August 4, 2022 (Photo credit: Steph Lucas)
Pocatello, ID–KID Newsradio’s (FM 92.1) Steph Lucas spoke yesterday with Pocatello City Councilwoman Chris Stevens about Pocatello’s 2023 budget, the culture at City Hall and the recall Stevens and two other council members face.
In the interview, Stevens described a work environment at City Hall that runs on “control, coercion and fear.” She stated that there is a small group of department heads who are colloquially termed the “Ring of Fire,” and who are known to retaliate against anyone who crosses them. It is her understanding that city employees fear retaliation if they speak to her or to Councilmembers Bray and Ortega, and that employees have been instructed to report the content of any such conversations to the mayor’s staff.
Stevens also explained that while she and Claudia Ortega reached out to the incumbent council members and to City department heads before being sworn in as council members themselves, they have been consistently ignored or stonewalled by everyone on the council except current Councilman Bray and former Councilman Jim Johnston.
Steph Lucas also asked Stevens about the events leading to the recall. Stevens described a chaotic scene in Council Chambers after the July 21 meeting, at which two members of the local NAACP called out Councilman Bray for a comment regarding diversity that he made in the July 7 council meeting. She stated that a number of police officers “swarmed” Bray after the meeting and “continued to escalate the situation,” and that those involved, including Police Chief Schei and Mayor Blad, were shouting. Blad, she said, was physically restrained by a department manager. “It certainly looked like kind of an ambush, frankly,” added Stevens, noting that there seemed to be no other reason for such a large number of officers and department heads to attend that particular meeting.
Chris Stevens also described what she said seems to be a pattern of “vindictive and retaliatory [behavior] toward a council member” on the part of Police Chief Schei. She explained that Roger Bray’s comment occurred in the context of whether the city ought to retain on its payroll five police officers whose positions were originally grant-funded, and that Chief Schei objected to Bray’s questioning on that topic. She also referenced an earlier situation in which she claimed that, after a public disagreement with Councilwoman Ortega, Schei filed a complaint against Ortega’s husband (who is a deputy U.S Marshal) accusing him of “sharing confidential marshal’s information with his wife.”
Responding to the recall specifically, Stevens stated, “First of all, it’s a statutory right for people to mount a recall, and I will be the last person to ever try to prevent somebody from exercising their legal right. So, in that regard: Go for it! If that’s what you want to do, go for it! What bothers me is that it’s in this context, which I believe, based on the indicators, one could at least theorize that it’s about deflection, retaliation, punishment, public shaming for not going along with the mayor and his crew, and that bothers me.” She further noted that Joan Reed, a volunteer for the Pocatello Police Department, who initiated the recall, has no history of expressing her displeasure with council decisions, so it seems odd that she should suddenly be so outraged as to launch this effort.
Councilwoman Stevens also expressed her concern about a resolution that will be presented at tonight’s council meeting. The resolution includes two items: a reaffirmation of the City’s commitment to being “welcoming and inclusive” and a motion to censure Roger Bray for both his initial comment and his subsequent defense of that comment. (The resolution can be read here.) She points out that while resolutions typically address a single issue, this one has a double focus. She believes that the resolution was deliberately crafted in this way to force her and Councilwoman Ortega to either vote to censure Councilman Bray or appear to oppose the City’s welcoming statement, neither of which is an acceptable choice. This resolution, she feels, is a political maneuver that originates with the mayor.