COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County isn't naming names.
Three payments totaling $102,000 were made to undisclosed county employees in a span of three months, according to information the Kootenai County Clerk's Office released Thursday.
The bulk of a broad records request The Press submitted to the clerk's office two weeks ago was denied, including a request for names of employees who received the payments as settlements or severance.
The records request is one of many The Press has submitted after uncovering large payments the county and its insurer have made to former county employees, including more than $300,000 to a deputy prosecutor.
From the limited information The Press has been able to obtain through those requests, it appears former employees have received settlements and severance pay from multiple sources and accounts.
Idaho's public records laws require a response to records requests within three days. The Kootenai County Clerk's office responded to the newspaper's April 11 records request after three business days, saying it would take more time to locate the records. When The Press received a response on Thursday - 10 business days after the initial request - the clerk's office merely provided a single-page printout of a ledger listing three payments and no names.
"For many years, the county has been exemplary in complying with requests for information that the public has a right to know," said Mike Patrick, the newspaper's editor. "I'm not sure why that's changed, but the fact that some officials are taking so long and then not fully complying with the law is deeply disturbing."
One payment, made on Dec. 30, 2013, was for $60,000 and described as a severance payment. A $30,000 check was written on Jan. 7, described only as "payment." The third, paid on March 5 in the amount of $12,000, was also described as a severance payment.
The Press previously reported that the county earlier this year paid $30,000 to former community development director Scott Clark and $12,000 to former human resources employee Christina Anderson.
Previous records requests revealed the county's insurer - ICRMP - paid $315,000 to Deputy Prosecutor Kenneth D. Stone, who was fired in March 2011 following a sexual harassment investigation. The insurer also paid the county a $30,000 lump sum as reimbursement for wages to hire Stone back as a county employee - though he hasn't worked a day since his initial firing - until he is eligible for retirement.
That money was deposited into a county account separate from the other settlements and severance.
In a response Thursday from the clerk's office, Deputy Clerk Brandie Bradley wrote that "the clerk's office is not the custodian of any other records pertaining to your request."
Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon said Friday that he could not recall if he had reviewed The Press' records request.
"We are seeing so many records requests," Brannon said. "We have gotten a whole bunch of them, which is great. Citizens want to know answers. Reporters want to know answers."
Brannon said he brought up the issue of public records at the county's elected officials meeting last week because he feels so strongly about transparency.
"For the clerk's department, I'd say every effort is made to get (a records request) in the hands of somebody who can act upon it," he said. "I truly can't speak for other elected officials."
Patrick said the large payments to former employees are discouraging from a taxpayer perspective, and that the county's apparent reluctance to fully disclose as much information as possible only increases the public's skepticism.
"This isn't a game of 'Gotcha,'" he said. "We think citizens have a right to know how effectively the county is managing its workforce, and full disclosure of the information we're seeking is an important element of that."