RELEASE: Assessor Sues Commissioners For Their Budget Overreach, Abuse of Power and Discretion
For Release: 3:00 P.M., PDT
Date: October 2, 2022
Coeur d’Alene— October 2, 2022 — On September 28, 2022, Attorney D. Colton Boyles, filed a lawsuit for judicial review in District Court on behalf of Bela Kovacs, Kootenai County Assessor. Kovacs said, “The Commissioners have interfered and obstructed in the operations of another Constitutional Officer, and in so doing, they have thumbed their noses at the people and the State Constitution. This lawsuit is part of my commitment to the oath of office I have taken to serve our community,” Kovacs added, ”This is a first step as a check against the egregious overreach and abuse of power and indiscretion by the Commissioners.”
Despite A 2022 Wage Study Findings, Commissioners Cut Salary In Half
In May of this year, the Commissioners had a consultant complete a wage study to set new salaries beginning October 1, 2022. The wage study found that the average wage of County positions, including the Assessor, are 11% below the market average. The Commissioners then disregarded that wage study and with only 24 hours of notice they unprecedentedly voted to cut in half the salary of Assessor Bela Kovacs and deny him any cost-of-living increase, while at the same time increasing their own salaries along with all other salaries in the County, by a 6% cost-of-living adjustment. Their action amounts to the constructive termination of the Assessor without any basis of authority for doing so.
Commissioners May Supervise -- But Not Take Punitive Action
In the 6:00 P.M. public hearing on August 31, 2022, Commissioner Fillios quoted only a part of Section 31-802, Idaho Code, when he said that the Commissioners have the power and duty, “…to supervise the official conduct of all county officers, and appointed boards or commissions of the county charged with assessing, collecting, safekeeping, management or disbursement of the public moneys and revenues;” and there he stopped short. The part that Fillios did not read are the words that follow the semicolon, which then indicate, “…to direct prosecution for delinquencies…” Section 31-802, I.C. does not authorize the Commissioners with the intrusive power to intervene and take punitive action. Section 31-802, I.C. also says that the Commissioners may, when necessary, require a county officer to, “…make reports, and to present their books and accounts for inspection.” The Commissioners never asked Assessor Kovacs to provide any ‘reports,’ ‘books’ or ‘accounts for inspection.’ Idaho State law does not give the Commissioners the power, or duty, to make allegations and then sit as jury, judge and executioner.
Missed Deadlines – Late Property Rolls
The Commissioners apparently chose to not prosecute – since the property rolls were late as a direct result of the Commissioner’s Office. Section 63-509, Idaho Code, states that the Commissioners must deliver the property rolls to the Auditor by the second Monday of July (the law does not even mention the Assessor). Two times this year, the Commissioner’s delayed the end date beyond the second Monday of July to hear appeals (a delay of 2.5 weeks) and then the Information Technology Department generated the property rolls after the August 1st (i.e., after the deadline). County IT is under the direct control and authority of the Commissioners. On August 14, 2022, Assessor Kovacs filed a public record request with the IT Department to find out what IT’s process steps are to create the property rolls. Two weeks later, the Commissioner’s took action against Kovacs.
State Law Allows For Appeal – Commissioners Say “No”
On September 1, 2022, Assessor Kovacs also filed a public records request asking each Commissioner for a copy of any investigatory record or report that they relied upon to make their August 31, 2022, decision. On September 6, 2022, Commissioner Leslie Duncan email response stated, “The records you are requesting do not exist” and Commissioners Chris Fillios and Bill Brooks did not respond. Assessor Kovacs then asked each Commissioner for an appeal to the salary cut and Commissioner Duncan’s email response stated, “There is no appeal process with the BoCC in this circumstance,” and Commissioners Fillios and Brooks did not respond. However, Idaho State Law, in Section 31-1506, I.C., in fact, provides an appeal process through judicial review and that is the reason that Assessor Kovacs filed a first lawsuit.
Commissioners’ Abuses of Discretion and Power Must be Stopped
Statement by Assessor Bela Kovacs: “The Commissioners must abide by the law. Leslie Duncan, Chris Fillios and Bill Brooks, each, have abused the power and authority granted to them by the people. They have violated the State Constitution. If they succeed in their arbitrary and capricious decision, then where will it end? No County elected official, not even a judge, will be outside the control of the Commissioners. Frankly, that is too much power in the hands of too few. By their actions, these Commissioners have shown that they don’t need a change to an optional form of government initiative, because they will take matters into their own hands. They apparently think they already have all of the power. For these reasons, this is entirely a matter within the jurisdiction of the District Court, and I am prayerful and confident that a judicial review will provide a speedy remedy.”
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Disclaimer: Kootenai County is a County and a political subdivision of the State of Idaho. Although Bela Kovacs is the incumbent Kootenai County Assessor, any views or opinions, that he may have expressed herein are not necessarily the views, or the opinions, of Kootenai County. Bela Kovacs is not a spokesperson for Kootenai County.
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