Shea wins reelection to E. Bonner Co. Library Board in heated campaign

Pend Oreille Hospital Board retains incumbents, welcomes new member; W. Bonner school levy fails

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Bonner County voters returned a number of incumbents to office in the May 16 election for trustee positions on the East Bonner County Library and Pend Oreille Hospital District boards, though rejected the West Bonner County School District levy by a narrow margin.

Incumbent EBCL Board Trustee Susan Shea retained her seat for another six-year term with 4,514 votes for a substantial win of 59%, while challenger Stacy Rodriguez drew 3,137 votes, or 41%.

The five-member library board serves as the governing body of the library — including setting and overseeing the local library system’s budget; hiring, supervising and evaluating employees; and working with the library director on policy and operations.

Susan Shea won the East Bonner County Library District trustee seat by a margin of 18%. Courtesy photo.

In the hospital trustee race, incumbents Bart Casey, Vice Chair Timothy Cochran and Jim Frank held onto their positions, while voters elected Dwayne Sheffler to become the board’s newest member. Sheffler drew the most votes with 4,573, or 21.99%; followed by Cochran, with 4,527, or 21.76%; Casey, with 4,383, or 21.07%; and Frank, with 4,097, or 19.7%. 

Cynthia Buse polled the lowest of the five candidates vying for four hospital board seats, garnering 3,220 votes, or 15.48%. 

The hospital board is a seven-member political subdivision of Idaho, which supports hospital facilities within Sandpoint and about two-thirds of Bonner County. 

All vote totals are unofficial until canvassed, which Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale said is expected to take place Thursday, May 25 at 8:30 a.m., in a process that is open to the public in the third-floor business meeting room at the county administration building (1500 U.S. 2, in Sandpoint).

The library and hospital board races both drew 7,770 ballots cast, representing 30.74% of registered voters — an increase from the 28.9% of voters who participated in the 2021 election, which also featured hotly contested open seats on the library and hospital district boards.

As in 2021, the May 16, 2023 election also generated an outsized amount of heat, owing to the library board race, which turned on notions of “obscene” or other materials deemed “harmful” to minors in the library collection.

Rodriguez, who had the endorsement of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, Idaho True Conservatives, Gays Against Groomers and District 1B Republican Rep. Sage Dixon, among others, made statements at an April 19 candidates’ forum that the First Amendment had been “used as a cudgel to sexualize children,” materials available to minors included “books that would make a sex worker blush” and the American Library Association is run by a “Marxist lesbian” whose “radical dictates” had been adopted by the East Bonner County Library.  

Most notably, Rodriguez’s campaign alleged that Shea “believes that stripper poles and drag queens should be allowed in our community libraries.” That claim, though repeated in campaign text messages to voters and by Rodriguez’s supporters, was categorically rejected by Shea. Meanwhile evidence purported to support the claim amounted to a muffled audio recording that could not be conclusively identified with any particular individual.

Shea performed best in the more populous Washington, Baldy and Beach precincts, with 568, 385 and 370 votes, respectively. Rodriguez drew her largest vote totals from the comparatively rural Southside, Westmond and Sagle districts, with 308, 200 and 184 votes, respectively.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to continue to serve East Bonner County Library as a trustee,” Shea told the Reader in a May 17 statement. “I would like to thank the community for coming together to support me. I reaffirm my promise to continue to work hard to serve you. The library is truly one of the best parts of our incredible community. I look forward to continuing to work with my fellow trustees, staff and our wonderful readers to make sure it remains the open, inclusive, innovative community treasure that we all know and love.”

Rodriguez did not respond to a request for post-election comment by press time.

Finally, the West Bonner County School District levy failed with 1,700 voters against (or 51.59%) to 1,595 in favor (or 48.41%) — a margin of only 105 votes, while the levy needed a simple majority to pass.

According to the WBCSD supplemental levy renewal flier, the $4.7 million per year, two-year replacement funding would have cost $115.95 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. 

The monies were intended to support about a third of the operating costs in the district, including about $3 million in salaries and benefits to recruit and retain classified and certified staff; $587,096 for textbooks, learning materials and staff training; $464,413 for athletics, co-curricular and extracurricular activities; $439,109 for a school resource officer and safety and facility improvements; and $120,000 for the acquisition of a school bus.

Rosedale noted that while the library and hospital board races had a turnout of about 31% of eligible voters, the WBCSD levy received almost 39% of the vote from eligible voters, “so that was a more popular thing to vote on.”

Calling it “very close,” Rosedale said that the success or failure of the levy campaign came down to just a handful of precincts. 

“Some were massively in favor of the levy, some were massively against it,” he said. “It really would have depended on which precinct they came from.”

Specifically, in the Spirit Valley Precinct, the vote ran 328 against to 173 in favor, while the Clagstone Precinct garnered 212 against to 72 in favor and the Edgemere Precinct tallied 213 against to 86 in favor. 

Meanwhile, the Lamb Creek Precinct came out 179 in favor to 70 against, with narrower approval numbers in the Oldtown Precinct with 316 in favor to 276 against and in East Priest River, with 283 in favor to 200 against. West Priest River also swung in favor, with 176 votes to 106 against.

The current levy expires June 30.

Overall, Rosedale reported that the May 16 election ended in “a relatively short night,” with all precincts reporting and unofficial numbers tallied shortly after midnight.

“Everything ran smoothly,” he said.

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