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Bungling Binge Obscures Issue

Sat., Feb. 21, 1998

The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce has only itself to blame for the current mess it’s in.

First, the chamber sent member Lori Barnes to a public meeting in Sandpoint Feb. 11 to support a controversial mine proposal in northwestern Montana. Next, chamber officials refused to admit they goofed when it was discovered they hadn’t polled membership about their stand and Barnes works for mine owner Asarco. Finally, the chamber blundered again Thursday, when the legislative committee refused to allow discussion of the controversy.

Understandably, the committee’s vice chairman walked out of the meeting in protest. Some members are threatening to quit because they don’t support the organization’s strong-arm tactics or stand. And Sandpoint residents are upset that the Coeur d’Alene chamber would poke its nose into their business.

The chamber easily could have avoided the hubbub.

When smart businesses realize they’ve made a potentially damaging mistake, they move openly and immediately to admit, correct and carry on. That’s what the chamber should have done. Yes, Barnes had a conflict of interest. No, the chamber hadn’t polled members. Yes, frank discussion would be welcome about the mine, which some fear will pollute Lake Pend Oreille.

Instead, chairman Ben Wolfinger was advised not to allow outside comments at his legislative committee meeting until leadership had a chance to review the controversy - then eight days old. Wolfinger, who sent Barnes to the Sandpoint meeting in his place, used a thin excuse to stifle discussion: an empty threat of lawsuit allegedly made by a disgruntled member.

Wolfinger, manager Pat McGaughey and other chamber officials, however, had little to fear. The position Barnes read into the record was consistent with past chamber stands. The membership probably would have endorsed it.

Lost in all this mountain-from-molehill making is the central issue: the Rock Creek mine. Debate should center on the merits of the proposed mine - not on who should or shouldn’t speak.

The Coeur d’Alene chamber had a right to speak, although it sent the wrong speaker. It has a legitimate interest in the proposed mine, as do many Inland Northwesterners beyond Bonner County’s boundaries. Lake Pend Oreille doesn’t belong to the people of Bonner County any more than Lake Coeur d’Alene belongs to Kootenai and Benewah county residents.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board


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