BoCo fairgrounds tussle headed to May ballot as advisory question

Board’s regular Tuesday business meeting sees another clash between Bradshaw, Wheeler

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Bonner County commissioners on March 21 reversed an earlier decision to move forward with a highly contentious boundary line adjustment between the Bonner County Fairgrounds and sheriff’s complex, also opting to put the land’s future use on the Tuesday, May 16 ballot as an advisory question for local voters.

Debate over the boundary line adjustment and replatting of land between the fairgrounds and sheriff’s facility has dominated the past two BOCC business meetings — held each Tuesday at the county administration building — with Commissioner Luke Omodt leading the charge to leverage funding from an Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation grant to place a new RV campground on the property. 

Omodt and Board Chairman Steve Bradshaw voted March 14 to move forward with the survey work at a cost not to exceed $25,000. Commissioner Asia Williams voted against the measure, alleging that the campground was best suited for land already considered part of the fairgrounds in order to avoid conflict with Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, who has long claimed the parcel in question is meant for the building of a justice facility to replace the Bonner County Courthouse in downtown Sandpoint and accommodate jail expansion.

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

Williams brought the issue back to the agenda March 21, but this time in the form of a proposed advisory question for the May 16 ballot, asking voters to weigh in on how the land between the fairgrounds and sheriff’s complex should be best used.

“If the board wants to hold that position of 2-1, I think it’s reasonable that this become an advisory question to the community of how to use that particular piece of land,” she said, later adding: “To be clear, [the land] does not belong to the sheriff. It has been identified as an expansion option [for a justice facility] that would be the least impactful to the county.”

She argued that building an RV campground on the lot would “hinder” the county’s growth, and said constituents should have the chance to weigh in.

Omodt seconded Williams’ motion to put the advisory question on the ballot, then promptly voted against it, citing state code about the commissioners’ authority over the use of county land.

“This advisory ballot does not discuss the … potentially negative fiscal impact, because [a new campground] reduces the amount of money that would be necessary to maintain the fairgrounds,” he said.

Omodt said the advisory vote might as well be, “‘Are you willing, in this economic environment, to vote ‘yes’ on a $100 million building in 2023?’,” referring to the estimated cost of the new justice center.

“My vote is ‘no,’” he said.

Public comment followed, with Bonner County Clerk Mike Rosedale stating that the May ballot had plenty of room for the advisory question.

“There is absolutely no downside to putting it on [the ballot], and you will have a very high level of comfort knowing what, actually, everybody would like,” he said.

Spencer Hutchings questioned the board’s willingness to use the property for anything other than a justice facility, noting the proposed Sandpoint Ice Arena debate that took place in 2021 and 2022. That conflict ended with the former board voiding a lease with the nonprofit looking to build the ice rink after the Idaho attorney general ruled — following a complaint from Wheeler — that the meeting at which the lease was approved was likely improperly noticed. 

“There’s got to be a reason why,” Hutchings said. “Somebody is getting their pockets greased or something.”

Bradshaw retorted that the ice rink lease was voided because, “Ponderay bought an ice rink and didn’t tell anybody,” causing an uproar from the well-attended March 21 meeting. 

While Sandpoint Ice Arena leaders did decide to collaborate with the city of Ponderay and another nonprofit to pursue an ice rink at Ponderay’s Field of Dreams sports complex, that move came after the AG’s decision was released and the lease with Bonner County voided.

Amid the uproar at the meeting, Hutchings once again took to the mic, prompting Bradshaw to attempt to trespass him from the meeting. When Hutchings did not leave, Bradshaw shouted in Wheeler’s direction: “Are you going to grow a pair and do your job today or are you going to sit there on your ass?” 

Bradshaw went on to call for a recess, but reconvened the meeting one minute later. Omodt called the question in order to prompt the board’s vote while members of the public waited both in person and online to speak, spurring a debate between Bradshaw and Williams about meeting procedure. Once attendees were allowed to continue commenting, the issue of recall came up, and not for the first time in recent weeks.

“I don’t think that there’s any more clear reason for recall than this demonstration,” said George Gehrig. 

“You gentlemen, go ahead and do what you’re going to do, but I’m going to work my butt off to make sure that both of you are recalled,” he added, referring to Bradshaw and Omodt.

Bradshaw stated he would vote “yes” to allow for the advisory question on the ballot, but warned that the IDPR grant might expire before everything could be sorted out, which would mean no additional revenue for the fairgrounds.

“If the time expires that grant, then it just cost you taxpayers a shitload of money,” he said.

A special meeting to workshop the ballot advisory question will take place Thursday, March 23 at 11:30 a.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building (1500 Highway 2 in Sandpoint).

Subsequently, Williams and Bradshaw also voted to disengage from the agreement for the boundary line adjustment and replatting work. Williams said she would put an item on next week’s agenda proposing to move the RV campground onto property already understood as part of the fairgrounds.

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