Board moves to mediate differences - Bonner County Daily Bee: Local News

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Board moves to mediate differences

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Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2011 10:00 am

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are turning to mediation to resolve their differences.

The unusual step on Tuesday to enter mediation to settle disputes among the board members followed the removal of Commissioner Lewis Rich as chairman. Commissioner Mike Nielsen moved to appoint Commissioner Cornel Rasor as chairman and Rasor seconded.

The motion passed on a 2-0 vote.

“I view this removal from chairmanship as punitive,” Rich said after the vote.

Both Rasor and Nielsen insisted the removal was not punitive, but Rich seemed unconvinced by his colleagues’ declarations.

“I’m not looking for punitive action. I’m looking for a change in direction,” said Nielsen.

Rich said he was being removed as chairman as retribution for releasing a series of emails written by Nielsen to all county employees. Rich also accused Nielsen and Sheriff Daryl Wheeler of campaigning against him during the last election.

Prior to becoming sheriff, Wheeler was party to litigation which successfully challenged the commission’s plan to enter into a lease/purchase agreement to construct a new juvenile detention facility and a work-release center. Rich was on the board when that proposal was advancing.

Nielsen maintained in one of the emails that the prior commission reduced the sheriff’s salary prior to Wheeler taking office as payback for interfering with the board’s plan to develop a new juvenile lockup and work-release center.

Tension between Rich and Nielsen were been scarcely evident at board meetings until they took up the budget and sought proposals for a new health insurance brokers.

Rich opposed adoption of the $57.2 million budget because he felt it unfairly favored sheriff’s personnel. The budget increased the sheriff’s salary and pay for commissioned deputies.

Nielsen believed the board was united on budget and Rich’s opposition put his fellow conservatives on the board in an awkward position of supporting a budget that effectively increased taxes.

“This was self-serving claptrap by Lewis so Cornel and I would take the political heat from fiscal conservatives,” Nielsen said in one of the emails released to employees.

Some Republicans lauded Rich for his stance, but Nielsen chided Rich for voting against something after it became clear it would be passed by the board.

The county’s search for a new insurance broker also became a political battleground.

Nielsen accused Rich of being biased toward the county’s longtime broker Taylor Insurance and sabotaging the bid process by feeding Taylor proprietary information submitted by a rival bidder.

“This is the type of skullduggery and cronyism that has plagued Bonner County for years, which must be exposed and eliminated,” Nielsen wrote in an email.

Nielsen, meanwhile, was accused of unfairly favoring broker PacificSource provider Wells Fargo Insurance Services. Both Nielsen and Rich denied being biased or having personal connections to the various companies.

On Tuesday, Rich said he would seek legal advice because he insisted his differences with Nielsen never intruded on his role as chairman.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever let my personal issues with Mr. Nielsen ever jeopardize the way I ran the meetings,” said Rich.

Rasor has largely sidestepped the tensions between Rich and Nielsen, although he has at times acted as something of a referee during some of the more contentious discussions.

Rasor said he does not have issues with either of his colleagues, but proposed mediation because it has proven successful in resolving scores of other disputes the county has encountered.

Brian Noble, a certified conciliator and pastor at Sandpoint Assembly of God, has been selected to mediate. The board initially considered using tax dollars to pay for mediation, but is now considering paying the costs out of their own pockets.

“We’re not going to be using public money,” Rasor said.

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  • Old Cop posted at 10:03 am on Sun, Oct 16, 2011.

    Old Cop Posts: 3259

    Is LakeViewer advocating a 5 member commission? Horrors, doesn't he realize we would have to pay five salaries instead of three. This from a man that wants to hold county workers in bondage as peons.
    And I don't know what's in the cute little Bags but I want to say that I frequently get a deep and abiding satisfaction from insulting certain people

  • Bags posted at 10:06 am on Sat, Oct 15, 2011.

    Bags Posts: 22

    Interesting discussion here...all points taken. Perhaps as LakeViewer and Bill Litsinger have suggested, it may be time to consider a 5 member board...Bonner County continues to grow and with it, diversity. Nothing wrong with a good discussion and multiple opinions, as long as its kept civil. Nothing is ever gained by throwing insults...

  • life is good posted at 6:31 pm on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    life is good Posts: 699

    Bill - to show what a forward thinking county we really are - Reuter needs to amend his gay rights thing to mandate "diversity" on the commission - Oh, that's right - first things first - that will come up after the City goes for this fiasco

  • BBCBBCBBC posted at 5:47 pm on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    BBCBBCBBC Posts: 52

    Lewis Rich is a whiney baby. He showed his true colors with the Bonner County Search and Rescue when they decided to sever ties with the Bonner County Sheriffs Office. He continues to show his rear time after time. When will people stand up and notice. I yelled it from the rooftops when Rich was running for commissioner but no one listened. Please, vote out Lewis Rich at the next election. He is not good for Bonner County.

  • watcher posted at 4:13 pm on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    watcher Posts: 22

    I've not kept up with all the to do at the County but I do agree it is UNCONSCIONABLE to raise taxes
    given the state of the union. And it also unconscionable that City Council would vote to RAISE water rates
    2% and sewer rates 15% and if my calulations are correct City Council has raised water and sewer rate combined 79% in the last 2 years!

  • Enough posted at 10:24 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    Enough Posts: 31

    I would have to say this is Government in motion. I believe that what is going on is a good thing, and I'm not just talking about Mr. Rich's removal as chairmen from the board. When the representatives of a governing body don't agree then they must work to resolve those differences, hence they are doing exactly what they were elected to do. There's no way around it, Bonner County has major problems in almost every aspect of how it operates as a government entity, whether or not its Lewis Rich's fault, or if its Mike Neilson's fault well.... Who really knows this has been a big mess for a long time now. Its kinda nice to see something as drastic as this happen to shake up of the County a bit.

  • Bill Litsinger posted at 9:55 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    Bill Litsinger Posts: 1394

    Maybe the problem at the commissioners office is that we have 3 MEN on the board. Maybe it should be state law that there is at least ONE woman on the board to assign time outs. I agree that we need to put our BIG BOY pants on. However, a little debate is never bad.

  • Mel Davis posted at 9:27 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    Mel Davis Posts: 18

    I have a sign that hangs in my office that says "Put on your big boy shorts and deal with it." Perhaps I need to donate it to the county. In my opinion the board as a collective whole is acting unprofessional. Most of us would be fired or have a talk with HR and a note in our personnel file if we acted this way. Your attitudes and actions are creating a poisonous work environment. Please grow up and deal with your personality conflicts in an adult manner.

  • michaelc posted at 8:23 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    michaelc Posts: 262

    @Peon, good post. I agree with everything you said, and I also agree with Idahome. I voted for Nielsen because his platform was to tighten belts and cutback where possible. He has done that to some degree, but what I will remember is my belt tightening.

    @Bill, as for the "Agendas", yes, every politician needs to have one. Nielsen had one, but never did he mention he would raise taxes on property owners to hand out raises to his "good ole' boys club". I find it interesting that he uses these exact terms “This is the type of skullduggery and cronyism that has plagued Bonner County for years, which must be exposed and eliminated,” Funny, now Nielsen seems to be getting exposed. Thanks to Peon and a few others, maybe we can lift the carpet from over our eyes and see the relationship between Nielsen and Wheeler.

    Now we have three grown men arguing like children on a playground. The two bullies are kicking out the one who asks the hard questions and breaks up the "good ole' boys club". If you don't play like the way we want to play, we'll show you. DO NOT USE MY TAX DOLLARS TO MEDIATE THIS PROBLEM. If you vote to use my tax dollars, I want to have a voice in who mediates. I no longer trust Nielsen. Give me one reason to trust him.

  • LakeViewer posted at 7:14 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    LakeViewer Posts: 940

    Each commissioner represents all of us in Bonner county. Each must vote what seems right at the time. This does not dictate unanimity in voting to cover each others rears.

    Rich voted his decision on the matter, as did the other two. Now they must face the consequences, if any.

    I feel that Rich was correct. It was unconscionable to raise property taxes for any reason this year. Each will have to shoulder the responsibility at election time for their choice in the matter. They should not look to their peers for a scapegoat to crucify.

    I personally think it is time for a five member commission. The salaries of the three could be lowered to pay for five members.

  • Helen Newton posted at 7:11 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    Helen Newton Posts: 537

    HypNautic, If you had attended the meeting last night at the Catholic Church regarding 4-H, the fair and the museum, you would have witnessed a well-prepared, honeest, appreciated and applauded Commissioner Rich and another commissioner (Nielsen) who was caught time and again in errors and mis-statements and who obviously does not understand how the core of Bonner County feels about these issues close to their hearts.

  • HypNautic posted at 4:03 am on Fri, Oct 14, 2011.

    HypNautic Posts: 36

    Mediation is the right choice here. The gridlock in the current BOCC has only one source; the incompetence, contempt, and arrogance of Lewis Rich.

    Until Rich broke with all professional and collegial behavior by "blindsiding" his fellow Board members with his bare-faced electioneering "bait and switch" tactics, it could be argued that he was an equal among peers. But now he has proven he does not deserve the professional respect of this colleagues - and they are acting accordingly to preserve the effectiveness of the Board.

    Shame on Mr. Rich, for leaving them no choice... and congratulations to Cornel and Mike for, once again, proving that they have the backbone to take action when action is needed. The sidelining of Lewis Rich is long overdue - let's make it permanent next November and hand him his hat.

  • Helen Newton posted at 7:54 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Helen Newton Posts: 537

    Let's see: "Re: the charges agiant our county clerk. Time will tell if it is warranted. My experience with past commissioners tells me there may be a little smoke when it comes to the working relationship between Marie Scott and the board."

    Time will tell if the "charges" are warranted????

  • Bill Litsinger posted at 6:59 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Bill Litsinger Posts: 1394

    @Helen Newton - post of 3:55 pm - Helen, where did I suggest anything about the clerk's honesty or efficiency?? I was responding to the blog of Peon at 2:17 pm. Peon questioned the "unfounded and offensive accusations against another elected official."

  • Bob Wynhausen posted at 4:54 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Bob Wynhausen Posts: 10706

    Mediation?? Aren't we wasting enough money on the Property Rights Council?

  • Helen Newton posted at 3:55 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Helen Newton Posts: 537

    Marie Scott began working for the county June 19, 1986 and for 25 years has maintained an impeccable record in honesty and efficiency. Shame on you, BIll, for suggesting otherwise. Many commissioners have come and gone since.

    The raise mentioned by Peon was given to one of the three secretaries in the commissioner's office. Her raise was $7,837.60 after which she made $49,500. That was before October 1st. New raises have since gone into effect. This information is from a recent public record request I made. The ONLY change in her job description is that she now supervises the county's human resources director and risk manager - a position that until then answered only to the commissioners directly. Is it any wonder the morale of county employees is suffering?

  • Bill Litsinger posted at 2:44 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Bill Litsinger Posts: 1394

    @Peon - post of 2:17 pm - You mention an "Agenda" in your second sentence. What politician could be elected or serve without an agenda?? An agenda is what they campaign on. No candidate is perfect. I do agree with you on the $50,000.00 a year salary for the Office Manager. That seems quite high.

    Re: the charges agiant our county clerk. Time will tell if it is warranted. My experience with past commissioners tells me there may be a little smoke when it comes to the working relationship between Marie Scott and the board.

    What we are seeing here is politics in motion.

  • Peon posted at 2:17 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Peon Posts: 9

    "The real story" is that the Board of County Commissioners has been tainted from the day Mike Nielsen took office. He came with an agenda and has made it his goal to accomplish it no matter what the consequences. Mr. Nielsen is like the proverbial King Baby: I want what I want and I want it right now!"

    While he claims to consider the concerns and issues of the "taxpayers", he seems to neglect the fact the County employees are taxpayers, too. With all the discussion regarding the pay raises for the Sheriff and commissioned deputies, I find it odd there has been no comment regarding the $8000 per year raise given to the Commissioners' Administrative Assistant(?)/Office Manager, thus bringing her salary to $50,000 per year which is in some cases more than department heads and County attorneys. This salary increase was given by skirting around the policies in place and keeping it a secret for as long as possible and not including it in the budget meetings - talk about "skulduggery"! When the mention of the "good ole boy" or "cronyism" labels come up, I find it laughable given the friendship and strong ties of Mike Nielsen and Daryl Wheeler.

    The atmosphere in the County Administration Building is palpable, moral is low and there is a trickle-down effect in attitude and dedication. The current Board of County Commissioners is an embarrassment. While I fault Mike Nielsen with much of recent events, I hold Lewis Rich and Cornel Rasor equally responsible for participating in the sham that is the current BOCC. The backdoor approach to getting one's way, i.e. the change in Chairmanship is not acceptable. Also objectionable is the apparently unfounded and offensive accusations against another elected official, County Clerk Marie Scott.

    As elected officials, they should remember they were elected to represent the best interests of the residents of this County. I'm with Idahome: a house cleaning is in order.

  • Idahome posted at 12:56 pm on Thu, Oct 13, 2011.

    Idahome Posts: 218

    Hard to know what "the real story" that leads up to this situation may be but, from the sounds of this article, I think either, or both, a house-cleaning at the next election or a revision to the make-up of the commission and the manner in which the chairman is elected is in order. The constituents of the county are not well-served if the Commissioners can't commit, and behave, to collaborate in the best interests of us all.