Mayor of Harrison, Idaho, resigns, citing fears for family’s safety and disagreement over development
Aug. 16, 2019 Updated Fri., Aug. 16, 2019 at 7:38 a.m.
HARRISON, IDAHO – The mayor of a small vacation town on the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene abruptly resigned earlier this month, citing fear for her family’s safety after vandalism at her home and a cryptic message left on a car in her driveway.
Kayleen Walker submitted her letter of resignation Aug. 6 to the Harrison City Council. In it, the 17-year resident of the town of roughly 200 people south of Coeur d’Alene cited two separate acts of vandalism and “an impasse” with lawmakers on several issues as her reasons for stepping down.
After an hourlong private executive session at a Thursday evening meeting, the City Council met for less than 10 minutes in public and unanimously appointed Jordan Hall to fill the mayor position on an interim basis.
Hall has been council president for the past two years and on the council for four.
“I’ve been here for four years and know what’s going on the best – especially being council president,” Hall said.
He has no plans to serve a full term as mayor in November but does plan to run again for City Council president this year.
As for Walker, who was elected mayor in 2017, she isn’t just stepping down from government. She said Thursday she’s selling her home and leaving Harrison as a result of the events.
“We made our home here. We just don’t feel welcome, because of the actions of a few,” Walker said.
The former mayor has filed a police report with the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and believes there’s video of a truck that spun gravel on the side of her house in the evening hours of Aug. 3. She estimated damages totaling $10,000. That followed someone leaving a handwritten note a few weeks prior on a car driven by her daughter, who recently graduated high school, identifying Walker as a “whistleblower.”
“You are parked illegally, as the mayor and a whistleblower, you should lead by example. Those whom cast the first stone,” the note read, according to Walker.
The mayor believes those charges are tied to her public comments about John Thiele, the former owner of an ice cream parlor in Harrison and former head of the city’s chamber of commerce who was sentenced in November on two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with small children. He served six months in jail and was given a 10-year suspended sentence, according to court records.
Thiele has since been rearrested after he was accused of violating his probation and is being held at the Kootenai County Jail. Court records indicate that multiple people in Harrison observed Thiele back at the ice cream parlor after he’d been ordered not to work there as a result of his conviction and status as a sex offender.
“I know that specifically has to do with a child molester, who’s currently back in jail,” Walker said of the written note. “I will always choose the side of the children and their protection.”
Deputy Kootenai County Prosecutor Jed Whitaker said at a hearing Aug. 9 that citizens were “flooding the department with messages that he’s around children.”
Lorraine Thiele, John’s wife and former business partner, said she attended the Aug. 6 council meeting when Walker stepped down and was shocked that she had done so. She read a report in the St. Maries Gazette Record earlier this week that first reported Walker’s departure, and was also surprised that the mayor was suggesting publicly that his case inspired the person who vandalized her home and car.
“I’m sad. I know she was trying to do her best,” Lorraine Thiele said of Walker. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
Lorraine Thiele said she empathized with Walker because she, too, has received threats stemming from John Thiele’s court case.
“I would not have condoned that,” Lorraine Thiele said of the vandalism.
Walker has also differed with members of the Harrison City Council over a proposal to extend sewer service to a new development. She said she disagreed with a city contract that she said appoints an engineer of the developer’s choosing to handle sewer hookups for the development. That engineer is based out of state.
“We have very qualified engineers right here,” Walker said.
Walker’s predecessor, Wanda Irish, filed a defamation lawsuit against business owners in Harrison after they set up several Wi-Fi networks with names accusing her of being a “terrorist” and what appeared to be a reference to Irish’s husband stalking them. Last year, that case made it all the way to Idaho Supreme Court, where judges sent it back to local court for a new jury trial. That is scheduled to take place in October.
Walker defeated Irish by eight votes, 44-36, to become the town’s mayor in November 2017. She said her current situation has nothing to do with the Wi-Fi case.
Walker said she stepped down when she did to allow others to file for the office, a process that begins later this month, with a deadline to file in early September.
“I really am disappointed I’m not going to see it through, but my family’s safety is No. 1,” she said.
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