A big, new precedent was set last week by CdA Mayor Sandi Bloem. If you can’t get to the city council meetings, don’t worry, you can just email, fax or send a letter stating your opinion and it will be read out loud by city staff at the meeting and recorded in the official minutes. Or so it seems after last week’s meeting.
At the end of the Public Comments section last Tuesday, after 37 people had each spoken, in person, to voice their opinions on a Public Advisory Vote for the McEuen Park Plan, our Mayor Bloem announced there would also be letters read into the record.
Then the City Clerk and City Administrator each read three letters from people not present at the meeting. Shockingly, all six of the letters were against a public vote! And also surprisingly, all of the letters were from cronies of the Mayor!
The Mayor’s double standard was showing, though, because just last month she refused a much more appropriate request from our elected Kootenai County Clerk, Cliff Hayes. Cliff sent a letter to the city after rude, untrue and unwarranted attacks were made about him, in public, at a council meeting, by Councilman Mike Kennedy. In his letter, Cliff again explained the new changes in state election law and respectfully asked for two things: An apology from Mr. Kennedy and that the letter be read into the record at the following meeting so as to clarify the election issues for the public. Both requests were ignored by the city.
At last week’s meeting about McEuen, the council room was packed with more than 100 people, I’m told, most with signs asking for a Public Advisory Vote. The overall tally of public comments was 21 in favor of a vote and 12 opposed. Realizing there would be a big turnout that night, the Mayor must have scrambled to scrape up additional support but was forced to settle for 6 quick letters so at least the balance would seem closer. 21-18 was dutifully reported in the Press the next day. The newspaper failed to mention that the inclusion of public letters is uncommon.
My husband and I were away on an extended family visit and could not attend the meeting (we didn’t know we could send letters!) but I have just watched every moment of the 4 hour video rerun. It was emotionally exhausting. Testimony was passionate and people from both sides were sincerely asking for compromise.
I was surprised by several things:
--Out of the 12 people standing to oppose a public advisory vote, 5 of them were members of the Team McEuen design team, or spouses, but only two admitted that fact. And one design team member openly stated, “I don’t know if this is the best plan, and people are right to be concerned about the money.”
--That Deanna Goodlander does not excuse herself and walk off stage when she goes into her frequent, lengthy coughing spells. I’m sure she can’t control it, but it is disruptive and unfair to anyone trying to give testimony.
--That Woody said, after listening to the public once again, “I’m ready to chuck the whole thing and come up with compromises. Let’s make it a ‘kumbaya’ thing.” But then Woody, as usual, did not second Ron’s motion for a public advisory vote and, in fact, voted AGAINST the measure.
--I was not surprised that Mike Kennedy tried constantly to confuse the issue. That was his obvious tactic. He tried to look like he agreed with Ron and others, but said the issue is just too complex to put on a ballot. Come on, we all know simple language can be crafted. It’s an ADVISORY vote, not legally binding.
--I was also not surprised that our new council members, Dan and Steve, did a great job. They explained that if LCDC did not exist, the city would be required by our state constitution (article 8, section 3) to put the whole thing up to a binding public vote, but urban renewal agencies, like LCDC, were not included in the rule so, even though all LCDC money is comes from the taxpayers, the city can circumvent the spirit of the constitution.
--I had forgotten that public advisory votes are not new to Coeur d’Alene. There was one taken on Nov 5, 1996, Jim Purtee told us, to determine public opinion on the return of hydroplane races. Ron reminded us that there was a public vote before the city decided to buy the Idaho Water Company and also before the city public employee union was allowed to form. And, of course, we know that Mayor Bloem insisted on a public advisory vote in 2004 before the Hagadone Gardens project would be considered.
--Rita Sims-Snyder gave perhaps the most moving and impassioned testimony of all. After telling the council that the online Friends of McEuen survey was completed by more than 1800 people, she said a huge majority want to spend $5 Million or less on the park, and that 80% want to keep the boat launch and Legion ball field. Rita touched everyone’s heart when she said, “All we’re looking for is a plan that fits our community; we’re looking for a plan that fits our budget; that doesn’t take away from the character that we all love.”
--The Mayor said we will all have to “bend and compromise”...though, inexplicably, she ended by saying “this plan is a compromise”.
Do you buy the carrot of compromise the Mayor is dangling? Do you trust she will listen to public input and significantly change the plan or, as Woody suggested, scrap it altogether?
There’s a wise old saying that the best predictor of future behavior is past performance. Let’s see...for well over a year, the public has been ardently asking for changes in the plan, including retention of the boat launch and the Legion ball field, and more reasonably priced options for parking. But the biggest request has been for a Public Advisory Vote on the plan. All of these pleas have fallen on deaf ears, even after the unavoidable consequences of the last election, when two new city council members, Dan and Steve, joined re-elected Ron in the endeavor to push back against the city’s McEuen Plan. They were elected by overwhelming margins, and almost everyone, including Mike Kennedy, admitted it carried a strong message about McEuen Field. But the Mayor still refused to budge.
Now, in front of a packed house, she pledges compromise?
Ron read the minds of many, just before the end of the meeting, when he asked about moving the ball field out of LCDC’s area. Who’s going to pay for it? Who’s going to build it? The boat launch is the same thing. He reminded us all that this current McEuen plan has been already accepted by the previous city council. “Who’s to say it just doesn’t move forward?”, he asked, and he wrapped up by saying, “ I just have a funny feeling about this whole thing.”