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Recall Downfall 

City leaders survived, but they need to listen more

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Hallelujah! Although it’s yesterday’s news by now, we Coeur d’Alenians are still celebrating the death of the recall effort that terrorized our city for weeks on end. The agitators behind the Recall Coeur d’Alene effort fell short of gathering enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election. Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem and Council members Mike Kennedy, Deanna Goodlander and Woody McEvers will hang on to their seats at the City Council table until the next regular city council election in 2013.

And then I hope they retain those seats for as long as they choose. The incumbents did nothing to deserve such brutal treatment at the hands of an angry and disgruntled few.

Supporters of the four under fire began whooping it up with the official announcement by City Clerk Susan Weathers that the petition drive was over ab initio. That Latin phrase means the action is null and void, over and done with — literally, like “it never existed or happened.”

Almost everyone we know is smiling broadly with joy and relief. The agonizing ordeal has brought us together. But we are not about to ab initio the frightening experience as if it never happened. At Mayor Bloem’s suggestion, we Decline to Signers are asking what we have learned that will be helpful to the city in the future.

First of all, the petition drive would have sailed along to victory had it not been for the quick action of Jennifer Drake and Sara Meyer, organizers of Stop the Recall, their husbands and friends, all of whom threw their hearts into halting the recall bandwagon in its tracks. The vast majority of Coeur d’Alene voters did, indeed, follow their advice and declined to sign the petitions.

That energetic action by the next generation of leaders is immensely encouraging. These young parents have shown they are willing to fight for a McEuen Park as a future romping, stomping play space for their children and grandchildren.

Secondly, many people were offended by the use of the recall weapon to unravel the regular election process, when the elected official’s only sin was to vote against the recallers’ wishes. In this case, there was no scandal, no corruption, no malfeasance of duty. No dirt.

It’s time to take a good, long look at Idaho’s recall statutes and include language that more clearly defines a legitimate cause for initiating recall. The whim of an angry group should not be enough to launch a crusade that divides and unsettles a community.

Some bright news: Idaho’s “Sunshine Laws” were amended in the recently concluded 2012 legislative session to include city and county recall efforts. This means that generous donations to a recall action must be reported with the names of donors, as they are in every other election-related activity. Sad to say, the requirement does not come into effect until July 1 of 2012.

So we may never know who paid for Recall Coeur d’Alene’s spendy campaign. Paid petition circulators, newspaper ads, a storefront headquarters all cost big bucks. And taxpayers had to pay for the extra staff hired to verify the signatures. All this from a campaign that lamented the high cost of the proposed McEuen upgrade.

So what about that McEuen price tag? The $14 million the four under-fire council members voted for to create McEuen Park is all accounted for and virtually in the bank. Of that total, $11.2 million urban renewal dollars will come from Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) funds. No additional taxpayer dollars will be assessed.

Confusion continues to swirl around LCDC, in spite of the efforts of LCDC leaders Tony Berns and Denny Davis to explain urban renewal financing, by way of the “My Turn” column in the Coeur d’Alene Press. The reality is tax increment financing is darn hard to understand.

Another expert, former County Clerk Tom Taggart, has written that we will never know the true impact of tax increment financing, because we will never know what growth might have occurred in the city if the urban renewal effort had not taken place. It’s a Catch 22.

Taggart warns supporters of urban renewal to avoid claiming benefits that are impossible to assess, and warns opponents to stop using the scare tactic of higher property taxes.

What we have learned in the recall episode is that urban renewal financing is so complicated that LCDC must keep beating us over the head with information about what’s going on and why. We can watch their meetings on Channel 19, follow them on Facebook or click into their website, www.lcdc.org.

And there’s no question that city officials must step up their communication with the general public. Though there were not enough signatures to permit an election, 4,000 verified registered voters agreed with all or some of the charges in the recall petition. That’s a lot of dissatisfied customers. The city has some listening to do — and fence-mending, too.

As for the angry ringleaders, they aren’t going anywhere. And nothing the city can do will mollify them. They will plot and plan. We can only hope their distorted complaints fall on deaf ears.

For the nonce — there’s a lot of joy in Coeur d’ Aleneville — the recall petition has struck out.

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