Just a little over an hour in, the Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting went off the rails.
Councilman Steve Adams had gone to a judicial confirmation hearing a few days earlier and announced that he had “changed [his] mind” on the approval of a $33 million bond. The money would go to pay for a federally required wastewater treatment upgrades, but despite voting for it, Adams was now fighting it.
City Attorney Mike Gridley concluded then that Adams was an “adverse party” and wouldn’t discuss any legal strategy over the facility with Adams in the room.
Then, with the March 5 council meeting, it all boiled over. Adams threatened to file an ethics complaint against Gridley, and another councilman made a motion to exclude Adams from legal discussions. The arguments grew heated.
“Steve, I get to decide if I should accept a motion, and I did,” Mayor Sandi Bloem says. “There is a motion — ”
“— you are out of line then, Madam Mayor,” Adams interrupts.
With that, Bloem smacks her gavel down on the table. “Five minute break,” she says, standing up abruptly from her chair and leaving the dais.
Twenty minutes later, Adams makes an announcement. “I would also like it read into the minutes, that at 7:18 pm during the break, when Mike and I were discussing this matter, he called me an ‘ignorant shit,’” Adams said. “Which is disrespectful, unprofessional, confrontational and flat-out rude, and will be part of my complaint I will file with the Idaho Bar Association.”
Gridley stared straight ahead. “All right,” he says. “And I stand by my words.”
Field of Battle
Councilwoman Deanna Goodlander, sitting at a bakery just a few hundred feet away from McEuen Field, seems weary.
“I’ve been on that council for 13 years,” Goodlander says. “I’ve never been in an environment like we have today.”
Goodlander says a few councilmembers are more concerned with scoring political points than doing what’s best for the city. “I am saddened by the lack of respect. It’s not healthy for our city,” Goodlander says. “I think we all bear some of the burden of that.”
Much of the division began with McEuen Field. Earlier this week, construction resumed on the overhaul of the lakeside park, which sparked protest and catalyzed a mayoral recall attempt. The outrage over McEuen catapulted two members of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans — Steve Adams and Dan Gookin — to the City Council. They promised to fight for a public vote over the field plan. They didn’t just want to stop the changes to the field, they wanted to kill the urban redevelopment agency leading them.
“It’s a scourge on the taxpayer. It subverts the will of the people by circumventing the Constitution,” Adams said of the Lake City Development Corporation during the election. “It’s bad law.”
But despite sweeping the 2011 election, the opponents of the McEuen plan remained outnumbered, and the field’s progress continued unabated. And for one moment last summer, it looked like Adams was going to give up fighting against the field.
“I’ve effectively conceded,” Adams said, voting to support a replacement for McEuen’s ball field. But his criticism of the field continued, and an underlying ideological rift remained.
Apostle for Paul
“McEuen field isn’t the main issue. Not anymore,” Goodlander says. “It’s a philosophical difference.” Goodlander says she’s been a lifelong Republican, but Adams isn’t conventionally conservative.
“There was a lot of stuff going on in Coeur d’Alene that was a microcosm of the federal government,” Adams says. “Just tax-and-spend, liberal, Machiavellian, ends-justify-the-means governing.”
Describing his political philosophy at Calypsos Coffee & Creamery, Adams cites his discovery of libertarian Ron Paul.
“They call him Doctor No,” Adams says. “It was amazing. There were hundreds of votes where he was the only guy to vote no.”
Adams has also repeatedly voted no. Any time there’s a tax increase or use of federal money, he votes no. “The federal government’s broke,” Adams says. “Why should we perpetuate the problem?”
Paul relies on a strict, unconventional interpretation of the United States Constitution, while Adams has a strict, unconventional interpretation of the Idaho State Constitution.
He repeatedly cites Article 8, Section 3 of Idaho’s Constitution. That section stops cities from going into debt without a two-thirds public vote, unless they need to pay for “ordinary and necessary” expenses. It also allows voters to approve new facilities like water treatment plants with a simple majority vote.
But it’s up to a judge to determine if a project is “ordinary and necessary.” At first, Adams thought the treatment plant upgrades, required to meet federal pollution standards, qualified. But a last-minute conversation with one of his advisors convinced Adams otherwise. In the judicial hearing, he gave the example of a judge refusing to issue Boise a bond for a new police station.
But in that case, the major factor was that the police station was a new facility. Most bonds for upgrades and improvements, by contrast, have been approved.
“It is a constitutional method — and has been used for years and years and years and years and years and years — to approve projects like sewer wastewater treatment plants,” Gridley said at the March council meeting. In fact, in 2007, a judge approved an earlier bond to upgrade Coeur d’Alene’s facility.
Adams’ sudden opposition made him an “adverse party,” Gridley maintains. But Adams doesn’t buy it. He doesn’t think the judicial hearing counted as litigation and asked Gridley to write down his rationale.
Gridley offered to explain in front of the entire council, but refused to give it to Adams in writing.
A Matter of Manners
Gridley sports a white mustache and speaks in a slow baritone. He analyzes each word of what he calls his “famous statement.”
“‘Ignorant,’ because he’s not accepting my explanation of what an ‘adverse party’ is,” Gridley says. “He was behaving like a ‘shit’… disrupting the meeting, talking over the mayor, interrupting people.”
Even Gookin, an ideological ally, says Adams should apologize for telling the mayor she was out of order. Gookin says he’s pushed the council to become a little more formal. “It’s a decorum thing,” Gookin says. “If you want to speak, you need to be recognized.”
Gridley, who has come under fire for being disrespectful to Adams, says he’s tired of people who dish it out, but can’t take it.
“As long as [Adams] is showing respect to me and the body, I owe him respect,” Gridley says. “As soon as he starts disrespecting me and the body, it’s personal. I can say what I want to him.”
They’ve clashed before. In April of last year, Adams wrote a letter to Gridley asking him to stop correcting him in public. Despite attorney-client privilege, the letter was somehow leaked to a Spokesman-Review blog. “I was pissed,” Adams says. “I was furious.”
Gridley and other critics of Adams will have to be patient. Adams, Gookin and veteran McEuen opponent Ron Edinger have three more years left on their terms. Their political rivals, however, are up for election this November.
“I’m hoping there will be a change,” Adams says. “I’m hoping to have a mayor and three new councilmembers who are similarly minded to myself.”