If you haven’t been to Coeur d’Alene in a while, the transformation is remarkable: the mixed-use Riverstone development, the popular Kroc Community Center, a handsome new library, an array of higher education projects under way near North Idaho College and the Prairie Trail bicycle path. Downtown and Midtown boast many other improvements.
The city has all the signs of a community with a plan, and the leadership to see it through.
Next up is a redesigned and upgraded McEuen Park, which would give the city another enviable waterfront park.
But what isn’t readily apparent to visitors is a political undertow that hopes to drag down progress by recalling Mayor Sandi Bloem and three members of the City Council: Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander and Mike Kennedy.
Their crimes? There isn’t one. The stated purpose is a difference of opinion over whether the council should’ve held a citizens advisory vote on the McEuen Park project, which was the subject of almost 50 City Council meetings. Reacting to public comment, the plan was altered.
Most people would register that kind of complaint at the next available election. Not this group. So it is in the process of gathering signatures to hold a recall election. If successful, then a slate of single-issue candidates would probably replace the recalled ones until the next scheduled election in 2013.
At first glance, this might seem like hauling out a shotgun to kill a mosquito, but beneath the surface lurk libertarian-minded folks who see all of the aforementioned progress as ill-gotten gains.
The McEuen Park protest is just the latest skirmish in the larger war on the Lake City Development Corp., which is an urban renewal district that has done just that. State law allows for such districts to set aside some property tax dollars for future use in designated areas.
Many communities, including Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, have found this to be an effective economic development tool. Coeur d’Alene has tapped the fund for infrastructure upgrades and other strategic spending that has lured private projects.
Business groups, such as the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce and the North Idaho Building Contractors Association, are solidly opposed to the recall. The city’s leaders are mostly conservative, but that hasn’t stopped opponents of progress from portraying them as communists and crooks.
State Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, a longtime foe of urban renewal, once called the development of the Kroc Center a “criminal conspiracy.” She seethes at a recreational and arts facility that any community would love to have, because the city donated and prepared a former gravel pit as the site of this gleaming gift from philanthropist Joan Kroc. Cost to the city: $3 million. Cost to Kroc: $60 million. (Another $6 million was raised in private donations.)
Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.
If the citizens of Coeur d’Alene feel they’ve gotten a raw deal from the long list of urban renewal ventures, then they’ll sign the petition. But to us it looks like a misguided exercise in attacking leaders for smart decisions.
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