Feud erupts over honor, transparency

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HAYDEN — Sparks flew Tuesday night when council president Roger Saterfiel and council member Richard Panabaker took turns attacking council member Matt Roetter over comments about transparency that the duo felt offended their honor.

At an Aug. 28 town hall meeting to discuss Hayden’s proposed levy rate override, Roetter had asked if the city ought to include ballot language describing the amount of money by which the Hayden Urban Renewal Agency’s budget would increase if the city levy rate override passed. According to Roetter, the HURA budget would go up by more than $100,000 in new taxpayer funds if Hayden residents voted to approve the $1.633 million levy rate override. The override is being floated to pay for additional law enforcement and road maintenance, explained city officials Aug. 28, and requires 60 percent approval to become law. Levy rates would increase from the current $1.23 per $1,000 of assessed value to $2.50 per $1,000.

At the Aug. 28 town hall meeting, Roetter had a hard time even voicing his concern due to legal counsel from city attorney John Cafferty, who cited state rules concerning the use of state resources to advocate for or against a ballot measure. Roetter limited his remarks to expressing a concern for transparency, saying at the time that “without full disclosure, the public will distrust government.” In accordance with state training on ethics in government, Roetter said if there is any doubt about whether something should be disclosed to the public, lawmakers should disclose that information to the public.

At Tuesday night’s city council meeting Saterfiel and Panabaker alleged that Roetter’s Aug. 28 comments were personal attacks, and based on falsehoods.

Saterfiel said Roetter “implied we were hiding things and not being transporent. That’s simply not true.” City staff has worked for years to make sure its facts and figures on the levy rate were correct, he explained.

“Implying otherwise is an attack on my integrity and honesty,” said Saterfiel, who claimed that “My record stands untarnished and without question.” It was an insult to the mayor, council, and city staff to say that they were not forthcoming, added Saterfiel.

The levy rate override decision was one for the voters to make, Saterfiel said. He said he had a “long history of working with and listening to citizens. I’m proud that we do what is right and what our citizens really want.” He derided Roetter as “some politician who disagrees with this decision being placed on the ballot,” who was engaging in “political grandstanding.”

“I agree with Roger,” said Panabaker. “I felt really upset about that because I’ve been doing this a long time. Never once have I ever tried to hide what we’re doing from the people we represent.”

“My goal is to be part of making our community a great place for family and businesses and to keep our quality of life at a high level,” said Roetter, after complimenting his fellow council members. He reiterated that his objection at the Aug. 28 town hall meeting concerned the large increase in funding for HURA.

“If fellow councilmen felt offended or felt I was trying to degrade you, that was not my purpose,” he said. “My point was that there is a general distrust of government in general. And whenever possible government needs to disclose — in this case HURA and the amount it would receive — on the ballot so they can assess the impact of that.“

Roetter said he had spoken with Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon about the issue, and that state law was silent on whether the city tell voters that HURA funding would increase if voters approved the levy rate override on Nov. 6.

“We can either put it on the ballot or we could not. I come from the position that we fully disclose to the public. I’m not saying you’re trying to hide anything. If you take it that way, that’s your issue,” he said. “My position is we need to disclose the full impact of the levy vote.”

With Roetter the lone vote against, council members had voted Aug. 28 to put the levy rate override on the Nov. 6 ballot, without any mention of the levy rate override’s impact to HURA funding. Roetter serves on the HURA board.

A second town hall meeting to discuss the levy rate override is scheduled for Oct. 9 at 5:30 p.m.

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