By Zach Hagadone
The Bonner County Republican Central Committee gathered Sept. 19 to tackle a lengthy agenda, but the item that drew the greater number of about 100 attendees to the Ponderay Events Center dealt with the possible censure of Bonner County Commission Chair Steve Bradshaw and Vice-Chair Luke Omodt.
In a petition signed by at least 20% of the 33 members of the BCRCC, Bradshaw and Omodt were alleged to have violated the Idaho Constitution, as well as the Idaho Republican Party platform, by limiting or at times outright refusing to accept public comment at the commissioners’ Tuesday business meetings — an issue that has spurred consistent turmoil both in and outside the Administration Building since January.
Committee members voted 18-11 against censuring Bradshaw and 22-7 against censuring Omodt, but not before about an hour that included a presentation, public testimony, a statement by Omodt and deliberation by the body. Bradshaw did not attend.
“I am appreciative of not being censured for doing my job,” Omodt told the Reader in an email Sept. 20. “The allegations as presented demonstrate the dangers of faction that [George] Washington warned us of and seem an excellent example of, ‘Show me the man and I will find you the crime.’”
News of the potential disciplinary action under Article XX of the Idaho GOP’s rules — which the party adopted in June — came earlier this month and followed a vote of “no confidence” by the committee against Bradshaw and Omodt in May, citing similar displeasure with public comment policies.
Commissioner Asia Williams has put the issue front and center at a number of the business meetings since she and Omodt both took office at the beginning of the year, and backed by a handful of regular attendees — several of whom, such as Grouse Creek Precinct Committeeman Dan Rose, who presented the petition, serve on the central committee.
Rose, as well as Spencer Hutchings, who the BCRCC voted to remove as treasurer after an executive session earlier in the Sept. 19 meeting, have been particularly vocal attendees at commissioner meetings. Bradshaw has threatened to trespass both Rose and Hutchings from the building on multiple occasions for disruptive comments.
For their parts, Bradshaw and Omodt have consistently argued that statute does not require that commissioner meetings include public testimony, and what testimony is allowed comes at the discretion of the chair.
Omodt further underscored that point at the Sept. 19 meeting, citing the 1990 decision White V. City of Norwalk in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that a meeting of a government entity “is still just that, a governmental process with a governmental purpose. The Council has an agenda to be addressed and dealt with. Public forum or not, the usual First Amendment antipathy to content-oriented control of speech cannot be imported into the Council chambers intact.”
The decision goes on to state that a speaker in a governmental meeting may be stopped from testifying if their statements become irrelevant, repetitious or disruptive, such that the body “is prevented from accomplishing its business in a reasonably efficient manner. Indeed, such conduct may interfere with the rights of other speakers.”
“I respect the rights and the opportunity of Bonner County to come and be able to speak and to share their thoughts; however, I know from a simple mathematical reality that the people that I see on my Tuesday morning episodes is a small segment of our great county,” Omodt said in his defense at the Sept. 19 meeting. “I do not understand why people can wake up in our county with so much rage, discontent and heartache.
“We are blessed but we are not blessed merely because of rage and discontentment, we are blessed because of sacrifice, our Constitution and an adherence to republican values,” he added. “That is the manner in which I have raised my hand, in which I will serve and which I hope to continue to serve.”
According to the petition to censure, which Rose read before the BCRCC, the violations related “specially to ensuring persons the ability of instructing representatives within Bonner County’s government.”
He went on to argue that based on the Idaho Constitution, “all political power is inherent in the people,” who have the right to “alter, reform or abolish” government when they feel it necessary, and have the right to “instruct their representatives.”
Related to that, the petition alleged that Bradshaw and Omodt ran afoul of Article 2 of the Idaho GOP platform, which states, “The party encourages all citizens to engage in healthy debate on all issues that will increase citizen control of government … and to be full participants in the political process.”
In addition, the petition cited Bonner County ordinance, which states, “The purpose for the public comment segment of the board of county commissioners business meeting is to enable citizens with issues or concerns which they wish to bring to the board’s attention and afford an opportunity for consideration on a future agenda for possible board action.”
Rose argued that “calling the representatives to task” is part of those various rights, as well as the right of assembly to “consult for the common good, to instruct their representatives.”
“That’s the theme of this whole Article XX process against these two commissioners — the ability to instruct their representatives,” he said, later adding, “None of that can be done when public comment is suspended from the agenda and you’re not allowed to speak to them, to ask them [questions], to petition them, to do anything but sit there and be quiet.”
Multiple attendees at the Sept. 19 meeting — including members of the central committee — said that they no longer attended the BOCC business meetings because of the frequent tension and acrimony, which has resulted in recesses, outbursts and squabbling over Robert’s Rules of Order sufficient to dominate the majority of the proceedings.
Speaking during the public comment period before deliberations on the censure, resident Susan Bowman recounted how members of the community had to press commissioners for the continuation of Zoom access to the Tuesday business meetings, then lobby for the time to offer testimony.
“I don’t see a lot of you guys there [at the business meetings] and I wish you would come because what you’re not witnessing is — I’m going to say it right now — communism in action,” she said, going on to refer to Bradshaw and Omodt voting “in lockstep” to limit public participation and even work to sideline their fellow Commissioner Williams.
“This is not what Republicans do,” she said.
Resident Jennifer Newberry disagreed, saying, “I feel you just can’t debate with stupid, and what happens is these people will just regurgitate the same thing over and over and over again so that the commissioners get frustrated, and what’s the point? They’re just wasting everybody’s time. And that is the biggest issue in what is happening.”
Likewise, resident Mark Linscott testified that county business meetings do not constitute public hearings and speakers can by statute be trespassed for being disruptive or derogatory.
“I don’t know if anybody has ever been to a county commissioners meeting, but there are a few individuals — some that sit in that oval right there — that do nothing but come there and just stir the shit up,” he said, referring to the central committee members. “Sorry for my language, but that’s it. …
“The two commissioners, I think it’s an error to try to censure them,” he added.
During deliberation, BCRCC State Committeeman Dan Vaniman said much of what had been said in favor of the censure had nothing to do with the actual allegations related to constitutional and party platform violations.
“Do I think it’s wise for them to suspend public comment? No. Is it against the law? No,” he said. “Even if it is a violation of the law, we’re not called to judge the law,” Vaniman added. “Censuring a public official is a serious matter. I don’t believe that this is the appropriate forum. The solution to your issues is through the political process. We have a primary next year, we have candidates who are running, use this in a campaign and let the public — the voters — decide. I am not going to support this motion to censure.”
BCRCC Chair Scott Herndon, who also represents District 1 in the Idaho Senate, stepped down from running the meeting in order to join the deliberations, reminding the committee members that, “You cannot go onto the Senate floor and instruct your representatives.”
“I just want to point that out — that it’s not an absolute right that you can go anywhere you want to instruct your representatives,” he added. “… [Y]our ability to instruct your representatives has parameters and limits that are enforced in the court and we all recognize this.”
Kristen Dodd, who represents the West Priest River Precinct, said that rather than censure, the next steps toward holding the commissioners accountable should be at the ballot box.
“I don’t think there is a true violation there. I do not agree with the behavior of Luke Omodt or Steve Bradshaw in the commissioner meetings. … I’m not justifying their behavior whatsoever, but I think it’s a slippery slope to go down this road if we don’t have clear violations,” she said.
Rather, Dodd suggested that voters either recall the commissioners or unseat them at the next election.
“I don’t see this as a solution,” she added.
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