County’s open meeting procedures prove point of tension for new board

Proposed update to workplace conduct policy tabled with a 2-1 vote

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

In one of the longest and most well-attended Tuesday business meetings in recent memory, Bonner County commissioners came to a split vote on a motion to table a policy update that would change the way commissioners and department heads communicate and ultimately bring items to the weekly agenda.

The county’s observance of open meeting laws proved a prominent topic at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting, with constituent Dan Rose noting during public comment what he called “a void of information disclosure” in the way the county agendizes its meetings. 

Bonner County Commissioners Luke Omodt, left, Asia Williams, center, Steve Bradshaw, far right. Courtesy photo.

Commissioner Asia Williams touched on the issue during her District 2 Commissioner Update — a new addition to the weekly meetings listed before public comment, but skipped Jan. 24 as Chairman Steve Bradshaw struggled to follow the order of the agenda — noting that she’d recently made contact with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in hopes of providing training to county staff and the broader community.

“Hopefully we can get that scheduled for the community and employees to make sure we’re following that open meeting [code],” she said.

Williams also said that she hopes to put recombining the county’s Planning and Zoning commissions on a future agenda in the interest of better utilizing volunteer time. The commissions were separated in March 2022 with the thought that the move would speed up the Comp Plan update process.

Commissioner Luke Omodt went on to provide an update of his own, stating he had a conversation with Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall about how the county currently observes open meeting laws and what he learned “is that our current practice is what we should be doing.”

“Now, there’s room for improvement, but in regards to [Idaho] Open Meeting Law and executive session, I would like to be exceedingly clear that some of the things that we go into executive session about regard personnel,” Omodt said. “And regardless of whether or not you work for the county, your rights do not end at the county door.”

He also said litigation is often discussed in executive session, and that in his three weeks as commissioner he’s heard about approximately 15 lawsuits, “and they keep coming.”

Omodt also provided an update on his vision for a monthly meeting of the county’s elected officials. He said he hopes to schedule the first of those meetings in the coming month.

Williams followed Omodt’s remarks by requesting any future District 3 updates be agendized, and questioned his authority to call such a meeting.

“That needs to be reviewed,” she said. “I cannot require electeds to do anything; I’m not the supervisor of electeds, so I don’t know that process.”

Commissioners went on to hear items from departments across the county — most notably, a proposal from Human Resources to revise workplace conduct policy regarding open meeting compliance, which would require the board to formulate agenda items in public meetings.

In part, the new policy reads: “The BOCC has adopted the following policy to minimize the risk of secret ‘deliberation’ occurring in the agenda-setting process and to maintain the sovereignty of the people of Bonner County as it relates to public business.”

Acknowledging that policies are typically workshopped by the board prior to being put up for a vote, Omodt asked HR Director Cindy Binkerd whether he had missed the workshop, to which she said there was none.

Williams said she was the one who worked on the new language, and because it was only an update to existing county policy, it did not require a commissioner workshop. The idea, she said, was to eliminate instances of department heads going to only one commissioner to discuss possible items for future board consideration.

“We shouldn’t be blindsided,” she said. “A single commissioner shouldn’t have a silo of information that the other commissioners don’t have; but, in order to do that legally, it has to be done transparently.

“We have a business to run, and it’s not a personal business — it is for the public,” Williams continued. “In order to do that, we need to be transparent in all the ways that we can.”

Bradshaw said he was aware of state statutes that would conflict with Williams’ proposed policy change, despite county legal counsel having already signed off on the action. Asked during the public comment discussion whether he could cite those statutes, Bradshaw said he could not without consulting items on his desk, but recommended the board table the item until after their Boise training.

As Williams attempted to explain her position further, Bradshaw interrupted to call for a point of order and said he would only entertain a motion to table. When Williams spoke again, Bradshaw said: “Do you understand ‘point of order,’ Commissioner Williams?”

While Bradshaw advocated for further discussing the policy revision in executive session at a later date, Omodt’s motion to table specifically called for a workshop with HR and “to bring it back in public and address this in a public setting.”

In a roll call vote, Omodt and Bradshaw voted “yes,” while Williams voted “no.”

The next BOCC meeting will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 9 a.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building, 1500 Highway 2 in Sandpoint.

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