County forms music festival panel

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  • (File photo/MARY MALONE) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is pictured during a 2016 Festival at Sandpoint concert at Memorial Field.

  • 1

    (File photo/MARY MALONE) A crowd packs Memorial Field as they wait for the start of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert during the 2016 Festival at Sandpoint summer concert series.

  • (File photo/MARY MALONE) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is pictured during a 2016 Festival at Sandpoint concert at Memorial Field.

  • 1

    (File photo/MARY MALONE) A crowd packs Memorial Field as they wait for the start of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert during the 2016 Festival at Sandpoint summer concert series.

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are forming a committee to conduct a feasibility study to determine if the county could sponsor a music festival if the Festival at Sandpoint is unable to continue its annual waterfront concert series.

Appointed to the committee are Commissioner Dan McDonald and Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor William Wilson, in addition to citizens John Maio, Glenn Mercuiro and Tina Johnson, according to a resolution adopted by the commission on Tuesday.

The county cites a series of press reports documenting turmoil at the Festival at Sandpoint, which includes the termination of its longtime executive director following a drunken driving arrest, and the resignation of its paid staff, some of whom cast doubt on that the Festival would be staged in 2020. It also cites a report that the Festival organizers are struggling with funding after a lightning storm forced the cancellation of Kool & The Gang, which cost the event more than $20,000 to satisfy refund demands from ticket holders.

McDonald said the board supports the Festival and the positive economic impacts it brings when concert-goers flood the city every August.

“We don’t want to see the Festival go away,” McDonald said.

The committee is meant to serve as a failsafe in the event organizers are unable to continue. No tax dollars can be put toward the effort and McDonald said an attorney at Davillier Law Group has agreed to provide legal counsel pro bono.

The resolution does not specifically mention what some contend poses a grave threat to the Festival — Bonner County’s lawsuit against the city of Sandpoint over the Festival’s prohibition against firearms.

The city is the defendant because it leases War Memorial Field to the Festival and has voiced support for the Festival’s right to determine security policies when it rents the facility.

McDonald said the board decided to file suit because of concerns raised by constituents.

“We had quite a few complaints,” McDonald said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Idaho law forbids the prohibition of firearms on public property, although the city maintains the Festival at Sandpoint has the right to dictate its own policies when the venue is leased to them.

McDonald said there have been a couple of similar legal challenges have been raised elsewhere in the state over the prohibition of firearms at county fairgrounds, but state law prevailed in those instances.

Bonner County resident Rebecca Holland questioned the litigation pursued by county.

“The gun litigation initiated here against Sandpoint is taking Bonner County taxpayers into costly, uncharted territory,” Holland told commissioners on Tuesday.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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