The buzz in Coeur d’Alene hovers over the ongoing, frantic search for residents willing to sign petitions recalling City Council members Deanna Goodlander, Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers and Mayor Sandi Bloem. The recallers’ basic issue is McEuen Park and any proposed improvements that the targeted Council members have voted to put in place. The Recall Coeur d’Alene organizers have until June 15 to find 4,311 valid signatures to initiate a vote of whether to recall.
The recallers have money to spend. They have opened a storefront office, hired signature gatherers, paid for robot telephone calls and run large print ads in the Nickel’s Worth and Coeur d’Alene Press. Volunteers and paid hawkers call out to passing car drivers from various stations around the city.
We who question their motives are also alarmed by the petition backers’ recklessness with the truth. Wild distortions of the estimated costs of improving McEuen Park and allegations of where the money will come from have been caught on tape. Under Idaho law, telling lies in order to get signatures is a felony.
So this ain’t fun and games. The spirit behind the recall is ugly and growing uglier. The rift reflects decidedly differing views of what Coeur d’Alene should look like in the coming years. The petitioners appear to be fueled by anger, frustration, and a hunger for power. That’s a dangerous, energy-loaded combination.
Fortunately, resistance to the recall is very strong. Just as anger has energized the recall factions, the petition assault has hundreds of unhappy citizens rallying in support of the accused officials.
Bright red signs that scream “Decline to Sign” are everywhere — in store windows, neighborhood yards and the rear windows of passing cars.
Any sign count would give the game to the anti-recall supporters, but I was taught a long time ago that signs don’t vote. This is a worrisome assault on the stability of the city with potentially serious consequences.
Anti-recall chairpersons, Sara Meyer and Jennifer Drake, have emerged to represent a new, younger group of residents who want to see city improvements move ahead.
Over the past month, letters to the editor in the Coeur d’Alene Press have repeatedly pointed out the essential role Mayor Sandi Bloem and the council members under attack have played in securing the Kroc Community Center, the new City Library and the Education Corridor with its commitment to further higher education in Coeur d’Alene. The Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Association and the Coeur d’Alene Library Foundation have also produced eloquent letters outlining objections.
An outpouring of heartfelt appreciation for the visionary leadership that Mayor Bloem has given the city spills out of these letters from individuals and groups.
It is my opinion that the only change the recall instigators seek is the makeup of the individuals sitting in the council chairs.
It’s a power play, disguised as a way to get a public vote on improvements to McEuen Park.
And that issue, a public vote on the proposed McEuen Park, is a stalking horse. (The phrase “stalking horse” originated among hunters who found if they walked on the far side of their horses they could sneak up on the game they planned to shoot.) The recall instigators are sneaking up behind the public-vote to suggest, falsely, that the city electorate has the right to vote on the question of McEuen Park.
Time and time again it has been pointed out that the Idaho Legislature has never given cities the authority to make a decision on the use of city property through a public vote.
An advisory vote could be taken, but how would it be worded to take into consideration the myriad options and varying costs? The City Council members under fire have been very correct in maintaining a public vote on McEuen would be inappropriate and unwise.
The total misuse of the recall process is the real villain here. The mayor and council members have not broken any law, or misused their office, nor has any one of them been involved in scandalous behavior. These four people have not neglected their duties, lied, cheated or stolen public property.
To the contrary, each has been an exemplary official, diligent and responsible. Together they have made decisions they believe to be wise for the present and future residents of Coeur d’Alene. What more can you ask for?
Yet the recall petitioners are working very hard to fire the council members from their low-paying, essentially volunteer jobs because the petitioners disagree with their votes. That’s no way to run a stable democracy. That’s what regular elections are all about.
Officials should not have to govern with the threat of recall hanging over their heads if they cross swords with a group of people who disagree with them.
The ultimate irony is that state law requires any elected official who is recalled to be replaced by appointment of the governor. Our Idaho governor resides in Boise and consequently would understand little about the alternative candidates or the situation.