By Lyndsie Kiebert
Bonner County commissioners appointed members to the reinstated emergency management services advisory council at their Oct. 8 business meeting, bringing the group back into working order after it went ad-hoc in 2016.
As turmoil surrounding the possible changes to Bonner County EMS arose in December 2018, several community members urged the commissioners to recreate the council. After a call for letters of interest and months of consideration, commissioners on Oct. 8 considered a resolution reestablishing the council with EMS Director Jeff Lindsey as chair; Stephen Snedden, serving as the public-at-large representative; Jay Dudley and Mark Sauter representing local fire officials; Marian Martin and Vince Huntsberger from the medical community; Gil Tumey representing transport service providers; and Ronald Jenkins, BCEMS medical director.
After reading aloud the names of newly selected councilmembers, Commissioner Steve Bradshaw moved to amend the resolution to exclude Sauter from the list. Commissioner Dan McDonald seconded.
When asked why Sauter — who is the president of the Bonner County Fire Chiefs Association — was being removed, McDonald said the resolution to reinstate the council called for only one fire representative and that they’d rather keep Dudley in that position. He added that Sauter had made “derogatory and untrue” comments at several area city council meetings that the board found “weren’t helpful.”
When asked by a community member where to find those comments, McDonald said, “you’d have to talk to the different cities because they were made in front of city councils,” including Clark Fork, Sandpoint, Kootenai and Ponderay. McDonald said he also had members of the fire chiefs association reach out to him with concerns.
McDonald and Bradshaw approved the amended resolution. Jeff Connolly, who was excused from the Oct. 8 meeting, has been the commissioner working most closely with Sauter and other members of the chiefs association to learn more about their findings. He could not be reached for comment before press time.
Sauter, who has been a vocal proponent of a fire-based EMS system and spent hundreds of hours working on a proposal for such a system, said he initially heard the news of his removal from friends who were able to attend the Oct. 8 meeting. He said he was disappointed in the decision.
“There is a difference between derogatory statements and statements that are in conflict with current policy or procedure,” Sauter said.
The Bonner County Fire Chiefs Association will host a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building to share findings from its months of research on how to improve the area EMS system. The commissioners are not hosting the event, but have been invited.
“We look forward to providing our EMS insights to our community on Oct. 24,” Sauter said. “The BCFCA believes our county and residents could have a better EMS system if we all worked together to provide it.”
Bonner County Deputy Clerk Jessi Webster said that the new EMS advisory council likely won’t meet until after the holidays.
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