The leader of an effort to recall Coeur d’Alene’s mayor and half of the City Council characterized his differences with the council as an ideological dispute over their vision for Coeur d’Alene, including how much public money should be spent on downtown improvement.
“There’s an inordinate focus on downtown business interests. … There’s a feeling that downtown is getting more than its share of attention,” said Frank Orzell, a retired management consultant who is leading the recall effort.
A $14.2 million makeover planned for McEuen Field – a popular green space on Lake Coeur d’Alene – was simply the latest controversy in a growing discontent with city leadership, Orzell said.
“McEuen Field coalesced a lot of people into taking action,” he said. “They started clamoring for recall.”
The recall targets Mayor Sandi Bloem and council members Deanna Goodlander, Woody McEvers and Mike Kennedy, who were the four-vote majority that opposed a public advisory vote on McEuen Field’s makeover in January.
Bloem defended her position in a recent interview, saying public advisory votes don’t produce good park planning. It would be like trying to build a house by committee, she said.
Members of the public had many opportunities to voice their view of the 30 elements in the McEuen plan, which was discussed at nearly 50 City Council meetings, Bloem said
“In all my time in Coeur d’Alene, there’s never been an issue with more opportunities for public comments,” she said.
She also reiterated an oft-repeated vision for Coeur d’Alene: “Great cities have great downtowns; and great downtowns have great parks and public spaces.”
City Council members said they stand behind their record. Over the past decade, city leadership helped secure the Kroc Center, a new library, the Prairie Trail for bicycling, the U.S. Bank call center, progress on a higher-education corridor, and the Riverstone mixed-use development, which transformed an old mill site along the Spokane River.
Much of the work included urban renewal funding, which the council members described as one of the few economic development tools available to Idaho cities. Under that mechanism, property tax dollars flow into the urban renewal district, where they are used to pay for public projects within a certain geographic area.
Orzell, 76, said he’s a relative newcomer to Coeur d’Alene, moving to the area from New Jersey in 2006. He said he heard “lots of complaints, lots of criticism” about local government and “decided to jump in.”
“We want to replace the City Council because of their arrogance and the noninvolvement of the Coeur d’Alene voters in terms of what goes on with their city and how the money is spent,” Orzell said.
The city’s urban renewal district is one of the recall supporters’ beefs with the current council, he said. Orzell said there’s a more transparent way to pay for public projects: The city could ask voters if they’d support a bond levy to raise money for the improvements.
Recall supporters must collect 4,311 valid signatures from city voters to put the matter on the ballot.
Orzell declined to provide an update on how many signatures have been collected so far. About 50 Recall Coeur d’Alene volunteers are canvassing neighborhoods for signatures, and Orzell said he doesn’t have an accurate count.
Strong opposition to the recall effort has emerged, with “Decline to Sign” yard signs popping up around Coeur d’Alene.
About 13,000 letters were sent to households of registered voters on Friday, urging them to support the current City Council, said Jennifer Drake, co-chair of the Decline to Sign campaign.
Drake said the letter rebuts erroneous information spread by recall supporters, including inflated costs for McEuen Field’s redesign and misleading information about city employees’ salaries.
Business groups have also come out in support of the mayor and council incumbents, saying a recall election could tarnish the city’s image and create the type of political instability that would hinder economic development. The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, North Idaho Building Contractors Association and Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association each issued statements opposing the recall.
Orzell said time will tell what the majority of the city’s residents think.
“We are absolutely committed to living with and supporting the decision of the voting community,” Orzell said. “If this doesn’t go to a vote, it’s a clear indication that recall isn’t accepted.”