True colors were showing last night. Not only did the council seem predetermined in their views but they lacked any courage at all (except Ron) because they just sat there, totally silent, unwilling to explain to the citizens their reasons for removing the boat launch, ball fields and why this enormous, contentious project should not be put to a public advisory vote.
About 400 people filled the room. A noticeable majority of the folks had paper signs saying “Save McEuen” or “Public Vote”. Many had both.
This was an official city council meeting, so all the council members and the mayor were up front at a long table. The evening started with a pretty, public relations presentation by the city and Team McEuen, espousing all the wonders that will come from dropping $40 Million into this existing park.
Then Councilman Ron Edinger jumped right in to offer a Motion to remove Tubb’s Hill from the plan. It passed. Mike Kennedy offered a Resolution to pledge that no additional taxpayer money, beyond LCDC, will be spent on this plan. That passed too, but only after the city attorney clarified that the promise is only from THIS council. Any future councils will not be bound by the pledge. (Please remember that this council only lasts until next November’s election, as two of them are retiring, and any new council can do as they please, so it was a safe move on Kennedy’s part. Also please remember that Kennedy was a paid marketing person on the Library bond, back in 2004, when their big promise was that no additional taxpayer dollars would go into the Library if the $3 Million bond issue was passed by the voters. The bond barely passed and then the city, after Kennedy was elected to the council, spent over a Million more of our dollars on the Library.)
Ron took the microphone and made an impassioned plea. He questioned whether the city council was just posturing by having this meeting; he wondered if this was already a done deal and if they were just placating the public by allowing them to speak.
I think Ron was right.
Ron then made a Motion to remove the boat launch from the plan. No one else on the council would second that motion. Without a second, the motion dies. If someone had given a second, it would have allowed open discussion by the council and a vote on the topic. But they didn’t even want to TALK about it in public! They would have had to give their reasons for removing the boat launch, something these elected officials were obviously unwilling to do.
Ron made another Motion, this one to remove the Legion ball field from the plan. No second. It died. And his final Motion was to put the plan to a public advisory vote. It also died for lack of a second. No discussion.
The crowd was supportive of Ron’s Motions, clapping and holding up their signs, but the council sat stone-faced and silent, letting the motions fall away.
Public Comment was lively. A single microphone was set in an aisle, and a whole assortment of people lined up to speak. At least 50 or more stood to make their 3 minute remarks, some in favor of the plan, many opposed to parts of the plan, and even more asking for a public advisory vote.
The council was silent. The mayor looked down the whole time, as did several others. No emotions, no thank yous, no questions.
State Representative Kathy Sims made perhaps the strongest, most valiant remarks when she reported that she has sent a letter to the Idaho Attorney General, asking for an investigation into possible conflicts of interest among the officials involved with this project. Rep. Sims listed the Mayor’s property bordering the park plan, Brad Jordan of LCDC and chairman of P&Z’s property bordering the park plan and Councilman Mike Kennedy’s boss’s half block of property along the park. She also mentioned the two council people, Al Hassel and Deanna Goodlander, who sit on LCDC, so would have two votes each on the project, and councilman John Bruning who is on the McEuen Advisory Group that planned the park…”how do you think he will vote?”, Kathy asked the crowd. (NOTE: To see who owns which properties shown in the middle photo above, see the color key at the end)
Kathy took time to explain to everyone what our state laws say about conflicts of interest and she quoted from the Idaho Attorney General’s publication on Ethics in Government, which cautions officials to take great care with the trust given them,“Public officials, by trusteeship given them by the electorate, are held to a higher ethical standard.”
There were many outstanding comments by citizens. It was inspiring to see the various people, from all walks of life, stand to put voice to their views. Bravo to you all!
I was the last to speak, not by design because I did not plan to comment, but after hearing such impassioned, diverse and divided opinions on this project, I felt compelled to stand and ask, one more time, for a public advisory vote. It’s the only way to know what the public really wants, it would erase any question of conflicts of interest and would help heal our community’s divisions when everyone’s vote is counted equally.
Ron followed through on my request, and proposed, again, that whatever the final plan might be, it would be put to a public advisory vote on the November ballot. Again, the motion died for lack of a second. No discussion. Thanks for trying, Ron.
At 10:30 last night, the proposed park plan was approved by a 5 to 1 vote of the council.
I was sad when I left the meeting. Not because I was surprised by the outcome, it was what I expected from this council, but the whole process of this plan and these meetings has left me feeling sullied. I deeply believe in the fair and open process by which our government is supposed to operate, and it is upsetting to see it bastardized by this current administration.
The process matters. The end does not justify the means.
Let me conclude with a link to one of the best pieces I have written. It is a June 2008 Newsletter on the very topic of the ends not justifying the means as it applies to several projects undertaken by our CdA city government. Click here to read it:
Take heart, dear Readers, the November elections are coming soon.
COLOR KEY for properties near McEuen owned by officials or related businesses: from the right side: GOLD = the two high rise condo buildings owned by Miller-Staffer Architects, the firm that was contracted by the city and paid to design the park plan. PURPLE = the half block owned by Councilman Mike Kennedy’s full time boss. YELLOW= the Mayor’s building which borders the proposed 4th street pedestrian mall. BLUE= the Java building owned by Brad Jordan of LCDC who is also Chair of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. His building also borders the proposed 4th street pedestrian mall.
No one is accusing these folks of illegal intent, but they should not be voting on this project because they have conflicts of interest; they, or their close business associates, are in line to benefit financially, much more than the general public will benefit. The law says that is not acceptable.