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A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The City Council Meeting

An incident that took place at the Sandpoint City Council September 7th meeting.

Sandpoint City Council meeting redoubt news
Sandpoint City Council meeting

By Anita Aurit

A Little History

Some of you may have noticed that I am two council meetings behind in my blogging.  The reason is an incident that took place at the September 7th meeting.  To provide a more accurate telling I need to provide a bit of history.

There was quite a bit of chatter on social media regarding the $55 million levy that did not pass on that day. I was interested to see how the levy supporters would act and react. Sadly, there was much name calling, shaming and finger pointing from the pro-levy side. Some of the rancor was so unacceptable I made some screen captures of the comments. One individual in particular was extremely snarky and aggressive. This individual was Tom Bokowy, someone I had never spoken with in person or directly communicated with via social media. It was noted in the forum where he was posting that he was a mayoral appointee to the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency.

Ethics Concerns

That night, I made a public comment as follows:

“Chapter 7  of the city Code of Ethics addresses how the public judges it’s government, .. by how those officials and employees conduct themselves in the post to which they have been elected or appointed. The people have a right to expect that every public official and employee will conduct himself in a manner that will tend to preserve the public confidence in and respect for the government he represents. Elected officials are instructed to avoid both actual and potential conflicts between their private self-interest and the public interest

It is the “actual and potential” conflict of public and private self- interest I would like to address. During the announcement section of the August 17th City Council meeting, an exhortation came from the council regarding the levy vote. The public was reminded about the upcoming election and this is perfectly appropriate. What was not appropriate was editorializing that promoted a vote for the levy.

A conflict of interest consists of any official action, decision or recommendation by a public official (elected, appointed or staff), which would be to the private financial benefit of the individual or a member of their household, or a business with which the person or a member of their household is associated.

We are all entitled to express our opinions as private citizens but elected officials are held to a higher standard when they are going about the business of government. Elected officials should not use  their office and the public forum provided to them by that office to influence any vote, no matter what the issue.”

I read my comment and as followed the protocol as announced by the mayor to all who make public comments, did not address the audience nor did I address any council member directly,

Tom Bokowy, mayoral appointee to the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Board and the same individual who had been busy on social media that day walked to the podium, turned around and announced he wanted to address the audience. This is against procedure yet on one stopped him. He began his soliloquy, decrying the accuracy of social media and certain news sources and then addressed me personally, asking about the pronunciation of my name. Another gross breach of protocol. Fortunately there is video evidence of this meeting, both from the city council and a private source.  Mr. Bokowy was never reprimanded nor stopped during his breach of protocol.

After the meeting, Mr. Bokowy felt it necessary to continue his tirade toward me. It became clear that a civilized conversation with this man would not be possible. He came closer to me, raising his voice in a threatening manner and would not walk away. Fortunately Chief Coon moved to where we were standing and inserted himself between us.  I will not address all the details of the encounter but I have included a link to the formal complaint I filed with the mayor.

Complaint Filed – City Silent

I filed my complaint according to city code 1-7 regarding ethics of city elected officials, employees and appointed individuals whether paid or unpaid.  The registered letters arrived at the Mayor’s and city attorney’s office on September 12.  I awaited their response.

I heard nothing but, I expected at the next city council meeting on September 21, the issue would be handled as per the code. Nothing was said, nothing was noted on the agenda.

What They Were Obligated to Do According to Law

Section 1-7-5 provides the guideline for filing a complaint and what the mayor and council is charged to do:

B. Any voter registered to vote within the city limits of the city may raise a question under this chapter by setting forth the facts in writing and delivering them to the mayor. The mayor shall immediately cause copies of said writing to be delivered to each member of the city council and shall cause the matter to be brought before the city council at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting. The city council shall resolve the question through a majority vote of the council hearing the matter at the regular public meeting of the city council at which said question is reported by the mayor, unless the defending public official or employee requests that the matter be continued until the next subsequent regular public meeting of the city council.

C. In all cases the mayor shall have the right to vote only in the event that it is necessary to break a tie. In the event that the mayor shall be the questioned public official, the president of the council or if the president of the council is not present, such other member of the city council as a majority of those council members present shall designate, shall preside over that portion of the city council meeting or meetings which concerns the question or charge by either a city council member or registered voter.

D. The city clerk shall retain a record of the hearing on each such matter thus brought before the city council including a disposition of the matter and the decision of a majority of the council hearing the question. (Ord. 761, 1-18-1982)

In other words, despite the requirement of “immediacy” and the requirement to have the issue resolved at the next city council meeting, nothing was done.

I felt it was only fair for me to remain silent about this complaint until the mayor and council had the prescribed time to respond. After conferring with counsel, I was advised that for me to make this matter public would not in any way jeopardize my standing in this matter.

It is a shame when a citizen, who has every right to attend city council meetings, is the victim of someone’s flagrant refusal to observe the rules of public comment. It is wrong for someone who is a mayoral appointee to bully a private citizen at a city council meeting and it is egregious for a man to bully a woman in any venue in the way I was bullied at that council meeting.

Corporate Welfare and the City

The item of most interest to small business owners was the conversation regarding the improvements for Lead Lok, the company that occupies the former business incubator. (You can find more detailed information on this on my post of the July 15th City Council Report entitled, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.)

Councilman Snedden asked how the city could be assured that the city was getting the best bids to have the work done for Lead Lok and was advised by Planning & Economic Development Director, Aaron Qualls that “because the City received only one bid, there’s no assurance how fair the bid is, but we have to accept the lowest bid.” Call me silly but shouldn’t they be soliciting more bids to ensure our tax monies are being spent in a fiscally responsible manner? Thanks to Councilman Snedden for asking the question.

I suppose we should be comforted by the fact that Lead Lok acknowledged that they would have to fund any amount in excess of $275,000.00.  We cannot be comforted by the fact that the bid “came in slightly higher than what was budgeted for.”    The three items itemized are the plans, a fire alarm system and electrostatic flooring. The flooring is not eligible for funding, as it’s too tenant specific.  The tenant will have to pay the cost themselves. Might not be a bad idea to keep an eye on that one.

The Rest of the Meeting

There is little more to report on regarding the content of the meeting that evening.  Amendments to the noise ordinance were proposed and passed with only one dissent by Councilman Camp.

Archery deer hunting permits were approved for the airport area in order to attempt to cull the deer population and keep them off the runway. It was reported that this was successful last year, seven deer were killed and there was a notable reduction in deer in the way of airplanes. The meat was given to the needy in our community.

There were approvals for various tree removals and the approval of the rifle range timber sale.

As per normal procedure, the city audit engagement letter was approved.

My Two Cents

I await with great interest to see how the city will handle the formal complaint I filed. It is of concern to me that our governing body in this city seems to feel they are above complying with the law and not above shielding the behavior of city appointees. I will keep you posted.

 

Anita Aurit is the owner and operator of
The Office Sandpoint.

1 Comment on A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The City Council Meeting

  1. Another indication that elected officials consider themselves above the people that put them in office. This NEEDS to be remembered come the next city election!

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