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Ethics And The Sandpoint City Council

The nepotism and conflict of interest in this city government is appalling.

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Ethics And The Sandpoint City Council

Sandpoint City Council May 18, 2016

By Anita Aurit

The mayor invited the public to apply for a position on the sustainability committee. I found this interesting as these positions are rarely announced in the council meeting. I was soon to realize the reason for this change.

The mayor announced that May is bike month and he encouraged everyone to ride their bikes to work.

Councilman Camp noted that over a year ago the council had discussion regarding city officials and public political endorsements.  The city attorney stated that “everyone has the right to speak as a citizen” but should not post public comments under their title. Councilman Camp then asked, “What about the mayor?” There was considerable hemming and hawing by the city attorney who finally stated that the “mayor has a little more leeway.”

Public Forum
The public comments were from an individual who spoke on the importance of getting out information to law enforcement and the public about the law as regards seeing eye dogs.

Ethics Ethics and Conflict of Interest
Councilman Camp stated he was reiterating his request that when a position is open on council or committees, they be advertised to the public at least 2 weeks in advance. No response to this came from the mayor which, I surmise is because of the controversy surrounding the secretive appointment of Jeremy Grimm to the SURA board and the many questions of conflict of interest. The letter to the editor included here explains the details.  You can reference the list of appointments that were announced at the last council meeting that were done without advising the public online for the Minutes of the May 8th meeting.

Ethics One Complaint? We must regulate!
As I noted in a previous write up, one complaint about amplified music resulted in new regulations and the purchase of decibel meters. The City code 5-2-6 was indeed amended by our regulating loving council (except for Councilman Camp who voted against it). The mayor, anxious to get this new regulation on the books moved to suspend the second and third readings of the code, again, Councilman Camp was the sole “no” vote.

Memorial Field Grandstand Construction Bid Document
The city Administrator, Jennifer Stapleton gave a lengthy soliloquy regarding the construction and plans for Memorial Field.  She repeated numerous times  how the city had extended itself to obtain input from the public and ended her speech recommending that the revised bid packet remove the banners from the original design based on “public input” and in an attempt for the city to be “good stewards” (this phrase was also repeated several times). She noted that the original 2.7 million estimated for the project is now closer to 3 million “we have inflation factors”.

Public Comment was mostly from homeowners in the neighborhood. Here is the encapsulated version of the comments:

  • In the original meetings the desire of the people in the neighborhood and the city was that they wanted something “pretty much like was there originally.”
  • There was no knowledge of any meetings with the neighborhood and the last information about public information was found in the council minutes of June 2014.
  • Construction on the grandstand should go ahead but more community involvement on the Gateway be done before construction begins.
  • The gateway is “massive and it did not appear that an effort was made to respect the view.
  • Name should be changed from War Memorial Field to something less aggressive like “Memorial Field” or “Lakeside Memorial Field.”
  • A representative of the Friends of Memorial Field said they see this project as much more than a stadium. “We want a gateway that is substantial”
  • The council was encouraged to consider anything that can preserve the sight line as it needs to be as visible as possible.
  • The design is “cold” and the pillars, gates and walls are too big and block the view. Wants to see something more organic and open perhaps with an art installation.
  • The secluded field without view to the inside is a fertile ground for mischief and restricts access by the neighbored and community to the field.

Without acknowledging any of the public comments, the mayor made an attempt to rush to a vote. Tom Runa, the architect on the project spoke up and offered some design changes based on the public comment. He suggested removing some of the brick and using transparent fencing. He said that the donor bricks were the driving force on the wall height and design. Mayor concerned about donor bricks. The mayor expressed his concern that the donor bricks be used.

After quite a bit of discussion, the council voted to approve the bid documents and proceed with the bid with the amendment that the electrical wall be as long as is necessary, see-through fencing would be used and the columns be lowered. The vote passed.

Ethics The Great Bureaucratic Shuffle.
A property owner requested the removal of a “no left turn” sign stating that he has attempted to handle this and has been stuck between ITD and the city. He said if the city would agree to remove the sign, he would handle the rest with state government. The bureaucratic shuffle began and a lengthy discussion ensued  (I won’t bore you with the details; it was painful enough to have to sit through them ).  The mayor moved to deny the request to remove the sign and the motion passed with Councilwoman Ruehle the only no vote.

2016 Watershed Update and Timber Sale

I found this to be the most interesting part of the meeting. Mike Wolcott Inland Forest Management reported on the watershed acreage the city owns. It is always a pleasure to hear someone who is passionate about their work and who obviously loves what he does.  A timber sale was proposed to help cover the cost of two bridge repairs and to develop a watershed crest trail.

An estimated 60 acres would be harvested and he proposed that the net revenue to the city would be $43,000.00. Not only will the sale help with watershed area costs but it will help cull the trees with root rot that are threatening other trees and also help with fire prevention. He said it was likely that a small planting of Western Larch and Ponderosa Pine would be done in the harvested area. The timber sale was approved unanimously.

Final Business and then the Executive Session

The final votes were to approve the use of Farmin Park for a fund raising event by the Sandpoint Community Resource Center and approval of an agreement with Negotiation Services LLC for services related to the Schweitzer Cut-Off project.

The public meeting was then adjourned for an executive session  “to communicate with legal counsel for the public agency to discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated”.  Can’t wait to find out what this is about.

Ethics The nepotism and conflict of interest in this city government is appalling. It’s very interesting that after the mayor and the council were called out about this, and after they had ensured their people were appointed to the positions they wanted, began advertising commission and council appointments..  There is no better way to describe this conflict of interest problem than quoting a recent letter to the Daily Bee dated May 17th. I would add that I agree completely with Mr. Ogle:

Sandpoint council rife with conflicts of interest

“The Sandpoint City Council has hit a new low — they have absolutely no ethical rudder with respect to conflicts of interest.

 Perhaps we could arrange for an outsider to teach them about ethics in other places, where they have newspapers and other media to keep politicos straight — it really works.

Simply put:

No, Shelby (and his sycophants), you shouldn’t secretly nominate and appoint your buddy Jeremy to a commission that is currently being solicited for a tax break for Jeremy’s employer by Jeremy. That is unethical.

In fact, Jeremy himself stood before the council asking for these tax breaks that were apparently a condition of his employment — might that be unethical as well?

At what point do questions start forming in your minds? You know, “Why is this guy acting like he still runs the city, when he left in 2015?” and “Why does Kochava deserve to pay less in taxes than any other downtown business just because they hired Jeremy?” and of course, “Since Jeremy hired Mr. Qualls from the Sandpoint City Council over a multitude of more qualified applicants, can we expect Mr. Qualls to object to anything Jeremy wants?”

 Any person who can’t quickly identify this as conflict of interest, should resign from the council and never again speak about the South (or anywhere else) with respect to crooked politics — this is a labyrinth of corruption in its most basic form and standard operating procedure in Sandpoint.”

You are making a mockery of public service.

 CAL OGLE, Sandpoint