COEUR d'ALENE - Spokesman Review columnist Doug Clark made no bones about it.
If his recap about Coeur d'Alene's last minute victory Saturday in the Mayor vs. Mayor Ring Off wasn't a verbal lashing, it was at least a highly raised eyebrow questioning Lake City ethics.
Shoddy math skills?
Coeur d'Alene Christian soldiers hell-bent on winning?
Clark thinks so, and wrote as much in his Tuesday column about the competition.
Clark headed the Spokane team's effort to raise money for the Salvation Army in a one-day horse race to see which city, Lake or Lilac, could raise the most for the nonprofit.
And victory, after the bells closed, seemed his -$4,718 to $4,390.
But word came Monday evening that Coeur d'Alene added a $5,000 check to its total, giving the Idaho side a last-minute victory.
That miffed Clark, who pounded out the print words to prove it.
"Had I only known just how bad these Coeur d'Alene Christian soldiers wanted to kick our asses, well, I might've opted for tooting my trumpet with the EWU band," he wrote.
The author of the $5,000 check, John Huckabay, saw Clark's column Tuesday and reassured the quick-witted scribe that everything over here was on the up and up.
No last minute kettle stuffs; no Chicago-style politics.
"He was having a good time, and I think that's wonderful," Huckabay told The Press Tuesday, the day Clark's column hit the newspaper and prompted an email conversation between Clark and the Coeur d'Alene resident. "I wanted to make sure he didn't think something slipped in under the radar."
How Huckabay puts it, the whole thing could have been avoided had he just dotted all his i's and crossed his t's.
Huckabay, a Coeur d'Alene resident since the early 1990s who made the donation on behalf of his Nevada-based Huckabay Foundation, didn't write out the check himself.
He donates to the Salvation Army every year, sometimes more, he said, and an assistant made out this year's Christmas check exactly like previous years. It said 'Disaster Relief' on it, which is how they usually make it out before donating.
"I never even looked at it before I got to the pot," he said. "It doesn't show much for my business skills."
Christy Markham, the Salvation Army's development director, didn't add the pledge to Lake City's total until they contacted Huckabay to double check where he wanted the money spent.
The answer came back: To Mayor Sandi Bloem's team of bell ringers.
But that piece of important information didn't get sorted out until the 11th hour. Or 12th.
Or 13th, if you ask Clark, who lined up a parade's worth of notables, musicians and media personalities to help him with the Spokane effort.
"Wow," Clark wrote. "I haven't seen such retroactive arithmetic since the hanging-chad presidential scandal of 2000."
Clark declined to be interviewed for this story. But both he and Huckabay either wrote or said that regardless of which way - or how - the counting went, the Salvation Army came out on top.
Huckabay admitted that he usually likes to keep a low profile and that the whole thing would have been avoided with a quick proof-read.
But there was a silver lining in the red kettle controversy.
"I'm happy," he said, "when the Salvation Army gets press."