OpenCDA

October 18, 2013

Steve Widmyer: Not Suitable for Mayor

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 7:07 am

Widmyer not a good fit(NOTE:  This was originally posted on October 15, 2013, at 06:55 AM.  Because the Friday, October 18, 2013, online edition of the Coeur d’Alene Press linked to the OpenCdA website but not to this specific post, I am moving this post up.)

Coeur d’Alene businessman Steve Widmyer wants to be elected Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at the City election on November 5, 2013.

OpenCdA believes that Widmyer is not a suitable candidate.  He is not a good fit to be Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“Suitability” refers to a person’s identifiable character traits and conduct sufficient to decide whether employment or continued employment would or would not protect the integrity or promote the efficiency of the agency or company.  “Suitability” is different from meeting or even exceeding the necessary qualifications to do the job.  “Suitability” seeks answers to the questions, “Is this applicant a good fit for our agency or company ?  Will this applicant’s conduct and work product faithfully represent the values and principles of this agency or company?”

The questions are changed only slightly when they apply to a candidate for public office, in this case for the office of Mayor of Coeur d’Alene.  For a mayoral candidate, the “suitability”questions ask, “Is this candidate a good fit for our City?  Will this candidate’s conduct as a Mayor and his work product faithfully represent the values and principles of the citizens of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho?  If his relevant character traits or conduct before being elected were questionable or worse, why should the public believe he will change after he is elected?”

It is important to clearly understand that “qualifications” and “suitability” are separate and distinct.  Being either unqualified or unsuitable should and usually will disqualify an applicant or candidate from further consideration.  Unfortunately, when significant credible and verified suitability issues are raised about candidates running for elected office, the candidate and his supporters often loudly protest that it is mudslinging or name-calling.

Here are three issues that cause OpenCdA to question candidate Steve Widmyer’s suitability to be Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

WIDMYER SUITABILITY ISSUE #1

On November 5, 1996, Steve Widmyer at age 36 was elected to a six-year term on the North Idaho College (NIC) Board of Trustees.  On Tuesday, June 3, 1997, the NIC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to release NIC President Robert Bennett from the remaining 13 months of his contract.   On June 4, 1997, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported that the Kootenai County Elections Office confirmed it had been contacted by persons interested in recalling the NIC Trustees.

On June 11, 1997, barely seven months into his six-year term, Steve Widmyer resigned from the NIC Board of Trustees with only a perfunctory public explanation.  Widmyer obviously cannot say he resigned in protest over Bennett’s release; Widmyer had voted for it.  If he disagreed with the motion to release Bennett, Widmyer should have voted against it.  So why did he quit only seven months into a six-year term?

Here is a possible answer.   According to this June 13, 1997, article in The Spokesman-Review written by Staff Writer Ken Olsen, Widmeyer’s resignation letter included this quote:

To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual and I’m not one of those types.”

Widmyer’s statement suggests he realized he had underestimated the social, political, and economic pressures that holding an elected office imposes on the person to whom voters have entrusted their vote.  He may have correctly concluded that he lacked the strength and character to bear up under those pressures of public office.

On the same day Olsen’s article ran in The Spokesman Review, June 13, 1997, the Coeur d’Alene Press editorially called for the resignation of NIC Board of Trustee Chairman Jeanne Givens.  The Press editorial mentioned the then-fledgling effort to recall the remaining NIC Trustees but did not explicitly state the Press’s support for it.  However, on July 16, 1997, the Coeur d’Alene Press clearly revealed its support for the recall effort when, in its news article on page A6 headlined “NIC trustee recall drive under way; petitions distributed,” the Press reported:

Petitions can also be found at some area businesses including The Coeur d’Alene Press and Tom Addis Lake City Ford/Lincoln/Mercury. [emphasis mine]

In addition to demonstrating explicit support for the recall, the Coeur d’Alene Press and the Addis dealership allowing recall petitions to be displayed in the manner they did violated Idaho election law.  (See Coeur d’Alene Press, July 17, 1997, pages A1-A3.)  A recall petition signature taker is required by law to sign under penalty of perjury that s/he personally witnessed every signature being made on the recall petition sheet.  That requirement cannot be met if petitions are left unattended and unsecured and can be signed outside the presence of the attesting signature taker.  In spite of support from the Coeur d’Alene Press, the recall effort failed to gather sufficient valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

At the time of his election and then his resignation as an NIC Trustee, Widmyer was the Controller for Hagadone Hospitality which, like the Coeur d’Alene Press newspaper, was associated with the Hagadone Corporation.   OpenCdA opines that someone connected with one of the Hagadone enterprises may have suggested to Widmyer that since the Coeur d’Alene Press and some of its advertisers were going to support the recall of the NIC Trustees who released Bennett, it would look bad for Hagadone Hospitality if its Controller was among those being recalled.  OpenCdA believes Widmyer got the message and resigned from the NIC Board of Trustees after only seven months in office.

Widmyer had sought election to the NIC Board of Trustees and had been duly elected by voters who placed their trust and confidence in him.  With his abrupt resignation from the NIC Board of Trustees, Steve Widmyer demonstrated he was unworthy of the trust and confidence of those who had voted for him just seven months earlier.

OpenCdA agrees with Coeur d’Alene mayoral candidate Steve Widmyer:  To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual, and he’s not one of those types.

WIDMYER SUITABILITY ISSUE #2

The minutes of the March 5, 2013, Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting reflect that the Council approved Steve Widmyer’s appointment to the City’s Parking Commission.   Mayoral candidate and City Parking Commissioner Steve Widmyer is the operator of the Fort Ground Grill at 705 W. River Ave., Coeur d’Alene.  Just two months later on May 17, 2013, a Coeur d’Alene resident walking northbound from W. River Avenue on the east side of Military Drive took this photo (Right mouseclick on the photo to enlarge it.).

05-17-2013 FtGndRestStreetSigns

The “[No Parking symbol] Without Residential Permit” sign and the steel post on which it was mounted are City property and were installed by the City pursuant to City Code.  However, the sign reading “Restaurant Parking Only – 2 Hour Limit” immediately below the City sign was installed on the City’s post by someone without City authorization.  This signpost is at the east curb line of N. Military Drive directly across N. Military Drive from the Fort Ground Grill.  According to the Fort Ground Grill Facebook page, it is open for business during the daily hours when parking without a City Code-required Residential Permit is prohibited on N. Military Drive.

A similarly-worded sign  (indicated by red arrow added by OpenCdA in above photo) was installed by someone without City authorization as well.   That signpost and sign were just south of the N. Military Drive entrance to the Fort Ground Grill parking lot.

The illegally-placed signs were professionally made.  Their color, lettering, and sizing made them appear deceptively similar to the official and lawful City sign.  The signs were affixed to the posts with bolts suggesting their installation was to be permanent.  The wording of the illegally-mounted signs strongly suggested that even cars with proper Residential Permits  could park there only if they were patronizing the Restaurant and then only for two hours.  That same sign could reasonably be misinterpreted by a restaurant patron to mean that parking is allowed for two hours for restaurant patrons even if their vehicle does not display the lawfully-required Residential Permit.

OpenCdA has learned that when the resident/photographer contacted City Engineer Gordon Dobler on May 17, 2013, to ask about the illegal signs, Dobler sent a City street crew to remove them. On October 7, 2013 OpenCdA submitted an Idaho Public Record Law request to the City of Coeur d’Alene for additional information.  Our request presumed that when private property (the two illegal signs) was seized by the City, the employee seizing the property was required to generate a written report describing his authority to make the seizure, the instructions he received, the actions he took, and the disposition of the illegal property.   The seizure of any property by the City needs to be documented properly to help protect the City from liability and false accusations of theft.  OpenCdA also presumed that the City Attorney’s office would need a written report of this apparent violation of City Code in order to determine if criminal prosecution was appropriate.

On October 9, 2013, City Clerk Renata McLeod responded to our Public Record Law request with this series of messages.  They were provided in reverse order with the most recent email being first and the oldest email being last.  Each email is date-time marked, however.  Here is OpenCdA’s narrative summary pulling the messages together and putting the incident in some perspective:

On May 17, 2013, a citizen walking on N. Military Drive took the photograph shown above.  He contacted City Engineer Gordon Dobler who ordered the signs to be removed.  On May 21 at 5:42 PM City Finance Director messaged someone, probably City Parking Commissioner/ Fort Ground Grill proprietor Widmyer given the subsequent response to Tymesen.  In his message, Tymesen asked if “you” know anything about the signs.  On May 21 at 6:55 PM, Parking Commissioner Widmyer messaged Tymesen with this:

Troy, the college put up those signs as a goodwill gesture because of the pain I had to endure during construction and to help keep students and NIC employees from parking there all day.  I guess the City doesn’t share that goodwill.  The signs didnt [sic] do any harm whatsoever.  SW

On May 22, 2013, at 8:57 AM Tymesen sent a message to Garry Stark with a cc: to Gordon Dobler.  (The North Idaho College directory lists Garry Stark as its Assistant Director of Facilities Operations.)  Tymesen asked Stark if he was aware of the [illegal] signs.  On May 22 at 9:09 AM Stark responded acknowledging that “we”  had put up the signs to help out the business.  Stark also stated “Gordon gave us the ok.  I think J  No?  Oh my bad!”  Dobler’s response to Stark and Tymesen on May 22 at 4:01 PM was, “That’ll be the day!”

The photo below was taken on October 8, 2013, by OpenCdA.  The red arrows in the photo clearly show the posts from which two of the illegal signs were removed.  Taken from a different position than the one on May 17, this photo also shows the proximity of the sign positions to Parking Commissioner Widmyer’s Fort Ground Grill (the red building) at 705 W. River Avenue in Coeur d’Alene.  The red arrow on the left is approximately 4-6 feet south of the entrance to the Fort Ground Grill parking lot.

10-08-13FtGndSignsLocs

City Code §10.22.030  prescribes who in the City is authorized to designate “resident only” permit zones and issue the permits.   City Code §10.27.020 requires an authorized City employee to issue a parking violation (“shall issue”) with a fine which must be paid within 10 days to the City unless appealed as provided in City Code §10.27.050.   The appeal will be adjudicated by one of the City’s Parking Commissioners (City Code §10.27.050.B).  Thus, the appeal from a violation notice issued to a Fort Ground Grill patron or any other violator would be decided by Parking Commissioner/Fort Ground Grill proprietor Steve Widmyer or one of his fellow Parking Commissioners.

The messages provided by the City in response to OpenCdA’s public records law request don’t reveal specifically whether City Parking Commissioner/Fort Ground Grill proprietor/now mayoral candidate Steve Widmyer initiated the request to NIC for the signs or whether NIC initiated them out of the goodness of their hearts and the taxpayers’ pocketbooks.  What Widmyer’s message clearly reveals is that he felt entitled to benefit from them “because of the pain [he] had to endure during construction”.  They also reveal that City Parking Commissioner Widmyer felt it was perfectly all right for him and NIC’s Assistant Director of Facilities Operations Garry Stark to decide they were entitled to inappropriately impose private and legally unenforceable restrictions on City on-street parking spaces to benefit Widmyer’s business.  Widmyer apparently felt he was entitled to use deceptive signage to discourage authorized parking by Residential Permit holders.  Vehicle operators seeing the very official-looking “Restaurant Parking Only – 2 Hour Limit” signs would have no way of knowing the signs’ restriction was unenforceable.

Widmyer believes “The signs didnt [sic] do any harm whatsoever.”  Really?  How many authorized holders of a Residential Permit didn’t park there because they feared they would receive a parking violation and have to pay a fine?  The official-looking illegal sign did say “Restaurant Parking ONLY“.   And Steve Widmyer as a City Parking Commissioner doesn’t see any harm in colluding with North Idaho College to put up their own signs without first  checking with the City to see if it was even lawful?  What made “the pain [Widmyer] had to endure during construction” more important than the pain other citizens in the area had to endure?  What entitled Steve Widmyer to grant himself special treatment?  If he felt entitled to some special treatment as a Parking Commissioner, why should the public believe he will not feel entitled to even more preferential treatment as Mayor?

Once again, OpenCdA agrees with Coeur d’Alene mayoral candidate Steve Widmyer:  To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual, and he’s not one of those types.

 WIDMYER SUITABILITY ISSUE #3

It appears to OpenCdA that in his campaign material, Coeur d’Alene mayoral candidate Steve Widmyer is representing he is a CPA in Idaho.  In his campaign webpage titled “Steve’s Core Values“,  Widmyer states as his first core value:

CoreValue1

In his campaign mailing received in early October, Widmyer uses nearly identical language here:

WidCPALitExcrpt

In his campaign material Widmyer used language tending to indicate he is a CPA, the initials for Certified Public Accountant.  He is not a CPA in Idaho.   Widmyer was a CPA in Idaho from 08/24/1984 until 06/30/1995 when his license expired.  His license lapsed on 07/01/1995 and has not been reinstated in Idaho .  Here is the information about Widmyer as it appeared on October 15, 2013, on the website of the Idaho State Board of Accountancy:

widmyer cpa

The Idaho Accountancy Act (Idaho Code Title 54, Chapter 2) provides in §54-220:

54-220. Use of title — Valid license to practice. (1) No person shall assume or use the title or designation “certified public accountant” or “licensed public accountant” or any other title, designation, words, letters, abbreviations, sign, card or device tending to indicate that such person is a certified public accountant or licensed public accountant unless such person holds a license or is granted privileges as a certified public accountant or licensed public accountant pursuant to chapter 2, title 54, Idaho Code. [emphasis mine]

In the first sentence of both excerpts from his campaign literature,  Widmyer used identical wording and stated:

As a trained CPA, I am experienced in managing large complex organizations and their budgets.  [emphasis mine]

That sentence is written in the first person, present continuous tense.  The  verb “be” is conjugated in the present tense indicative form thus:  I am – You are – He/She/It is.  The introductory appositive phrase “As a trained CPA” is properly placed and clearly renames the sentence’s subject, “I”.  (The adjective “trained” is superfluous.   Are there really any untrained CPAs in Idaho?)  So when Widmyer’s literature said, “As a trained CPA, I am…” he was using “… abbreviations … tending to indicate that such person [Steve Widmyer]  is …” a CPA in Idaho.

The Idaho State Board of Accountancy and the Idaho Legislature takes professional misrepresentation seriously.  Idaho Code §54-222 provides:

54-222. Violation of chapter a misdemeanor. Any violation of any of the provisions of this chapter shall constitute a misdemeanor, and any person, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, member, firm or association of any kind or nature convicted thereof may be punished by a fine not to exceed seven hundred fifty dollars ($750), or six (6) months imprisonment, or both.

But would anyone reading Widmyer’s literature really believe he is a CPA?  Apparently.  A letter to the editor in the Coeur d’Alene Press online on September 18, 2013,  attributed to Bruce Hansen of Coeur d’Alene and headlined “WIDMYER:  More than a bookkeeper,” included this:

Mr. Widmyer is not only a Certified Public Accountant, he also has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business. [emphasis mine]

Later in his letter, Mr. Hansen states, “I don’t know Steve Widmyer, but I have heard him speak.”   Assuming Mr. Hansen is being truthful, OpenCdA asks how Mr. Hansen determined that, “Mr. Widmyer is not only a Certified Public Accountant…” if not from Widmyer’s own speeches or from his campaign literature or from his campaign supporters?

After inquiring with the Idaho State Board of Accountancy and providing them with the dates and status but initially redacting Widmyer’s name and license number shown in the table above, OpenCdA received emails from two different Board employees.  Their responses were similar, represented by this one:

The answer to your question is:  Any person  who held an Idaho CPA from 1984 through June 30/1995 would have been actively licensed during that period only.  Because Idaho is a title state, an individual with a lapsed CPA license in Idaho is NOT legally able to use the title of  CPA, in accordance with Idaho Code 54-220, which reads as follows:  [the Board’s responder then reprinted Idaho Code §54-220].  If you have knowledge of someone using the title that should not be, we would appreciate any printed material, picture or paperwork showing this.

It is always improper and sometimes illegal for anyone to misrepresent that he has a valid professional license.   It is especially unseemly if that misrepresentation is used by a candidate in order to help him win the trust and confidence of voters in an election.

OpenCdA agrees with the words uttered by Coeur d’Alene mayoral candidate Steve Widmyer when he resigned from his elected office as an NIC Trustee in 1997:  “To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual, and I’m not one of those types.

CONCLUSION

The preceding three issues occurring during a nearly 17 year span raise genuine and justified concerns about Steve Widmyer’s suitability to serve as Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The people of Coeur d’Alene expect that our Mayor will perform his duties and responsibilities without succumbing to undue or coercive social, political, or economic influences. The Mayor of Coeur d’Alene must not be perceived as being willing to bend or break state laws and City ordinances to achieve personal financial or political gain for himself or his associates.  And finally, the Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, must not be perceived as misrepresenting that he holds a valid professional license when he does not.

Residents, visitors, and those who might choose to live, start businesses, and work in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, need to know that Coeur d’Alene’s elected and appointed public officials will fulfill their duties and responsibilities to all without fear or favor and in conformity with the Idaho Constitution, the Idaho Code, and the Coeur d’Alene City Ordinances.

In Steve Widmyer’s own words uttered in 1997, “To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual, and I’m not one of those types.”

OpenCdA agrees with Steve Widmyer’s self-assessment.  He is not suitable to be elected Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

5 Comments

  1. I thought Widmyer was a practicing CPA – how deceptive. Great investigative piece and a perfect example of special favors and how they are orchestrated for ‘special’ businesses that suffer “pain.” This stuff has to end, and thankfully soon, this November 5th, it will.

    Comment by Stebbijo — October 15, 2013 @ 9:15 pm

  2. Also, I noticed an article written by Jeffe Selle for the CdAPress LCDC dispute emerges at mayoral debate – that hyperlinks to Widmyer’s campaign site were available but not to Souza’s. How is that? Is it a paid advertisement in part of the article or was it written that way by the reporter, showing bias?

    Comment by Stebbijo — October 15, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  3. Stebbijo,

    Thank you.

    The Press will sell hyperlinks to keywords as advertising in its online edition, so I assume the Widmyer campaign bought and paid for the links. I haven’t any idea what criteria are used now, however I do know that during the school board trustee campaign, the Press was deservedly criticized when it “sold” the hyperlink using Brent Regan’s name. Clicking on the Regan link took the reader to the opponent’s website. The Press leads from the rear when it comes to any ethical constraints, and it was only after Regan challenged the misappropriation of his name that the Press stopped the practice.

    Correction: My statement that “Clicking on the Regan link took the reader to the opponent’s website” was incorrect. It should have read, “Clicking on the Regan link took the reader to the Balance North Idaho website” which contained its endorsement of his opponent. OpenCdA apologizes for the inaccuracy.

    Comment by Bill — October 16, 2013 @ 6:56 am

  4. In fairness I have to question whether or not a person’s one comment, perhaps ‘Freudian’ in nature, sixteen years ago necessarily characterizes who a person is today.

    With regard to your ‘Correction’–I believe that you are being over critical of yourself and that you were right the first time, when you posted that the link took the reader to the opponent’s website–they were/are one in the same.

    I believe that if Coeur d’Alene’s conservative voters do not carry the day in the upcoming election, it will be their own fault. The many persons who laid their reputations and financial well being on the line over the past 3-4 years, while attempting to effectuate accurate, honest and responsive City government, will have done so for naught. It is now in the closing minutes in the ‘4th quarter’. There are no ‘time outs’ left. It is not the time for any of Coeur d’Alene’s conservative voters to engage in the luxury of being tired or too busy to actively support the conservative candidates. It is ‘crunch time’. This election represents the last remaining opportunity for the doors of City Hall to be opened to accurate, honest and responsive government. If the doors are not flung open now, I fear that the opportunity to do so will be lost for at least a decade.

    Comment by up river — October 17, 2013 @ 5:07 am

  5. up river,

    Your question is fair. Widmyer ran for election to become an NIC Trustee in 1996. Presumably more than one prospective voter asked Widmyer what an NIC Trustee’s responsibilities are and what he hoped he would be able to accomplish as a Trustee. I don’t know what the responsibilities of the NIC Trustees were in 1996 when he ran and was elected, but NIC Policy 2.01.02, Revised 10/28/09, defines what they are now. One of the Board of Trustees responsibilities, specifically the Chairperson’s, is to periodically evaluate the President in accordance with Board policy. I doubt they have changed much. So when he ran for election and represented to the voters that he was suitable, he should have done it with eyes wide open that the duties of his office as a Trustee might require him to make some very difficult decisions that could affect his social, economic, and political future. Still, he won and took the oath of office. Then seven months later he resigned saying, “To be a public official, it takes a certain type of individual and I’m not one of those types.”

    In my opinion, Widmyer in a moment of personal reflection, made a carefully considered statement in his letter of resignation, at least according to The Spokesman Review’s reporter Ken Olsen. I believe he made it in a moment of genuine candor and self-assessment. Now he’s running for office again, and I believe that in 2013 the voters have every right to expect a satisfactory answer to these question: “In 1997 when required to perform one of the duties of your office, you performed your duty and then resigned. You could have voted ‘no’ on the motion to release Bennett, but you didn’t. You voted ‘yes’ and then resigned. In 1997 you weren’t an inexperienced young adult; you were 36-37 years old and were the Controller for the Hagadone Corporation and had earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. If you quit and abandoned your duty to represent those who voted for you then because couldn’t handle the pressure of the relatively low-key position of NIC Trustee in the city of Coeur d’Alene, why should voters believe you would be able to handle the much greater pressures and demands as the Mayor of Coeur d’Alene? Why shouldn’t voters be concerned that in a moment of crisis when leadership is required, you won’t simply quit again?”

    I also disagree that I was being overly critical of myself. My statement was inaccurate, and when it was brought to my attention, I corrected it. Critical, yes; overly critical, no.

    I can’t disagree with anything at all in your last paragraph. I believe it accurately sums up why some local businesspeople and so many elected and some appointed officials in the City, at least two in the County, and some in Boise are absolutely terrified at the thought of an honest and responsive City government in Coeur d’Alene.

    Comment by Bill — October 17, 2013 @ 6:46 am

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