SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners decided on a split vote on Tuesday to disengage from a regional planning initiative at the behest of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee.
The local GOP Central Committee presented commissioners with a resolution calling on the county to withdraw from the Bonner Regional Team, a group of elected and appointed public officials from incorporated cities in Bonner County, which meets to discuss emerging issues and offer recommendations regarding the wildfire threat, affordable housing, public transportation and other matters that can cross the bounds of political subdivisions in the county.
The central committee, however, sees the Bonner Regional Team as an infringement on the county’s jurisdiction and a move toward regional governance.
“It’s brought in as a charade and one day you wake up and you’ve got the shackle of change around you,” said the resolution’s author, Tom Cleveland.
However, members of BRT disputed the GOP’s contention that it would bring about regional government or infringe on the county’s jurisdiction.
“It’s a forum for sharing information, for focusing on issues that impact our community and for learning from one another,” said Dover Councilwoman Diane Brockway, who added that the panel has no decision-making authority.
Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad, who is a member of BRT, emphasized that the GOP’s concerns about regional governance are unfounded. He said the panel functions similarly to the Bonner County Area Transportation Team, which brings jurisdictions together to discuss roads and highways.
Rognstad said the fast-paced growth in Bonner County is an issue that can affect residents regardless of where they live.
“We’re all experiencing this growth and the challenges that come with it and if we don’t start having some conversations about how to address these issues it’s the equivalent of putting our head in the sand,” said Rognstad.
Suspicions about BRT appear to be partly due to the fact that Project 7B originally brought the stakeholders together. However, the local land use advocacy group is no longer involved with BRT, Project 7B members said on Tuesday.
Supporters of BRT also took issue with the tone and language of the resolution, which aims to halt “the spread of oppressive bureaucracies and bigger government.”
“One of biggest challenges that I see facing our region is the ability to communicate well, and honestly and clearly,” said Chris Bassett of the Bonner Community Housing Agency.
“Misinformation tends to be everywhere. This particular resolution falls under the category of misinformation.”
Commissioner Dan McDonald did not like the idea of sending Bonner County’s paid employees to BRT meetings and the resolution is not meant to silence the group. McDonald said the group could still weigh in on planning issues through the Planning & Zoning Commission and the state’s local land use planning act.
“It’s still special access outside of the state statute,” McDonald said of BRT.
Commissioner Steve Bradshaw also supported the GOP resolution.
“For me, regionalization is another word for socialism,” Bradshaw said.
Commissioner Jeff Connolly advocated for keeping the county engaged with BRT
“I oppose not participating in BRT. I think it’s a good process, but I’ve been involved with collaboratives for over 20 years. I see what they can accomplish,” said Connolly.
Connolly also disputed the purported facts in the resolution
“I’ve gone to most of the meetings, if not all the meetings, and there’s never been a discussion one time about the regionalization of government,” he said.
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.