By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
While tensions have run high at Bonner County commissioner meetings for months, that tension reached an all-time high on June 27, as Chairman Steve Bradshaw announced that public comment would no longer be accepted at the board’s regular Tuesday business meetings.
In response to community requests, the board adopted a policy earlier this year to hear public comment from 9-10 a.m. each Tuesday morning before agendized business. On June 27, following the invocation and pledge, Bradshaw announced a recess until 10 a.m., bypassing public comment.
“We’ve tried to have meetings orderly for six months. That has not come off yet,” Bradshaw said before exiting the room along with Commissioner Luke Omodt. “We will no longer have this time for public comment.”
Commissioner Asia Williams remained seated and stated that she expected the meeting to continue streaming, and she would try to field community comments and questions on her own. Bradshaw demanded that members of the public and county employees “clear the room,” then proceeded to call the Sandpoint police. While “there was a conversation [with police] about whether they would be used to restore order,” according to Omodt, law enforcement ultimately took no action.
Omodt told the Reader in a phone interview following the June 27 meeting that the public comment shutdown was in response to “a complete breakdown in regards to decorum,” amounting to physical threats he has received against himself and his family. He also cited a recent incident involving a meeting attendee who called Bradshaw a “motherfucker.”
“We have been continually accused of being liars and thieves and accepting bribes,” Omodt said, before adding: “We want the public to be involved, but what do we do when people are threatening our families? It’s not something I will tolerate.”
There is no statute in Idaho Code requiring county commissioners to hear public comment at business meetings, which are different from public hearings. According to the Idaho Association of Counties, local governments are encouraged to adopt their own guidelines for accepting public comment at business meetings. While county code does feature such guidelines, discretion lies with the chairman.
When the June 27 meeting reconvened at 10 a.m., Bradshaw motioned to remove the District 2 and 3 commissioner reports from the agenda — a time typically utilized by Williams and Omodt to share their recent work. Bradshaw does not currently offer a District 1 report. His motion died without a second.
“Commissioner Williams is an equal member of the board,” Omodt told the Reader after the meeting. “The chairman does get to control the meetings — that’s just basic decorum. But Commissioner Williams has every bit of authority that I do, and I respect that.”
The meeting’s regular business continued without Bradshaw accepting public comment on individual motions. When Williams attempted to call on an audience member to weigh in on an item, Bradshaw told her: “If you don’t like the way I run the meeting, become chair and you can run it as you wish. If you don’t like it you can leave. I don’t care.”
Things came to a head again when Bradshaw presented a motion to end all public comment at business meetings “until an undetermined time,” calling the recent meetings a “circus” and a “mockery for the county.”
“Comments have come up that are uncomfortable for some people on the board,” Williams stated in her rebuttal of the motion. “That is actually an example of what it means to be in public service and engage the public.”
The motion never saw a vote, as a yelling match between board members led to a recess and immediate transition into executive session.
In a video that circulated social media in the hours following the June 27 meeting, Bonner County Republican Central Committee Treasurer and frequent meeting commenter Spencer Hutchings confronted Bradshaw as the chairman attempted to exit the county administration building parking lot.
Hutchings, who holds the camera, identified Bradshaw as the man who “silenced the public” and is now “running away from the meeting.” Bradshaw then parked his truck and approached Hutchings on foot.
“Does it look like I’m running from somebody, you chickenshit sonofabitch?” Bradshaw asked, before calling Hutchings a “fucking loud mouth and a coward.”
Hutchings continued to press Bradshaw, calling out his foul language as surprising coming “from a pastor.” Bradshaw serves as pastor at the Cocolalla Cowboy Church.
The confrontation turned to an argument over the definition of a “man of God” before Bradshaw climbed back into his vehicle and prepared to drive away. As Hutchings continued to shout about various county issues he believes have perturbed the commissioner to the point of ending public comment, Bradshaw said: “I’m sure you will explain it the way you want to. …You couldn’t tell the truth if your life depended on it.”
In a follow-up email, Bradshaw told the Reader that he found it particularly ironic that Hutchings was among the community members most supportive of allowing an hour of weekly public comment but has “been one of the most indignant of the lot,” being reminded constantly to avoid accusations and personal attacks in his statements.
“That coupled with the recent life threat that the prosecutor has been made aware of, I decided it was best to try to eliminate as much of the drama as possible,” Bradshaw said. “As for Mr. Hutchings, all I can say is Romans 2:6 [God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’].”
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