That an important thing needing fixed will have been set aright
July 16, 2021
By Mike Weland, Publisher
In over 30 years as a reporter in Boundary County, I've developed pretty fair instincts in discerning the veracity and motive of those I interview. While I don't purport to know the "truth" of any story I cover, especially those as contentious as developing sagas like the current Boundary County Library situation, I am pretty good at recognizing sincerity as opposed to the converse.
My record shows too, I think, my appreciation of and admiration for those who stand for and are elected or appointed to those offices for which there is only responsibility and no recompense; those who serve on local library boards, school boards and in other unpaid positions of public trust.
When they act in best the interests of the office they hold, they are the unsung exemplars of that phrase, "public trust." All things being equal, I tend to side with those who take an oath of office.
Before this debacle, I never imagined I'd write a paragraph such as; “Obviously the library is gonna get some heat from your article about the Boilers,” library board member Aaron Bohachek, formerly a reporter with the Bonners Ferry Herald, wrote the day of publication. “I’ll give you a break since you’re definitely not up to speed on the game they’ve been playing. As one journalist to another (and off the record here) I just want you to know that there are a (sic) numerous factual errors in it that could seriously expose you to libel lawsuits from some of the individuals named. You might want to do a little research on your sources and possibly interview more than one before dropping something this heavy.” (The rest of the story is here.)
It would seem to me that one serving in an office of public trust would offer an honest correction of the purported factual errors rather than warn of risks of which the reporter is only too aware.
Especially when "something this heavy" includes well-documented allegations of such things as federal Fair Labor Standards Act violations, failure to abide by Idaho Code on open meeting laws and procedures, violations of library standards and regulations, of a board not practicing proper personnel oversight or providing for proper training, for themselves or staff, of safety violations including blocked exits and cluttered stairs, of not practicing even routine security measures, such as requiring departing employees to turn in library keys before receiving their final paycheck, hence having both former and current employees using the library facility as a crash pad or party house after hours, of failures in leadership that had the potential to put a proud and essential public asset in our community at grave risk.
Serious allegations, if true, and the record clearly shows that the library board showed due concern -- it unanimously declared an emergency it did not define and it did impose a sudden two week closure in mid-April that has now exceeded three months in duration.
It did hire special legal counsel and it did engage a separate law firm to conduct an investigation of itself. It has not acceded to or responded to multiple media requests to make the findings of that investigation public.
After the whistle was blown and the allegations made public, the board ignored them, but instead abetted and encouraged the whistleblowers being disparaged and assailed by "loyal" staff and sympathetic members of the community, even after having ignored their repeated attempts, made over a period of months, to bring the concerns to them quietly that they might be honestly addressed.
When later asked to respond by media, rather than address issues, as would seem prudent, questions were met with obfuscation, whitewash, misdirection, accusations and veiled threats ... and then silence.
Rather than deal with me honestly, they chose to play me, and learned to their chagrin that it's not as easy as it might appear.
As to why the library was and is still closed, I have not received an adequate answer or explanation ... not surprising as even my requests for meeting notices and agendas are now ignored by the library board and its attorneys.
This is by no means the first time I have covered a controversial issue in Boundary County despite advice that I ought not, not the first time I've lost advertisers or been threatened or disparaged for doing my best to honestly cover a story of public interest.
I take no joy or satisfaction in it -- it is painful.
I can't say how this particular story will end, but I am confident that once it does, most will come to recognize and agree that I gave ear and voice to honorable people with honest concerns, that in telling the story I gave a reasonably honest account, fairly and with no malice or ill intent, and that as a result, an important thing needing fixed will have been set aright, the public interest served.