The City's Pulse Newsletter
Let's Bring Down the Walls

The Educational Corridor forum last Tuesday night was surprising on many levels. The turnout was great and the walls had to be opened up for more room.  Over 80 people reserved tickets for the dinner event but when additional folks called the day of, rules were broken to add chairs on the sides of the room so they could come after dinner and participate in the program.  It was awkward, though when the extra folks came too early and had to sit while others ate dinner...maybe not the best choice but it was done with good intentions.  Then Wednesday's Press quoted Rep. George Sayler, one of the extras, as he slammed organizers for charging an admission price. Sorry, George, someone has to pay for the meeting room, dinner, and mailing notices. Regular citizens can't use taxpayer money like government officials can.

The event featured a panel with backgrounds in education laws, property values, business, jobs and local issues.  It was made up of 9 people: Senator John Goedde, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Mike Jorgenson, member of the Senate Education Committee, Rep. Bob Nonini, Chair of the House Education Committee, Mike McDowell, Kootenai County Assessor, Rich Piazza, Kootenai County Commissioner, Dennis Wheeler, CEO of Coeur d'Alene Mines, Mary Souza, Concerned Citizen, Bob Potter, Former Director of Jobs Plus, and Ron Vieslemeyer, NIC Trustee.

There were others who had been invited but either turned down the chance or had conflicting obligations. Mayor Sandi Bloem was not invited to be on the panel.  But City Councilman Woody McEvers was asked and said no.  One of the event organizers spent 45 min. in NIC Trustee Mic Armon's office, all but begging him to be on the panel, but Mic did not accept. NIC Trustee Christie Wood passed on a chance. NIC President Priscilla Bell had eye surgery and Mic Armon said she wouldn't be available. Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin had a previous engagement.

The discussion was lively and some great points were made.  Dennis Wheeler made an impressive statement about not conferring with either side of the Ed. Corridor issue before attending this forum.  He said he wanted to come with an open mind.  But after listening to the exchange of information, especially from Ron V., Dennis was concerned.  As a former head of the State Board of Education, as well as prominent business leader, Dennis has a keen understanding of the big picture and said the mission of NIC should not duplicate the four year colleges.  He admonished NIC for rushing the decision to buy the $10 million dollar Stimson/DeArmon Mill site, advising them to either postpone the decision and allow further discussion and study, or let the deal pass. 

The very well respected Bob Potter, former director of Jobs Plus, was also straight forward in his views.  Bob is a strong supporter of expanding higher education in North Idaho but is against using the Stimson/DeArmon Mill site for this purpose.  He stated there are much better locations for a long term expansion, and the mill site is well suited for private development.

NIC Trustee Ron Vieselmeyer was on the hot seat all evening.  It's too bad Trustee Mic Armon chose not to participate.  Ron tried to answer many questions, but seemed under-informed about most if not all.  Senator John Geodde, Chair of the Senate Education Committee and supporter of the Ed. Corridor, was cautious when I asked him to sponsor a committee of area leaders such as mayors, county commissioners and other regional officials to advise NIC on this decision and represent the taxpayer's interests.  He deflected the responsibility and said the NIC Board of Trustees should create such a committee. 

Rep. Bob Nonini and Senator Mike Jorgenson were clear and strong in their defense of the taxpayers of Kootenai County. Bob spoke against any hurried decision, encouraging a closer look at all available options, and Mike underscored the need for financial caution in the tightening economic market.

County Commissioner Rich Piazza stated he worked for years as an appraiser in the Assessor's office and agreed with County Assessor Mike McDowell that the Stimson/DeArmon Mill site has the potential to bring in sizable tax revenues.  But, if used for the schools, will be off the tax rolls.  

The room also held a veritable Who's Who of state/city/school officials in addition to those on the panel:  Rep. Jim Clark, Rep. Marge Chadderdon, Rep. Frank Henderson, Senator Jim Hammond and his wife Cyndie of LCSC, Rep. George Sayler, City of CdA's Mayor Bloem, Deanna Goodlander, Wendy Gabriel and Mike Gridley, NIC's Kent Probst and Uof I's Jack Dawson.

There was also a terrific cross section of the public who lined up at the floor microphone to ask great questions that could have gone on all night.  Questions like why Kootenai County taxpayers should buy land for the four year colleges that are the responsibility of the state?...John Goedde said it's been done elsewhere. (Is that ever a good answer?)  And why NIC has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in their resolution to buy the property when they are a  two year community college? good answer.

I asked Trustee Ron V. why NIC isn't bringing a Bond issue to the voters in order to fund the purchase, so the school doesn't deplete its assets and the voters could have a voice in the decision.  He said the budget needs to be made by June and they have to hurry.  He also said that the mill site would cover the school's expansion for the next 15 years, so I asked him what would happen after that?  Ron V. did not have any answer except "I don't know."

With 9 people on the panel, we probably all had more to say than we were able.  I wanted to point out that public access to the riverfront can be preserved without NIC purchasing the property.  The mill site is not in the city yet, it's still in the county.  It has to be annexed into the city in order to get water and sewer services, and the annexation process has already begun.  Through negotiations, the City of CdA can require public access, a trail and probably even some parkland along the riverfront.  

This forum was only the first step in getting some public discussion started.  And now NIC has suddenly organized a public meeting for May 22nd.  Who says we're not making an impact?  The only difference is that NIC's panel will be 100% supporters of the Ed. Corridor. They're not even inviting anyone else.  And questions from the public will have to be written, then three NIC people will collect (filter?) them and hand them to a moderator to ask the panel of supporters.

The only way to respond to this facade of a public discussion is to show up in large numbers.  Anyone and everyone who is interested in this subject should come to NIC's public meeting next Thursday, May 22nd at 6:30pm in the Health Sciences Bldg, room 106. Maybe with a large footprint we can show them the community will not be walked over on this decision.  Maybe we can jolt a realization that voters do care and are willing to step forward to demand a voice and a vote.  Will you join me in this effort?


Please remember the CdA School district Levy vote on their $31.1 million dollar request is this next Tuesday, May 20th.  You can vote at any public school, the hospital or the Mica Grange.  There are also two School Board seats up for votes.  If you want to change how things are done in the school district, this is your chance.  But you can only vote for new Board members if you live in certain areas of the district that are up for re-election this year.  Here are the borders of those areas:

Zone 4 - West of Hwy 95, South of Appleway, Downtown, Old Fort Grounds, South along the River, and around the Lake:  Susan Francis is challenging the incumbent and would be a great choice.

Zone 5 - Between Hwy 95, Dalton Ave, 15th St, Foster:  Kevin Mylan is challenging the incumbent and would bring a fresh view.

NOTE:  if you live in these zones, you must vote in your area schools or you can't vote for the Board member positions.