September 5, 2015

What’s in a Name?

Filed under: Probable Cause — Tags: , , — Bill @ 7:32 am

diversionignitecdaIn her online newsletter dated September 3, 2015, State Senator Mary Souza offered some advice to the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency.

Sen. Souza advised, “Ditch the new name and logo, cancel the PR contract, return to the original name of Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency. Get rid of the paid consultants, lobbyists and the overpaid executive director position. Hire a manager and a clerical assistant and let’s have the board members stand for public election. We can even pay them a small fee for their time, which would place them under a higher level of the Idaho Ethics law.”

OpenCdA agrees with Senator Souza.

We don’t understand how the public benefits from the urban renewal agency’s spending the public’s money to improve the agency’s image.  We think that any value urban renewal adds to the community ought to be self-evident without any need for expensive hyperbole.    As we’ve noted before, changing the shade of the lipstick on the Lake City Development Corporation/ignite cda pig doesn’t change the fact that the pig is still a pig.

We also question whether Idaho’s statutes allow an independent public body corporate and politic created in each municipality to adopt an assumed business name. In his response to Senator Souza, ignite cda Poo-Bah Tony Berns said, “Known as the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency, the agency decided to assign a dba, Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC) in 2001. The dba name was changed to ignite cda 2015 to more accurately reflect the agency’s mission.”  The urban renewal agency is a creation of the state, not a conventional business.   The state explicitly allows a conventional business to use an assumed business name (also known as a fictitious business name or as a “dba”, the abbreviation for “doing business as”), but it requires the business to register its assumed business name with the Secretary of State’s office.  OpenCdA questions whether the State has granted authority to its urban renewal agencies to “assign a dba” without registration with the Secretary of State.

We agree that the State’s urban renewal agencies’ commissioners should stand for election.  That serves two important purposes.  First, it exposes candidates and their professional qualifications to public scrutiny before they assume office.  Second, it allows the public to invoke the recall process to remove a commissioner.

We hope readers will pay close attention to Senator Souza’s advice that URA commissioners be paid a fee [or salary].   As she correctly observes, that would hold URA commissioners to a higher legal standard for ethical conduct.  Under Idaho Code § 74-405, a noncompensated Commissioner of the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Commission is permitted to have an interest in any contract made or entered into by the URA board as long as the Commissioner complies with Idaho Code § 18-1361A pertaining to bribery and corruption.

We suspect that the exemption for noncompensated board members was inserted to appease small Idaho communities which may have difficulty finding qualified and willing applicants for various governing boards of governmental entities.  Many times, prospective applicants who would be otherwise qualified will not apply because appointment would effectively exclude them from doing business with the governmental entity.

Unfortunately, the benevolent exclusion for noncompensated board members ignores a 20th and 21st century reality:  There are people in some Idaho communities who are not honest or ethical and who will exploit this statutory exclusion for personal pecuniary benefit.

We strongly disagree with the present state law which allows that by enactment of an ordinance, the local governing body may appoint and designate itself to be the board of commissioners of the urban renewal agency.  Thus, in Coeur d’Alene the City Council could also be the Board of Commissioners of the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency. For the reasons we identified in our OpenCdA post entitled Undivided Loyalty on August 4, 2012, we believe that such an action would create an incompatibility of office condition.  

We  believe that it is extremely unwise and bad public policy for one or more members of the local governing body to sit as a commissioner on the URA. Here are some questions for consideration:

  • To which entity does that member owe his undivided loyalty? For example, if the local governing body must sue the URA or vice versa to fulfill its legal or fiduciary obligations, how does that work when the same people are both plaintiff and defendant?
  • What happens if a URA commissioner commits official misconduct resulting in removal from the URA?  How can that commissioner continue to sit on the City Council if the Council in its entirety has been designated as the URA Board of Commissioners?
  • As Mayor of Coeur d’Alene, Steve Widmyer is compensated, so he would (presumably) be forbidden to have an interest in any contract made or entered into by the City.  However, he receives no compensation as Commissioner of the Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency.  So if the City and the URA wish to enter into a contract in which citizen Steve Widmyer would have an interest, is Widmyer’s participation permitted (as a noncompensated URA Commissioner) or forbidden (as compensated Mayor)?

OpenCdA sees little evidence that the State of Idaho is serious about addressing the many issues affecting the urban renewal funding process in Idaho.   We often hear that exploitation of the existing urban renewal laws’ loopholes is just a Coeur d’Alene problem and that the laws are working just fine in other parts of the state.   So we wonder:  If that is true (and we are by no means convinced it is), why are the three branches of Idaho’s government so unwilling and unable to pass and enforce and uphold laws that correct the “Coeur d’Alene problem” while still preserving the parts of the laws that appear to be working just fine elsewhere?

Here We Have Idaho:  Esto perpetua corruptam




  1. I agree with your sentiments. Here are some additional thoughts:

    If the URA board is elected, Idaho Statutes should also be modified to remove the clause that allows the government body, i.e. City Council, to serve as the board. Further, the code should be modified so that the URA board could serve in no other elected capacity, aside from Princinctman.

    I have stated in the Press that I would like the Council to take over the URA. I will continue to push for that goal as it’s legal. My purpose would be this:

    1) Dismiss the current board.
    2) Draw up a new, specific URD plan with defined goals and clearly-stated public benefits.
    3) Find a new board to implement the plan. Keep the membership low and remove any elected officials.

    The thought of serving on both a URA board and Council is unsettling to me, so my hope would be to complete objectives 1 and 2 quickly and then help appoint a new board to implement the plan.

    I understand that my approach fails to address the accountability issue, as the appointed board can still trash the established plan and perform arbitrarily, like LCDC. Until we address the code for issues like term length and removing the clause that states (I kid you not) “the [plan] may be modified at any time” that’s a job for the legislature.

    Comment by Dan Gookin — September 5, 2015 @ 8:00 am

  2. Dan,

    Good points.

    Frankly, it had not occurred to me until you mentioned it, but an honest mayor and council might recognize the defects in the existing appointed URA board. The mayor and council could pour salt on the slug URA Commission, assume the duties of URA Commission as provided by law, draw up a real plan, then pass an ordinance to reappoint a new URA board to administer the new plan.

    But difficult as it would be, I still like the idea of letting the public elect the URA’s Commissioners. That process would help define the duties and authority of the URA and its commissioners, and it would let the public decide for itself if the candidates have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and integrity to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of the position. Given the legislated autonomy of the URA and its commissioners from the governing body that created them, I think voter scrutiny is important.

    Comment by Bill — September 5, 2015 @ 8:15 am

  3. Hi Bill and Dan, Yes, let’s elect the board because the other thing it will do, in addition to what’s been listed above, is it will promote, motivate and entreat the public, at least those who vote, to become more aware of and knowledgeable about urban renewal.

    Someone commented to me that these boards need highly skilled people in the areas of finance, development, urban planning, etc., and those people might not be willing to stand for election. We don’t need those folks on the board if they aren’t willing to be accountable. What we need are honest citizens with decent backgrounds in making good decisions who are willing to ask questions and represent the community. The experts can come testify before the committee and share their knowledge, just like in the legislature, the city council, planning & zoning, etc.

    Comment by mary — September 8, 2015 @ 9:44 am

  4. Mary,

    Assuming the person’s comment about needing highly skilled people might be valid, then who if not the voters will make the determination that the applicant/candidate has the necessary skills?

    For that matter, who in CdA has prepared a formal job description that would help a prospective applicant/candidate know what the job requires? The same formal job description would then help anyone, voters or Berns-o-matic, to assess the applicant/candidate’s qualifications objectively and accurately.

    Elections should serve as a reality check, a reminder to any official that his primary duty is to uphold the law and serve the public interest. If he fails to perform his duty, he can be removed by the electorate. Ask Dan English about the consequences of failing to perform the duties required of a public official.

    Comment by Bill — September 8, 2015 @ 5:13 pm

  5. Why not dissolve the URD here altogether? Put up a city vote for anything over a certain dollar amount that needs to be subsidized by the city taxpayer or better yet, rebate it back to the taxpayers. Anything under the cap, could be passed by the Council, for instance the flower baskets. I have never understood why our legislature had to pass this needed shadow government for ‘alleged’ blight in the first place, unless they just wanted all the extra money to go into their favorite visions and of course the control of the money. It appears to me, that we have so much money these days, that we do not know what to do with it all, so we need these extra people to spend it. I don’t think an elected board will make any difference. Let the people vote on the projects and a board to oversee what needs to go before the public. The board can be appointed and payment for their time and effort would be appropriate, passed by the Council. There appears to be plenty of money, so I don’t see a huge problem with allowing the public to vote on major projects over a certain amount.

    Comment by Stebbijo — September 8, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

  6. I agree with Stebbijo. Substituting one shadow government for another solves nothing.

    Comment by Susie Snedaker — September 8, 2015 @ 10:08 pm

  7. It had always been my belief that a URD is established to help blighted areas of a city, not a back door bank account for special friends. What I have seen before here was that a need would be discovered, a plan to correct established, and then a URD formed to see it through, the key word here is “plan”. Some of the problems I see as Joe citizen is our little Coeur d’Alene bank is not only doing, but bragging about spending taxpayer money on a non taxpaying entity like Kroc Church then spending taxpayer money on a PR firm and unneeded nonsense name change. I don’t think having an elected URD is a good idea but having any URD under the control of the full elected council and not just a mayor that joins the club might help.

    Comment by Mike Teague — September 9, 2015 @ 8:47 am

  8. Mike,

    Our mostly clueless legislators back in time liked the word “blight” because it was not defined in the law. “Blight” was whatever the local customers of the First Unregulated Bank of Idaho wanted it to be in order to site urban renewal projects just outside the statutory boundaries of personal pecuniary benefit.

    Since then, our three branches of state government have bought into the sales pitch of Boise attorney Ryan Armbruster who asserts to NPR “The ability to implement tax increment financing is the only local economic development tool that’s available.” In the real world the various pro-business groups in the state (Chamber of Commerce, IACI, etc.) ought to have been grossly offended at Armbruster’s assertion that Idaho’s business people are too stupid to produce positive results without government financial support. Were they offended? No and in fact in Coeur d’Alene, they lined up to be next in line at the trough.

    For the reasons I outlined in my post, I disagree that the urban renewal board of commissioners ought to also be the city council.

    Comment by Bill — September 10, 2015 @ 10:28 am

  9. Then, the only option at least to me, is to get rid of it all together. Dissolving one URD and creating another is not an option, anymore. We are just moving the money and selecting a new board to play with all of our money and the public are the pawns. Why we would need to have two elected entities to control and disperse money is ludicrous. Above all, we should not have to pay for flower baskets, I rescind my previous option/post, (I was attempting to be diplomatic) we should move to get rid of all URD in this area and lower taxes. Voting for an URD or new board is ludicrous, it’s like swapping out snake oil for new snake oil with a new pitch. I cannot support an elected URD, it will never fly, doesn’t even pass the smell test. Just fire the entire concept. URD is just pretty rhetoric that steals taxpayer money, legally. It is a horrific example of legislative exploitation.

    Comment by Stebbijo — September 10, 2015 @ 6:55 pm

  10. Stebbijo,

    I’d agree that to whatever extent the URA serves some beneficial purpose, that is also an admission our elected officials and (allegedly) civic business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce are not performing the duties expected by their respective constituencies.

    My opinion is that the urban renewal and economic development laws are little more than a vehicle to churn money, spread it between lenders, to boost their interest income while at the same time deceiving the citizenry with the illusion of economic progress.

    Comment by Bill — September 10, 2015 @ 7:03 pm

  11. Well after reading the posts here, it’s nice to know I’m not the only cynic. I agree with the notion that if it stinks or isn’t fulfilling its purpose then get rid of it.

    Comment by JSmetal — September 14, 2015 @ 7:18 am

  12. JSMetal,

    An urban renewal agency isn’t a privately-run business that depends on the public’s business and good will for success. It has no customers in the traditional sense. Advertising adds no value to the agency. Paying for superfluous advertising is a further waste of the public money.

    The public, through our Legislature, has allowed the creation of urban renewal agencies to steward, not invest, the public money in clearly defined and specifically planned public projects with clearly definable objectives that benefit the public at large. Any urban renewal agency’s claims about the value of its participation in various projects need to be viewed very suspiciously when those claims come from the recipients of the public money and apparently require expensive public relations and advertising to “explain” that value to the public.

    Comment by Bill — September 14, 2015 @ 7:40 am

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