POCATELLO — A fracas in the Bannock County Courthouse on Wednesday morning reportedly brought commissioners’ office employees to tears and ended with a newly elected city official being escorted from the building by armed security personnel.
The incident happened around 8:50 a.m. Wednesday and involved Pocatello City Councilwoman-elect Christine Stevens, Bannock County Commissioner Terrel “Ned” Tovey and staff members within the county commissioners’ office located in the courthouse.
Tovey told the Idaho State Journal his side of the story during a telephone interview late Wednesday morning, while Stevens hosted a press conference from the driveway of her south Pocatello home Wednesday evening to relay her account of what transpired.
Both Stevens and Tovey are accusing one another of being unprofessional, rude and intimidating during the commissioners’ office brouhaha.
The dispute did not turn physical, but Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said the incident was unnerving enough to cause a commissioners’ office staff member to trigger a silent alarm inside the office to summon four court marshals to escort Stevens from the building.
“Stevens decided to come in and berate and belittle members of my staff to the point they were in tears,” Tovey said. “When I walked out and told her to knock it off, her decorum and etiquette in understanding the professionalism of the position she will soon hold was less than ideal. I had to have the marshals remove her from the building and was very disappointed in her conduct.”
In response, Stevens said during her press conference, “I had a baffling and very unfortunate experience today at the Bannock County Courthouse that I hope is not indicative of how other citizens have been treated. I am typically not a person who deals with situations that are unpleasant or contentious in public. However, since it has come to my attention that my name and reputation are being misrepresented by this situation I feel obligated to stand up for myself while maintaining a civil and high-road approach.”
Stevens said she was at the courthouse with friend and retired Idaho Fish and Game fishery manager Mike Larkin to speak to the County Commission about concerns she has regarding public and private access roads throughout the county.
She said she spent several weeks researching the issue this past summer and spoke to various government entities throughout Southeast Idaho, including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and various sheriff’s offices.
Stevens claims the Bannock County maps indicating which access roads are public and which are private have not been updated since 1990. She added that after talking to government entities about the issue, she came to the conclusion that there’s legitimate confusion surrounding access roads in the county.
Furthermore, Stevens says she submitted her findings to the Bannock County Commission in July and since then has been attempting to get a response from the commission or to set up a meeting with them to discuss the matter.
Stevens said a staff member in the commissioners’ office told her earlier that she needed to fill out a form to get added to the County Commission’s weekly meeting agenda, which is what led her to the courthouse on Wednesday morning.
Once Stevens arrived at the commissioners’ office in the courthouse, she said she was told that the form had already been filed on her behalf by a member of the commission’s staff who was out of the office.
Tovey was the only county commissioner who confronted Stevens during her visit.
He said he told her that she would need to speak with Commissioner Ernie Moser, who was looking into her concerns about the access roads.
It’s at this juncture of the incident that Stevens and Tovey have different recollections of what happened next.
Stevens claims that while she was interacting with a commissioners’ office staff member about setting up a meeting between her and the commission that Tovey began to verbally accost her.
“He began shouting at the top of his lungs at me, shaking his finger at me and standing between 10 and 12 inches away from the front of my body,” Stevens said.
Tovey said that Stevens’ inexplicably rude treatment of the commissioners’ office staff while simply trying to schedule the meeting brought some staff members to tears and this prompted him to intervene.
Tovey said, “(Stevens) was making nasty comments while berating the staff in the office. That is not appropriate behavior for anyone, let alone a council-elect. You can yell and scream at me all you want, but you cannot yell at my staff. I told her, ‘Ma’am, I need you to stop and calm down. You cannot come into this office and treat people poorly.’ I told her that if she did not calm down I would have to ask her to leave and she stuck her fingers in her ears.”
Stevens doesn’t deny plugging her ears with her fingers when Tovey was trying to talk to her. She said the gesture was meant to protect her ears from the high volume of Tovey’s voice.
Tovey said he did make one snide remark during the confrontation with Stevens, telling her that he would start a recall effort against her if the property taxes on his Pocatello home don’t go down.
At some point during the heated interaction between Tovey and Stevens, one of the commissioners’ office staff members hit the silent alarm button requesting that court marshals respond to the office. The marshals are the courthouse’s armed security force.
When the marshals arrived at the commissioners’ office they determined that Stevens should be removed from the courthouse and they escorted her out of the building.
Tovey said that Stevens didn’t leave quietly and argued with the marshals as they removed her.
Stevens doesn’t deny questioning the marshals for ordering her to leave the courthouse. She said she was upset because the marshals refused to tell her what she had done to warrant being removed.
Tovey said he is unsure if the county will take further action against Stevens because of her alleged behavior, and Stevens said she is unsure what she’ll do next in response to how she feels she was mistreated.
Both Tovey, an Army Reserve officer, and Stevens, a retired school principal, extended apologies to the other citizens in the commissioners’ office who witnessed the heated exchange between them.
Stevens was elected to the Pocatello City Council during the Nov. 5 election, decisively defeating City Council President Jim Johnston. She will officially take office in January.
When asked about the Wednesday morning fracas between Stevens and Tovey, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad said, “The city declines to comment, as Ms. Stevens is a private citizen and we do not know the specifics of the situation.”