SANDPOINT — The Kootenai Environmental Alliance is suing Bonner County to force the disclosure of officials’ communications with conservative activists.
The Coeur d’Alene-based environmental group argues the county is unlawfully withholding the communications and improperly denied its request under Idaho’s public records law.
The suit also seeks attorneys fees for litigating the matter and civil penalties against elected and appointed officials for denying the alliance’s public records request. It was filed in 1st District Court on Friday.
The alliance submitted a public records request seeking all county correspondence with Tom DeWeese and Karen Bracken. The former is president of the American Policy Center and the latter is a property rights advocate in Tennessee.
DeWeese authored an article published by conservative website Right Side News involving Agenda 21 and Bonner County’s controversial Property Rights Council, which makes recommendations to the county commission.
Some view Agenda 21 as a global blueprint for sustainable development, resource management and conservation, while others contend it is a nefarious plot to undermine private property rights and restrict energy usage.
“There are reports of inspectors actually entering homes and systematically removing incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with the new green models, without the knowledge and against the will of the property owner,” DeWeese said in the Feb. 7 article.
DeWeese praises the council as a “major new weapon” to combat U.N. initiatives such as Agenda 21. The council’s founder, commission Chairman Cornel Rasor, and the commission’s civil counsel, Scott Bauer, are mentioned in the article.
Locally, the council has been met with cheers of approval and derisive scoffs. Supporters see it as a property rights safeguard, while opponents view it as an embarrassment that threatens conscientious land use planning and policies.
The Kootenai Environmental Alliance has become increasingly involved in Bonner County issues. It has voiced opposition to development at Priest Lake, sided with EPA in a Priest Lake couple’s fight to develop their land and skewered county commissioners for the property rights council.
The day after DeWeese’s article appeared, the KEA filed public records requests for all communications the county had with DeWeese or Bracken, who was also mentioned in the Right Side News article.
The county ultimately denied the request because Bauer’s interactions with DeWeese and Bracken were conducted through his personal email account, not a county account, according to court documents.
“However, regardless of the form of communication, so long as the content of the communication relates to the public interest and is between government officials, the communications are subject to disclosure,” said Rich Eichstaedt, a Spokane attorney representing KEA.
County officials, who decline to comment on pending litigation, maintain that neither DeWeese nor Bracken are public officials, court records indicate.