Panel Lets Official Test His Motorcycle Track Neighbors Say City Councilman Getting Preferential Treatment
Motorcycles now can buzz once a week around a Post Falls city councilman’s controversial racetrack near State Line.
The decision was made at an unannounced meeting April 18 attended by Councilman Joe Doellefeld and Kootenai County commissioners - two days after Doellefeld angered neighbors with a noisy Easter Sunday rally held in violation of county laws.
The angry residents learned of the impromptu meeting days later. They contend commissioners offered Doellefeld special treatment because he’s a fellow elected official.
“If you sleep in the same nest, it’s OK to do whatever you want,” said neighbor Lynn Humphreys, a cattle rancher who heads a group of two dozen residents opposed to the track. “Well, not in our neighborhood.”
Commission Chairman Dick Compton admitted last week’s meeting was thrown together at the last minute. He maintained, however that “it was a public meeting” to conduct routine housekeeping duties.
“All he (Doellefeld) did was get an extension on something he already had,” Compton said.
County Prosecutor Bill Douglas is investigating potential open-meetings law violations at the request of The Spokesman-Review.
Doellefeld’s Empire Raceway originally was built near his State Line Stadium/ Speedway in 1993 without proper permits. Last year, commissioners said he could host races there only if he got those permits and met 15 other conditions - much of which are still not complete.
Last week, Doellefeld was given permission to hold practice sessions every Sunday until June in order to test noise levels there.
Noise from the track is not supposed to exceed 55 decibels at the property line. That’s the equivalent of background music or normal conversation.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Compton said. “He has to complete the testing to know if he can meet the requirements.”
Residents argued that Doellefeld should simply finish erecting a noiseblocking berm that’s half-complete. Since they were unaware of the meeting, they weren’t able to make the case to commissioners, they said.
The April 18 meeting was not advertised or scheduled and residents were not notified it was taking place.
Idaho law requires meeting agendas to be displayed 48 hours in advance. Special meetings require at least 24 hour advanced notice.
Compton argued the action was only a temporary one. It did not constitute a major decision and therefore did not require notification, he said.
Commissioners are allowed by law to meet informally to conduct routine minor business without posting an agenda.
But Roy Alden Atwood, a University of Idaho communications professor who wrote a book on Idaho’s open meetings laws, said the distinction is fairly clear.
“If it was more than a simple … change it should be done in an open meetings format subject to the notification requirements,” he said.
Attorney Stephen McCrea, who represents the neighbors, argued commissioners violated the spirit of the law because they knew the track was controversial.
“The whole idea (of the law) to preserve the public’s right to know,” he said.
Humphreys has sent commissioners a letter outlining the residents’ concerns.
Compton said commissioners would hold a public hearing before races are conducted at the track.