Meeting record erasure alleged

From the Spokesman-Review

Police investigating possibility of crime

Erica F. Curless
Staff writer, The Spokesman-Review
October 19, 2007

Coeur d’Alene police are investigating whether a Kootenai County senior planner broke the law by ordering the destruction of a recording of a public meeting.

After the Sept. 24 Planning Commission workshop adjourned, some members allegedly criticized the Kootenai County Commission and county Planning Director Scott Clark. The planners realized that an audio recorder was still on.

Senior Planner Cheri Howell allegedly ordered an administrative secretary to delete the audio file, which contained the alleged comments and the recording of the entire workshop on the rewrite of the county growth plan.

Scott Poorman, Howell’s attorney, said Thursday she didn’t delete or order the destruction of a public record. It comes down to whether the audio recording is considered a public record under the definition of state law, Poorman said.

County Commissioner Todd Tondee said he doesn’t believe anything illegal occurred because there were other, written minutes of the meeting.

“The file wasn’t the public record,” Tondee said, adding he doesn’t have firsthand knowledge of what occurred or what happened to the file. “We have the minutes of the meeting.”

Howell has been on voluntary medical leave since about Oct. 4 for what Poorman described as “stress and anxiety” stemming from the county calling the Coeur d’Alene police about a “possible criminal act” before ever talking with Howell about the incident.

“If they asked what had happened before they ran to the police, none of this would have happened,” he said. “I think they reported a nonevent.”

Kootenai County Attorney John Cafferty wouldn’t discuss the case but did confirm he contacted the Coeur d’Alene Police Department to report the alleged destruction of a county record.

Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Wes Somerton declined to release the police report Thursday, writing in an e-mail that the city won’t make the report public until after the investigation is complete. The city also declined to give Poorman or Howell a copy of the report.

Poorman said Howell was contacted by a Coeur d’Alene police officer but that she refused to answer questions because she hasn’t seen the county’s complaint and doesn’t know what the department is specifically investigating.

Poorman said he didn’t know whether any Planning Commission members are under investigation.

Commission member Mark Triplett said Thursday that he’s been out of town this week and is uncomfortable talking about the investigation or what occurred after the September meeting. He has not been contacted by the police.

Triplett said the Planning Commission members are all volunteers and have outside jobs and that the stress and demands of the comprehensive plan rewrite is taking its toll on them. The commission is meeting about three times a week to make the deadline to finish the document that will outline how the county should grow in the next decade.

“I don’t think it was a big deal,” Triplett said. “It’s an emotional process. People get emotional about the comprehensive plan.”

Triplett said it’s a shame if the incident delays or puts negative light on the comprehensive plan rewrite.

Tondee shared those concerns and said he thinks it’s healthy if the voluntary board feels confident enough to “bad-mouth” the county commissioners.

“It means we will get some honest stuff,” Tondee said, adding he doesn’t know what the planning commissioners allegedly said about the county commission or the planning director. “If everyone was intimidated and scared, what kind of a plan are we going to have?”

Sommerton said he expects the Idaho attorney general’s office will handle the case, deciding whether to make any criminal charges, because it’s a conflict to have the county prosecutor’s office review a case stemming from another county office.

Prosecutor Bill Douglas said he had no knowledge of the investigation.

From the Spokesman-Review

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