County commissioners reopen public comment

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Board of Bonner County Commissioners has reopened public comment at regular business meetings after a confrontation at its Jan. 28 meeting led to a battery charge and, ultimately, the restriction of verbal comments at Tuesday meetings.

The decision came after two men who made public comments — one in support of the Bonner County v. City of Sandpoint gun ban litigation, the other questioning the cost of the lawsuit — met in the hallway outside the meeting room. During their interaction, one of the men — resident Don Holland, an opponent of the lawsuit — touched the arm of lawsuit supporter Steve Wasylko, who subsequently alleged he’d been battered by Holland.

The commissioners’ office posted on Facebook shortly after the incident, writing that “due to the physical altercation/battery resulting from public comment outside of our BOCC Business Meeting today, ALL public comment at BOCC Business Meetings has been suspended until further notice.” The post continued to state that written comments could still be submitted prior to meetings.

Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, told the Reader that Bonner County is only required to allow public comment during public hearings, so the board was completely within its rights to limit comments during regular business meetings.

As far as the decision to allow comments again at the Feb. 11 meeting, Commission Chairman Dan McDonald told the Reader:  “I decided last week to bring it back. It was really only removed for last week and we had no meeting so basically there was no real impact.”

The board did not hold a meeting Feb. 4 because the commissioners were out of town for a conference.

Commissioner Jeff Connolly said he played no part in the original decision to eliminate verbal comments, and intended to “say his piece” in favor of reinstating them at the Feb. 11 meeting, before McDonald announced that comments would again be accepted.

“I know we don’t have [allow public comment at regular business meetings], but I think it’s an important part of what we do,” Connolly said. “As far as transparency, that’s part of the job.”

He did note, however, that comments should not be derogatory or call out specific people.

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