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Op-Ed: Who wants the change and why?

by DREW and MARY GEHL/Special to The Press
| July 21, 2021 1:00 AM

The establishment of the Kootenai County Optional Forms of Government Study Commission has certainly increased the intensity of the summer heat for county residents. Per their testimony before the Commission on July 14, Commissioners Chris Fillios and Bill Brooks both insist residents are reacting negatively because of misinformation that is circulating regarding the purpose of the study.

However, there is a public outcry because we still do not know “why” this study has been commissioned. It may be legal, but is it expedient, considering not one county commissioner is able to articulate an executive summary of purpose for the study at this time? The only response to our question of “why” has been a delineation of the Idaho Constitution line items that allow for this study and the implementation of an alternate form of county government.

If we dissect their testimonies of the 14th, some insight can be acquired. Commissioner Brooks thought this study was a good idea before he was elected, and he actually campaigned on it. Again, why?

Commissioner Fillios provided multiple examples of a dysfunctional county government from a theoretical story of a disobedient county sheriff, to supposed training issues causing an inmate death in an Idaho county jail, to administrative failures of various departments to adequately perform their job responsibilities. Unfortunately, through a rambling testimony in which Fillios believed he was connecting the dots of his discussion priorities of qualifications, accountability, continuity, representation and control, the latter was the main point that came through clearly. Perhaps a lack of control over the other elected county officials is a reason for this study.

It was his discussion of accountability, however, that will not only enliven the opponents to this study, but further awaken all the residents to the need to pay very special attention to this process. Looking directly to those in attendance, Commissioner Fillios said, “People talk about accountability. That if you are electing your officials, you have accountability. I’m here to tell you, you don’t. Not only do you not have accountability, I’m not so sure we do.” Regarding elected county officials with whom the residents were dissatisfied, he later added, “Now some will say ‘we’ll recall them.’ No, you won’t. You’ll never succeed in recalling an official because the bar is so high. It won’t happen.”

If anyone has not attended or reviewed the YouTube videos of these public meetings, please do so. Essentially, we have been told that because our county is too large and our residents are too uneducated to rigorously evaluate the candidates for elected office, we should just step aside and let those who know better (re: our Washington, D.C., elites) take care of hiring people to function as county officials with an increase in the number of county commissioners. In the current political environment, the establishment of this study is not only tone deaf, but also political suicide.

In this climate, the one security many county residents hold on to against Federal aggression and dissipation of citizen rights is the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate. Our elected county sheriffs are not operating in a U.S. Constitutional position, but Kootenai County residents elect the candidate for that position based upon his/her ability and commitment to operate as the lesser magistrate for the county by accepting accountability directly to the citizens of this county, the Idaho Constitution, and the U.S. Constitution. In general, sheriffs, as a county’s highest elected law enforcement official, can interpose themselves legally between the attempted encroachment of tyranny by higher elected state or federal officials. That tension is only growing and promises to worsen in the coming months.

In answer to the question as to why this study was commissioned, the only clear answer presented to residents is that two of the sitting commissioners want change before a second so-called “radical conservative” is elected to the three-person board format. The residents of Kootenai County are divided and passionate as has been seen during the health board ordinances imposed last year. Nevertheless, the hyper-critical feedback to this study thus far indicates no amount of marketing of the recommendations provided by the commission will overcome the hole it will have to climb out of following the testimony of the 14th.

The residents of Kootenai County are awake and ready to challenge the hurdle of the high bar of “recall impossibility.” It looks to be a long, hot summer in our beautiful county.

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Drew and Mary Gehl are residents of Post Falls.