by DAVE TURNER & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "W & lt;/span & ith this many candidates, it should show the council there is a lot of dissatisfaction among the public with them," says Jerry Weaver, a substitute teacher and one of three challengers to longtime Coeur d'Alene City Councilman Al Hassell.
Comparatively speaking, Hassell's colleague, Councilman Ron Edinger, has it easy; he has only one opponent. Five candidates are vying for the seat that longtime Councilwoman Dixie Reid is vacating.
Going into the final week before Tuesday's election, the campaigns have been visibly devoid of the mudslinging predicted by at least one opponent of the city's urban renewal agency and its supporters on the council.
In July, city Planning Commission member Mary Souza -- a Lake City Development Corp. (LCDC) foe -- said in a newspaper column published in the Coeur d'Alene Press that she thought the election would be characterized by "lies, mud-slinging and a whole lot of money." Political wags in town took this to mean the newspaper's owner, publishing and hotel magnate Duane Hagadone, had sent Souza out to attack incumbent councilmen Al Hassell and Ron Edinger, both supporters of the LCDC. It was believed Hagadone wanted to remake the council, in retaliation for the city denying him permission to close the western end of Sherman Ave., the city's main downtown drag, so he could build a world-class garden in front of his landmark Coeur d'Alene Resort. So far Souza's speculation has turned out to be just that.
"It has been a quiet election," says councilmember Mike Kennedy, who was elected to the board last fall.
To date, there's been no mudslinging, no public accusations of lies and most of all, no big money in the race.
Here's a look at the candidates:
Council President -- and former mayor -- RON EDINGER has seen Coeur d'Alene change from a sleepy logging community to a destination resort town to a haven for refugees from the "big city" during his 37 years of service, a few as mayor, most on the council.
Edinger wants to cap his fourth decade of service by seeing the completion of the city's higher education corridor along the Spokane River. He says North Idaho College and the satellite campuses of the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College are helping train a skilled workforce and bringing higher paying jobs to the area.
Edinger also wants to see continued improvement to the city's public safety network, which recently opened a state-of-the-art training facility for police, fire and rescue personnel. Additionally, he wants to see continued work on the city's overlay project, with improvements to streets, utilities and sidewalks.
His challenger, DAN GOOKIN, the author of a series of popular computer-related "For Dummies" books, claims Edinger is part of an aloof, out-of-touch board.
"I'd like to see (the council) more open and responsive to the people," he said. "I'll go to the meetings and citizens are not being treated with respect. It looks like to me that they are out of touch."
But with developers, he says, it's a different story. "They've gone goo-goo over big developments."
Gookin says the city has laws in place to rein in growth and keep it from overwhelming the city, "but they just waive those rules. Those were crafted and put into place for a reason. Those rules need to be enforced."
He believes the city has to work harder at economic development: "The No. 1 concern should be to attract businesses [that offer] careers, not just to bring in jobs for the people who are already here."
With three terms on the council and another as mayor, AL HASSELL says he has the experience to deal with the issues facing Coeur d'Alene. The key, he says, is balancing growth with the cost of living, while keeping the amenities that give the area its unique quality of life.
"A lot of the reason why people move here is for the lifestyle," he says. "We have to keep that without breaking the city's budget. I think I've proven I'm adept at doing that."
Hassell is a former board member of the LCDC, which many criticize for its support of rich developers while paying only lip service to the renewal of aging neighborhoods. Hassell says the LCDC must be a key player if the city wants to establish needed affordable workforce housing.
"Ten years ago, the difficulty was finding a job," says Hassell, a partner in a local insurance and financial services firm. "Now, working people have difficulty even finding a place where they can pay a mortgage or rent."
After affordable housing, he says the next thing facing the city is finishing development of the higher education corridor. "There are a lot of jobs but not enough people trained for them," he says. "That in the long run will be the key element of our success."
Challenger JIM BRANNON, former chairman of the local Habitat for Humanity, also touts the need for more affordable housing.
"I see what's going on in the city and think about people: the lady who serves you breakfast, the person at the library who helps you select a book, who takes care of your child," he says. "If we don't get a handle on affordable housing, then the character of Coeur d'Alene will change forever. That's what we all hold dear. For me, it's not a catch phrase, it's a passion."
Brannon says the problem can be solved by offering incentives to developers, such as lower permit fees and the expedited processing of those permits. He says the city could also reduce the required sizes of lots and require the LCDC to spend a percentage of its funds for low-cost housing.
Another challenger, Itron technical service representative CHRIS PATTERSON, says he wants to see more managed growth and better control of the city's traffic problems.
"I've been complaining about these things, so my wife told me to do something about it or be quiet," he says.
Patterson says those issues and the council's perceived communication problem with citizens can be fixed. "It's all just one big issue of taking responsibility."
He says councilmembers should "sit down and find out how we can use the LCDC to benefit the citizens." He says the city also has to work to bring in businesses that offer careers, not just jobs.
"I don't know what the magic bullet is," he says, "but I think we can come up with the answers in-house and without paying outside consultants to do it for us."
The third challenger, JERRY WEAVER, retired from law enforcement in California before making his way to the classroom. He believes the longtimers on the council have been there too long: "They have totally lost sight of what Coeur d'Alene should be."
He points to the LCDC as the example.
"What they have done is give away to developers $14 million for luxury condos and another $8.2 million to help develop Riverstone, instead of using those tax dollars on revitalizing needy city projects," says Weaver. "Mainly, I'm bothered that the city won't fix sidewalks lifted by old trees but will give that money to millionaires."
Homeowners are left to cover the repair costs of sidewalks in front of their properties, he says, even though the city owns the property and the trees homeowners were told to plant.
"Those trees should be saved," he says. "If the city owns the property, it should fix those trees. The LCDC should get off their rear ends and fix it. That's what they were designed for, to fix blighted areas."
Legal assistant ANITA BANTA decided to run for the open council seat when longtime councilmember Dixie Reid called it quits.
"I thought about it on and off, but never did anything about it until Dixie decided not to run again," says Banta.
Banta doesn't think the current council has done a bad job running the city. "Everything has gone along fairly smoothly," she says, "but I don't think a lot of progress has been made on public safety issues."
She would like the fire and police departments expanded, while maintaining the city's small-town feel.
Like the other candidates, Banta says affordable housing will also have to be dealt with by the new council. She says inflation has made it very difficult to buy or rent a home.
"Back when I took economics, a rule of thumb was you don't buy a house for any more than one-and-a-half times your annual income," she says, "or pay rent or a mortgage for any more than a quarter of your monthly salary."
Under that formula, the average house should cost no more than about $70,000, she says, yet the average cost is nearly triple that.
"Things have totally gotten out of whack," she said. "It was a rule of thumb for a long time and it worked."
Like Banta, candidate JOHN BRUNING decided the time was right when Reid decided it was time to retire.
Bruning, who served on the city's Planning Commission for a quarter-century, says he'd like a hand in deciding how the council votes on issues he worked on. "I retired from the Forest Service after 40 years," he says. "Now I have the time to devote to it."
He says affordable housing is the main issue facing the new council.
As president of the St. Vincent de Paul housing board, Bruning says he's seen first-hand the city's housing needs. "There are some solutions," he says, and the LCDC can help. "If they can subsidize the land, there are companies that can build affordable houses," he says. "It can be done, and there are those who know how to do it."
Bruning also says he wants to make sure the council institutes design review for new and remodeled buildings, not just in the downtown core but throughout the city.
WAYNE FRISBIE says he has planned for the past two years to run for the council; he's a former plumbing and building inspector for the city. He now owns a plumbing and electrical contracting company.
"My father worked in government all my life," says Frisbie. "I've always been interested in it. I think I have something to offer as far as construction and growth issues."
Like other candidates, he says he believes the council is out of touch with the public. "I hear that a lot from people in animal rescue," he says. "I don't think their points are coming across."
Frisbie says the city needs to come up with solutions for animal control, to ease concerns about overcrowding at local shelters. "I think the city is already looking into viable options," but must follow through. "The city and other municipalities need to pay an outside agency to run a regional shelter."
He's also concerned about growth and affordable housing.
"We did an excellent job of growing, but now we have to focus on growing as a community, and a majority of working people can't afford to own their own homes," he says. He believes the city needs to update its infrastructure, including traffic flow. He's leery of a plan to close east-west access onto U.S. 95 through the city. "I'm not sure that would solve the problem or would be good for businesses," he says.
JOSEPH KUNKA says Coeur d'Alene's growth is out of control.
"Somebody needs to grab the reins and slow us down," says Kunka, who's currently training to be a franchise sports goods store manager. "Our infrastructure is not keeping up with that growth."
Kunka proposes limiting the number of building permits the city issues for between eight months to a year to slow the rate of growth. "I want to keep Coeur d'Alene open for our kids and grandkids."
He says there aren't many people who will stand up to say the things he's saying: "I guess I'm the voice of the silent majority."
He also wants to find out if Coeur d'Alene is facing a burgeoning gang problem. "I was told a couple years ago that there was no drive-by shooting, so it's not that bad yet," he says, noting he recently heard the same thing again.
Longtime civic activist SUSAN SNEDAKER wants the city to concentrate not so much on the new, but on the old.
"It's not only the big picture but the entire picture and the small things involved in day-to-day living," says Snedaker, who has lived more than half of her 66 years in Coeur d'Alene. She says not enough is being done to protect the city's older neighborhoods and historic districts.
The main issue of her campaign is seeing that the city establishes a transparent government. She says the city also has to adopt a strategic plan to improve the economy.
"We need to establish a balanced budget and stick to it," she says. "We must have careful use of our tax dollars."
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