecutor, Sheriff and Coroner, respectively,” according to the letter. The records in question include active criminal and death investigations and personal information on victims.

The letter went on to threaten legal action should Robbins’ security credentials not be restored, in what Marshall, Wheeler and Beers described as “gross overreach and abuse of power” by Omodt, who replied in a Feb. 24 letter to Marshall, citing Idaho Code 31-828 and 31-871, which stipulate the county commissioners are “responsible for the classification and retention of letters.”

He went on to list a number of claims, including that Storms had never been “commanded to alter the credentials” of Robbins, and that Wheeler had pressed for background checks on maintenance and custodial staff while refusing to conduct the same checks on I.T. staff. What’s more, Omodt wrote, Wheeler, Marshall and Beers chose not to attend monthly department head meetings at which cybersecurity upgrades were discussed. 

Omodt concluded, “It is disappointing that in a world of Russian and Chinese cyberattacks the three chief law enforcement officials of Bonner County prioritize politics and who cleans the toilets over the cybersecurity protecting the elections, emergency services, finances and taxpayers of Bonner County.”

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.