January 4, 2008 in City

Planner won’t be charged for erasure of tape

Erica F. Curless Staff writer
 

A Kootenai County senior planner won’t face criminal charges for allegedly ordering the destruction of a recording of a public meeting – but she is getting a new job.

On Wednesday, the Coeur d’Alene city attorney’s office opted against filing criminal charges against the planner, Cheri Howell. Howell resigned, then moments later the county commission hired her as an independent contractor to complete the county’s growth plan and manage the development of a new impact-fee law.

Howell will receive three payments totaling $75,000 for her services. She was earning $48,000 annually as a senior planner.

Howell has been on medical leave since about Oct. 4 for what her attorney described as “stress and anxiety” caused by the county calling Coeur d’Alene police about a “possible criminal act” before talking with her about the incident.

Howell declined to discuss the investigation or her health Thursday but said she plans to attend graduate school in addition to reviving a private consulting business.

She served as the county’s planning director for seven years before resigning in 2001 to start a private land-use consulting company. Howell returned to the county in February 2006 as a senior planner to oversee long-range planning, including the rewrite of the county’s growth plan.

“I’m relieved that it’s over and I’m moving forward,” Howell said Thursday. “I’m very happy to be working with the county on the comprehensive plan. I started it and I want to finish it.”

Kootenai County Planning Director Scott Clark said Howell’s medical leave and the investigation slowed progress on the comprehensive plan rewrite but that he hopes a draft will be completed by February.

Clark said in an October interview that he wasn’t in the office the day the recording was allegedly erased.

Kootenai County Attorney John Cafferty contacted the Coeur d’Alene Police Department to report the alleged destruction of a county record after he discovered that Howell ordered an administrative secretary to delete the audio file of the Sept. 24 Planning Commission workshop.

After the workshop adjourned, some members allegedly criticized the Kootenai County Commission and Clark. The planners realized that an audio recorder was still on.

The erased recording contained the alleged comments and the recording of the entire workshop, which focused on the rewrite of the county growth plan.

Cafferty wasn’t available for comment Thursday.

Deputy City Attorney Wes Somerton said he can’t release the police report or investigation until the county determines what portion of the reports are considered personnel and therefore shielded from public review.

Somerton said Coeur d’Alene police interviewed county staff and volunteer Planning Commission members during the three-month investigation.


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