In Brief

by Cara Gardner and Pia K. Hansen
Problem With Potlucks -- OLYMPIA, Wash. -- You might cringe when remembering suspicious dishes from potlucks in your past, but communal meals are a tradition. After all, the first Thanksgiving was a potluck, with natives and pilgrims each bringing food to the table. But after Washington's Department of Health (DOH) is finished revising the state's food code, you'll be breaking the law if you hold a public potluck without first notifying your local public health authority, complying with state and local Food Service Establishment rules (the same ones restaurants follow) and purchasing a license. All this for a little potato salad and apple pie?

"Anytime you prepare and serve food to the public, it becomes a public event and therefore you need a permit," says Melanie Rose, public information manager with Spokane's Health Department. Rose says this process only applies to publicly advertised potlucks, not family-only, members-only or invitation-only potlucks.

The DOH has been rewriting food codes and discussing the impact for more than a year now. Until the Board of Health finalizes it them 2005, the rewording won't go into effect.

"Is this outrageous or what?" writes Chrys Ostrander, farmer and activist, in a press release. "How many millennia have just plain folks gotten together to share good home-cooked food and community without the interference of government?"

Potlucks may be a tradition, but eaters at the first Thanksgiving never would have dreamed of fetid marshmellow-jello salads or even intended poisons in a casserole.

"The rules are supposed to be up-to-date, clear and relevant," explains Marianne Seifert, health policy advisor for Washington's DOH. "[We're] hoping that this respects people's privacy and desire to socialize without being excessively regulated, but at the same time protects public health."

Cleaning Coalition -- COEUR d'ALENE -- There's a new coalition in town, designed to represent community members interested in making sure the Coeur d'Alene Basin cleanup goes smoothly. The Basin Cleanup Coalition (BCC) is a brand-spanking-new group (only three members currently) with a Technical Assistance Grant of $50,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Essentially, [the BCC] is an organization created to receive this grant," explains Jonathan Coe, president of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce. "It's a nonprofit organization of concerned citizens coming together to monitor and provide advice to the community at large and to the Coeur d'Alene Basin Commission (CDABC) about the cleanup."

It may confusing, but the Coeur d'Alene Basin Commission, created through the Idaho legislature, is legally sanctioned to conduct water quality studies and to clean up the basin. The commission is made up of members from regional organizations and governmental entities. The Basin Cleanup Coalition, however, is "entirely separate," as Coe puts it, from the CDABC.

"The BCC is trying to seek through their grant a second opinion on cleanup activities to assure the best possible cleanup is completed," Coe says. The BCC will hire scientists and field experts to relay data regarding the basin cleanup and to make suggestions to the CDABC regarding what should be done. Will the CDABC listen?

"We'll have to see as time evolves," says Coe. "The hope is that it utilizes good science and rational, logical conclusions."

No Gag Order -- SPOKANE -- On Friday, the Spokane Diocese and Bishop William S. Skylstad issued a statement saying that attorneys representing the church in alleged sexual abuse cases would not ask for a limited protective order in these cases after all.

"Our attorneys want to protect innocent third parties from irrelevant inquiries," wrote Skylstad. "The situation could turn into a diverting media circus and clearly lead to a delay in resolving claims."

The national director of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), David Clohessy, was in Spokane Monday as the local chapter delivered a letter to the diocese asking for an apology. Clohessy said he would like to see Skylstad take the lead in disclosing all facts about alleged priest abusers, not in trying to keep discoveries secret.

"He should be ahead of the curve," said Clohessy. "With his leadership position, he should be an example when it comes to exposing the wrongdoers. We want Skylstad to voluntarily disclose the names of the priests who molested children."

Publication date: 09/11/03