Bonner County Commissioner Makes Citizens Arrest to Remove Public Commenters

The Bonner County Commissioners have been in the news quite a bit lately, even making national news. Among the news items have been power struggles, death threats, restraining orders, and, as of late, a citizen’s arrest.

From time to time, Bonner County Commissioner Asia Williams has been a co-host on the True Idaho News podcast, so True Idaho News editor Daniel Bobinski reached out and asked Commissioner Williams to give her perspective on what’s been happening in Northern Idaho.

The full 9-minute interview can be heard here:

 

The following is adapted from the interview:

DB: I recently saw a video of you putting the chairman of the Bonner County Commissioners in his place for trying to shut down a citizen who was talking at the microphone. Tell us what happened.

AW: It seems to be a recurring theme at Bonner County meetings where the chairman doesn’t want public to make comments, especially if they’re critical of what is happening in the county. You’ll see that we’ve progressed from just deleting public comment altogether to selecting who’s allowed to give public comment. And now we have seen two people arrested for trespassing in relationship to communication with the county. So it has been a very significant assault on the freedom of speech in Bonner County with a board that wants to dictate not just what you can say, but how you can say it to them.

DB: It’s unbelievable what I watched. He (Chairman Omodt) was trying to shut people down and demean them. I’m just appalled that we have an elected official who is supposed to serve the people who’s acting like he rules the people.  You’re an elected member of that board. What’s your take on how a commissioner is supposed to act?

AW: You have to represent the people, and you don’t represent the people by not hearing them. You have to allow them to voice their issues and concerns. When you look back at some of these videos in Bonner County, you’ll see people parade through just attacking me. I’m just sitting there not yelling. I accept it as part of my job.

As a chairman, he has allowed people to berate me in that sphere. I made the comment during this shutdown that I’ve sat through this – yet they’re not even saying anything negative about you. They’re describing behavior. We don’t have a right as elected officials to expect people to treat us better than we treat them …. It bothers me that we have people who don’t understand government anymore, who are running for government and getting  elected to government, and thinking that they are there now to rule, and it is us who are the sovereigns, not them.

Commissioner Williams also described how Commissioner Omodt placed several citizens under citizen’s arrest after the police department said the citizens had done nothing wrong.

AW: Within minutes of a scheduled meeting – and without having voted on this, and that’s important; this wasn’t a vote by the board. This was a decision by an individual commissioner to trespass these two individuals. The two individuals said, “We’re not leaving, this is a public meeting. This is a public building.”

Then Omodt paused the meeting that was flowing over zoom and then law enforcement came. They made a statement that there was no law being broken.

Then Commissioner Omodt took it upon himself to do a citizen’s arrest. And I say Gomer Pyle style because that’s what it felt like when you read it in the newspaper. The people were asked, “Will you leave peacefully?” And they did leave peacefully. My understanding is law enforcement gave them the citation that Commissioner Omodt wrote and then took them to Bonner County Jail where Bonner County Jail undersheriff then then drove them back to the county building and let them leave in their vehicles.

This shows that absolute power corrupts, because the decision was made without consultation with legal, without consultation of law enforcement, and without recognition of a process and procedure.  The right to speak publicly – the right to be in that meeting has been impacted by a decision of one ruler.

Commissioner Williams went on to say, “This is not beneficial to the state of Idaho and to our county to have elected officials silence people for speaking up for their right to be present and have meaningful participation in local government.  And yes, we have to participate in local government.”

 

The True Idaho News podcast on this issue featuring Asia Williams can be heard here (or as embedded above).

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