By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
The May 16 business meeting of the board of Bonner County commissioners proved to be another contentious chapter in the debate over a state-funded RV campground extension at the Bonner County Fairgrounds, during which Commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Luke Omodt voted in favor of two items meant to advance the RV park’s construction on land between the fairgrounds and sheriff’s complex.
Commissioner Asia Williams, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and a vocal group of regular meeting attendees have long maintained that the land in question has been considered by former boards as an ideal location for expansion and consolidation of both jail and courthouse services under a new justice facility complex. Meanwhile, Bradshaw and Omodt have voted to advance survey and engineering work for the RV park on the contested parcel, stating there could be room in the area for both uses and that a levy for a justice complex would need to be passed by voters at a future date.
Members of the public took to the mic May 16 seeking answers as to why other areas on the fairgrounds weren’t options for the RV park, which would be built with an approximately $473,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Resident Spencer Hutchings asked the board to explain its “obsession” with the land near the sheriff’s office.
“I think I’ve asked this question over the last two, three months probably 30 times and I have yet to get an answer,” he said.
Omodt rebutted that he’d given his answer to the question “repeatedly.”
“We are interested in not putting additional burdens on the taxpayer,” Omodt said, “and making the fairgrounds more self-sufficient.”
In response, Williams pointed to prior comments from Omodt stating that, if needed, the RV park could be demolished to make room for a justice complex should the voters approve a levy.
“It would be, in my opinion, inappropriate to tell the state, ‘Hey, we would like a grant for something that we may potentially have to bulldoze because we are choosing the location because we can, versus making an objective assessment of where we could put [the RV park],’” Williams said. “I have not heard anything more than, ‘We get to make the decision,’ and that isn’t worth having to pay back half a million dollars.”
The board took up a motion May 16 to withdraw from a memorandum of understanding with the Fair Board from 2014 that designated the parcel “exclusively” for fair parking use. This came after the BOCC approved a new MOU in an April 27 special meeting, designating the land for a campground. However, as pointed out by Williams and Fair Board legal counsel Scott Bauer, that April 27 MOU — drafted and brought by Omodt — did not involve the Fair Board.
Chairman Bradshaw said he met with Prosecutor Louis Marshall to verify the new MOU’s legality, and Marshall confirmed that the 2014 MOU would need to be dissolved in a different way. The May 16 withdrawal, which stated that the property “shall not be limited to parking … but may be used for any other legal purpose,” was the “fix” needed in order to free up the land for the RV park, Bradshaw said.
Wheeler questioned why other elected officials hadn’t been consulted on the board’s plan for the land’s use, to which Bradshaw replied: “None of this has ever been done in secret. You just never did like the conversation.”
Several public commenters alleged that Omodt and Bradshaw have a “vendetta” against Wheeler, which led to a heated exchange between the chairman and Shari Dovale of right-wing blog Redoubt News.
“Y’all would rather dump wasted money into a sinking facility [Bonner County’s downtown courthouse] than build a proper facility. Why?” Dovale said. “Because everybody in this county knows that you hate the sheriff and want to poke the bear.”
“There is not a man in this county that would lay his life down for that man right there quicker than I would,” Bradshaw retorted, to which Dovale said, “I will.”
“You can say it, but I can actually tell you that I would step in front of the bullet for that man. … I will fight for that man and every one of his deputies with every breath of life I have,” Bradshaw said, before calling for the vote.
The withdrawal from the 2014 parking MOU passed 2-1, with Williams casting the lone dissenting vote.
In the second RV park-related item, Omodt proposed a grant extension request be sent to IDPR and a timeline be set for acceptance of project bids. The extension is needed due to the grant’s original June 30, 2023 first-phase construction deadline.
When Bradshaw called for a roll call vote while Williams was still speaking on the topic, Williams threatened to filibuster in order to be heard.
“No, you won’t, because I will adjourn this meeting in a heartbeat,” Bradshaw said, to which Williams replied: “Then it doesn’t get passed, and I win.”
The vote proceeded, with Omodt voting in favor of the grant extension request before Williams continued to offer an explanation for her opposition.
“I called for a vote, Commissioner Williams. You are done,” Bradshaw interjected, before turning to the clerk and stating: “No answer for Commissioner Williams, I guess.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re breaking the law if you think you can bypass my vote,” Williams said, before wrapping up her statements with a “no” vote.
Bradshaw voted in favor, allowing for the extension request to be sent to IDPR for consideration.
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