Sorry, Not Sorry, Sandpoint City Council
By Anita Aurit
I’m adding a special post regarding the complaint I filed with the city council and how it was handled by the city. I will post the other meeting agenda items in a separate article.
After the council failed to respond to my complaint in the time as laid out in the ethics ordinance, I consulted with legal counsel and then published the complaint in my blog. The incident that precipitated my complaint occurred at the September 7th City Council meeting. You can read about it here and you can view the video here (video is courtesy of Sandpoint Watchdog)
- Meeting took place September 7, 2016
- Registered letter with complaint was received by the mayor and the city attorney on September 12
- Bokowy was contacted by the city council on September 19th.
- City ordinance states that the complaint is to be addressed at the following city council meeting (September 21)
- On or before October 3, the Daily Bee spoke with the Sandpoint City Administrator regarding my complaint. I was not contacted. The Daily Bee article was written on our before October 3.
- At 4:39pm on October 4th, I received the following voicemail: “Hi Anita, this is Maree Peck, the city of Sandpoint City Clerk. I’m just calling to alert you and I was concerned that you were not notified, that the certified letter that you sent to Mayor Rognstad and City Attorney Scot Campbell, this whole issue will be on the October 19th regularly scheduled meeting, so you’re certainly welcome to give me a call back if you have any questions.” (she then provided her direct number) This is a transcript from the actual call. Link to Recording.
- I sent an email on October 10th requesting information regarding the exact protocol regarding the hearing of my complaint and the procedure for my witnesses to testify. I received a response on October 13th. A screen capture of the email is noted below.
- No further communication was forthcoming from the city.
When I arrived at the October 19th meeting, the City Attorney indicated he wanted to speak with me outside chambers. He then proceeded to explain to me that he was going to suggest that the council dismiss the complaint as Mr. Bokowy was not acting in his capacity as SURA board member and the city did not have authority to hear an ethics complaint regarding a SURA board member as they were not the governing body of this board that acted separately from the city. The most interesting part of this is that he had this “legal epiphany” only the night before (October 18).
My witnesses and I sat through the entire meeting waiting for our turn to speak. This never happened. Mr. Campbell explained his legal epiphany and his reasoning as to why the complaint should be dismissed. I am not going to bore you with all the legal word calisthenics. Bottom line is this, evidently the city ordinance regarding “ethics” is outdated, Mr. Bokowy was not acting in his official capacity as a SURA board member and the city had no jurisdiction over SURA anyway.
The complaint stemmed from two breaches of the rules regarding public comment. These rules that are clearly stated by the mayor at every meeting prior to public comments (you are not to address anyone in particular nor are you to address the audience. It is my contention that had the city stopped Mr. Bokowy in the beginning of his “I want to address the audience” comment (and he turned toward the audience) or even when he addressed me personally, he would not have been emboldened to continue his bullying of me after the meeting.
The City Attorney fell on his sword and extended an apology for not following the rules at the September 7th meeting but there is something you learn in mediation training and conflict resolution training, whenever someone extends an “apology” followed by a “but” there is no apology. The mayor gave a mea culpa which rang hollow for reasons I will discuss.
I felt that it would be appropriate and the right thing to do for the council to allow me to speak. Councilman Snedden made a comment that he would like to hear what I thought. I thought “Finally, I get to make a statement!” I no sooner began to talk when Councilman Snedden barked at me asking if I believed Mr. Bokowy was acting in his official capacity as a SURA board member. He repeated this question and would not let me speak. He treated me as though I was in a witness box and being cross-examined as a hostile witness. It was rude and unbecoming behavior and inappropriate.
Councilwoman Williamson did speak to the fact that “communication” was critical and she intimated that the communication should have been better. (Translation, why did the city attorney wait until the night before to look at this complaint and make his decision?)
Mr. Bokowy was called to the podium to have a chance to speak and offer an apology. His smirk and bouncing around on the podium was not the body language of someone offering an apology. He read from a script, stating that he was “only trying to be polite” when he asked me how to pronounce my name. He noted that he also had a name that was difficult to pronounce. The problem with this was that he should have never been addressing me personally in the first place. This was not an apology and I invite you to watch the video of his performance at the September 7th meeting (it’s about 13 minutes in) and draw your own conclusions.
My Two Cents
I am absolutely astounded at the lack of professionalism and concern expressed by the City Attorney who just “didn’t have the time” to investigate this until the night before the council meeting. I came there after a full day at work, as did at least ten people who came to speak as witnesses for me. This is a clear indication of the lack of concern and respect the city has for the residents of Sandpoint (or, the residents that aren’t in their golden circle)
The mayor’s apology rang hollow as after the September 7th meeting, he walked over to Mr. Bokowy, shook his hand and said,,”Good job, that needed to be said.” There was a witness at the October 19th meeting who came to testify to this.
As I waited for the city to notify me of how they would proceed with my complaint, a certain political figure and relatives of council members and SURA members felt no compunction about defaming me in a local business. This is not the first time this has happened. How interesting that there is a hue and a cry about intimidation from the very people spreading hate and misinformation about private citizens. Very sad.
The only apology that I felt was heartfelt was from Councilman Eddy who came over to me after the meeting. I believed his words and appreciated that he extended them to me personally and sincerely.
After the meeting the City Attorney kept repeating the logic of his legal opinion, he also parroted the same words from Mr. Bokowy’s non-apology. And then he said at least two times, “Well, you write for Redoubt news”, in an accusatory tone. (There was a witness to this exchange). And, what pray tell, does my blog appearing in Redoubt News have to do with the treatment I received?
And that my friends, is the crux of the matter. Listen to Mr. Bokowy’s comments on September 7th and add that to Mr. Campbell’s comment. It was also interesting that when I asked Mr. Campbell why a city official spoke to the Daily Bee about my complaint when I had not been contacted by the Bee, he laughed and said, “They didn’t contact you? They do that all the time.”
There has been much in local “news” about alleged “intimidation” lately. Interesting that when real intimidation takes place in council chambers and witnesses are ready to testify to it, the city treats in so lightly. Clearly there is one standard for the council and their “friends” and all others.
I am thankful for all the people who came to speak for me and support me, even if they were not given the opportunity to do so. I find it very sad that our local government behaves in such a manner, in council chambers and outside of council chambers. Bullying should never be condoned.
I am sorely disappointed in our local government and our so-called news media that reports on things without interviewing all the parties involved. If the actions taken were meant to silence me or scare me away from city council meetings, they were unsuccessful. The treatment I’ve received makes it even more critical to make this information known and for citizens to get involved in what is happening with our city council. I am also making this public should there be an attempt to extract retribution either against myself personally or my business.
Finally, the city attorney mentioned that the experience I had with Mr. Bokowy is a civil matter or as he put it, it could have happened in a bar. I am beginning to agree with the city attorney.
I will continue to attend meetings and report on my view of city decisions from a small business owner’s point of view. I will continue to give credit where credit is due and despite the hateful rhetoric aimed at me, I will forgive and will continue to treat all those involved with respect. I will not,however, be silent when I am attacked, defamed or bullied.
This has been a sad commentary on the way the city treats it’s citizens and business owners. I am a person of deep faith and great hope and it is my hope that there will eventually be some good to come out of this.