All eyes on recall

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You have to be a Coeur d'Alene resident to sign petitions that could lead to booting four City Council members out of their jobs.

But you don't have to live in Coeur d'Alene to care about the outcome of this recall effort.

That's why interest - and emotions - are sky high throughout the county. A testament to Coeur d'Alene's place of prominence in all our hearts and minds is the fact that everyone around here feels some kinship - if not a sense of ownership - with the City by the Lake, even if our home addresses reflect otherwise.

By their very nature, recall efforts have the potential to rip communities apart. They are the last-ditch legal effort to remove duly elected public servants from office.

Recalls are more visceral than cerebral. They're fueled by anger, by frustration. To reach this point, supporters of a recall must conclude all other avenues of diplomacy have been traveled but the desired destination still has not been reached. And those opposing a recall resent the fact that the other side is working feverishly to invalidate their previous vote in a legally conducted general election.

Emotion and reason struggle to share the same space. The higher the emotion, the lower the reason - and the more fickle the outcome.

Our purpose today is not to pick sides in this fight but to define some Opinion page rules as the recall effort proceeds. And No. 1 is, facts rule - yes, even when it comes to opinions.

For instance, if a writer says the recall is spurred by the targets' decision to commit $39 million to McEuen Field improvements, we will send the letter back. Last May 24, the council approved a conceptual plan that could cost up to $39 million over many years, including the replacement facilities for a new boat launch, ball park and so on. That does not mean the council has agreed to spend $39 million. The actual amount the council has agreed to spend is $14.2 million - the amount approved for McEuen's Phase I earlier this year by the council on a 4-3 vote.

If a writer says the recall is nonpartisan, we'll honor that. Coeur d'Alene council seats are earned in nonpartisan races, so the political affiliation of any candidate could well be disputed. But if a writer says the only reason for the recall is the targets' support of pay raises for city employees during the recession, we will send that letter back with a note that one of the strongest proponents of the pay raises, Ron Edinger, is not a recall target. He presided over some of those big raises as council president.

If a writer says the city's urban renewal agency is committing $11.5 million to the project, we'll print it. It's a fact. If the writer says he thinks the agency has no business funding the changes, we'll respect that because it's clearly an opinion. But if we have a letter to the editor from an informed soul who notes that in 1997, Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal agency was created and publicly supported specifically to generate funds to improve McEuen Field, we'll go out of our way to publish that letter in the same edition because it is an absolute fact.

These pages will give priority between now and June 19, the petition deadline, to letters supporting and opposing the recall effort. To both sides, please, state your opinions passionately but support them with facts. An informed public is likely to do the right thing. An enflamed public is likely to implode.

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