Accusations fly over transparency, public records in Bonner County

From the Sandpoint Reader

By Soncirey Mitchell

The Bonner County board of commissioners heard a full hour of public commentary, prior even to the consent agenda, at the regular business meeting on Nov. 14. The meeting lasted more than three and a half hours and seemingly covered every major issue that the county has faced in recent memory, as public comment spilled into commissioner reports and action items.

The often fiery discussion was a precursor to a special meeting scheduled that day at 2:30 p.m., which was abruptly canceled that morning due to several mistakes in the public notice.

They rescheduled the meeting for Thursday, Nov. 16 at 11 a.m. and will feature action items regarding public records requests for Commissioner Asia Williams’ emails, the civil protection order against Commissioner Steve Bradshaw by Williams and the unauthorized video surveillance of executive sessions, among others subjects.

Public comment for the meeting opened with especially pointed testimony from Amy Lunsford and Dian Welle. Lunsford — who, along with a number of residents, regularly files public records requests about county proceedings — questioned the motives behind Sheriff Daryl Wheeler’s Individual Constitutional County Officers committee, which she dubbed a “secret society.” Wheeler formed the ICCO as an audit committee in May 2022 in an attempt to control $9 million given to the county by the American Rescue Plan Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lunsford said she was “only here for transparency,” while Welle testified that the ongoing Israel-Hamas War inspired her to fight against Commissioners Bradshaw and Luke Omodt on behalf of Williams.

“We the people will join this war without hesitation. Before battle, one must put on their armor. I have selected the following pieces: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of fate, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit,” Welle said.

The public consistently used information achieved through public records requests to level accusations at the commissioners. Kristina L. Nicholas Anderson testified that Williams filed her own PRR to learn the value of Bradshaw’s property shortly before alleging a verbal threat against her life and obtaining a protection order against him.

“Why would someone check on someone’s financial worth before making an accusation or claim against someone, if not financially motivated?” asked Anderson. 

Williams spoke to her motivation during her District 2 commissioner’s report.

“Commissioner Bradshaw had continually sent something called ‘Complaints of Public Corruption’ to the AG’s [attorney general’s] office at the beginning of my term,” she said, explaining that legal counsel instructed her to sue her fellow commissioner for libel. “I did not choose to do that. I did look at a records request to see if it was even worth it.”

Public comment continued to focus on details from the commissioners’ pasts and personal lives, with resident Steve Wasylko questioning the board on whether or not they pay their taxes, have had other protection orders issued against them or have sued former employers.

“I was terminated from Kootenai Health for reporting an abuse allegation without their permission,” said Williams, affirming that she had sued.

Resident Darla Fletcher then submitted documents into the public record that she’d obtained to fact-check the commissioners’ answers.

“Our ‘transparency champion’ [Williams] has three outstanding tax liens issued by the Lien Department for the Idaho State Tax Commission,” she said, contradicting Williams’ statement that she had paid her taxes. According to records obtained from the Office of the Secretary of State, the liens against Williams amount to $4,218.27; $1,368.02; and $710.45 each.

“Paying taxes is what I have done,” said Williams, defending her previous answer. “If you ever file your IRS taxes and you owe, you get a lien. It’s automatic, actually.” 

Fletcher continued to refute the commissioner’s testimony by submitting a “petition order for protection for harassment,” which she claimed an unnamed individual filed against Williams back in 2008 in Washington state.

“I married a person who was divorced,” explained Williams. “My name was attached to an order of protection during their custody battle, which he prevailed on. It was removed in real time.” 

Williams said she could not understand why the order was still listed as “active” in Thurston County, Wash.

Patty Omodt, Chairman Omodt’s mother, addressed a number of the aforementioned concerns during her three minutes before stating that Sheriff Wheeler “has illegally spied on executive sessions through a deputy that is supposed to be on a detail to protect Asia Williams.” This accusation is one of the subjects of the forthcoming Nov. 16 meeting and was not discussed in detail on Tuesday. 

Patty Omodt additionally accused Williams of using Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer as her personal paralegal — a claim that Chairman Omodt reiterated later in the meeting.

“I will function as a paralegal to Louis [Marshall] gathering information and generating preliminary draft documents for Louis regarding any matter you want Louis to work on for you,” Bauer stated in an email to Williams, which Omodt referred to in an opinion piece submitted to the Reader on Nov. 15 (see Page 9). Bauer — Wheeler’s son-in-law — is currently suing the BOCC for $3.5 million due to events related to the fairgrounds financials, according to Omodt.

“I don’t have a personal paralegal. Questions of the board from me don’t go to Scott Bauer,” said Williams. 

She explained that the email communications submitted into the public record by Omodt were her attempts to utilize a county employee who was otherwise not working while still on the payroll.

Meanwhile, after addressing public opposition to a minor land division for an affordable housing RV park in Blanchard — which the board ruled on at a special meeting held Oct. 30 — the meeting moved swiftly to three action items proposed by Williams regarding complaints about public records requests.

“My motion is to remove the individual commissioner email addresses and have just one centralized email for all commissioners,” said Williams, whose proposal was met with a mixed response. 

Officials and members of the public argued that, as Williams suggested, it could improve transparency; however, Omodt maintained that it would make their duties more time consuming and introduce unnecessary redundancies.

“I know that I’ve only gone through 3,000 emails so far so, I mean, if we multiply that that’d be like 27,000 emails. We’d get even less work done,” said Omodt. 

Bradshaw agreed and added that, technically, the commissioners already have a shared email address for the office.

Williams specified that her proposal is meant to address the backlog of public records requests that the county has been facing, though Clerk Mike Rosedale — whose department handles records requests — expressed his doubts about this proposed solution.

“The hold up isn’t where the email is, I think it’s where it’s being proofed or legal’s efficiency,” said Rosedale, explaining that his office releases records to legal counsel fairly quickly. All such records must be reviewed for confidential information prior to being made public.

Omodt moved to table the proposal “until the entire board hears from our legal counsel.” His motion passed, though Williams voted “no.”

Williams’ second action item was “to allocate a full-time employee to address public records requests” — though, as Omodt pointed out, Administrative Legal Assistant and Deputy Clerk Veronica Dixon already has that duty. Though she clarified that she did not blame Dixon, Williams insisted that the current staff are unable to accommodate the number of PRRs being issued by residents and other officials — including Omodt.

“Legal has come before this board and said, ‘We need assistance with the public records requests,” she said. 

Williams did not specify whether the suggested employee would work under Rosedale or the Legal Department.

Neither Bradshaw nor Omodt seconded her proposal and the motion died.

For the final item on the agenda, the commissioners returned to the events of the Oct. 25 meeting where they approved an external audit of the fairgrounds finances — a motion initially brought forward by Williams. In an additional meeting on Nov. 2, the board acted on Rosedale’s suggestion and voted to form an audit committee to oversee the proceedings.

In the Nov. 14 meeting, Williams moved to disband the committee on the advice of legal counsel because “it delegates powers of the board and individual commissioners.” 

Bradshaw, Omodt and Rosedale all disagreed with this claim.

“There was no delegation of authority ever mentioned — spoken, implied, inferred — other than after the fact,” said Omodt, maintaining that the commissioners still had complete control over the audit. 

Rosedale echoed this statement, and emphasized that the committee was only meant to protect the external auditor from public harassment.

“There has been an unbelievable slam against my office, against my comptroller and against our external auditor, and it’s based on completely erroneous information and Commissioner Williams knows this,” said Rosedale, visibly upset. 

The alleged “slander,” as Rosedale described it, centered on the decision, made by prosecutor Bill Wilson on Feb. 14, not to audit the Fair Board. 

“Why would I want somebody [Williams] that has ignored that — and not come to the public — to defend my office?” Rosedale said, later clarifying that Williams herself has not “slandered” the clerk’s office.

Part of the clerk’s anger towards Williams stemmed from an email that he offered to read, in which she suggested White Pine Wealth in Hayden as a potential auditing firm for the fairgrounds.

“They’re not even CPAs,” said Rosedale, explaining that White Pine Wealth is a financial management firm and does not specialize in audits. White Pine Wealth is one of an unknown number of firms that Williams reached out to — as she said she would during the Oct. 25 meeting — in an attempt to find an auditor who would put in the work to sort out the alleged fairgrounds fraud. 

Because Williams was acting as an individual commissioner, rather than in conjunction with the board, Omodt alleged that her communications were “ex parte.”

“County commissioners cannot go out and solicit people for proposals,” said Bradshaw, agreeing with Omodt. “If I go out and solicit for an auditor and speak to different companies, when they submit proposals I would have to recuse myself from that selection process to avoid the accusation of quid-pro-quo.”

Williams’ motion to disband the auditing committee died without a second.

From the Sandpoint Reader

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