COEUR d'ALENE - A large medical organization that wondered whether Coeur d'Alene was tolerant enough to host the culturally diverse group of professionals for its annual conference is close to booking the Lake City for 2015.
Western Orthopaedic Association President Dr. Ellen Raney told The Press Friday she is impressed with the amount of effort local entities have devoted to promoting racial and ethnic diversity across North Idaho after speaking with some of them in April.
So much so, she said, that an association subcommittee is recommending the WOA select Coeur d'Alene for its 2015 summer conference.
"I certainly didn't intend to cause such an uproar," said Raney, who sent a letter April 5 to Mayor Sandi Bloem - a letter that later went public - asking about local efforts to promote diversity amid concerns that Coeur d'Alene wouldn't be tolerant enough for the diverse group. "I figured there were efforts, I just wanted to know what they were."
After Bloem received the letter, which she spoke about at a Human Rights Education Institute banquet in April, Raney was contacted by Coeur d'Alene Resort General Manager and Coeur d'Alene chamber member Bill Reagan and Tom Carter, HREI director.
Raney said both conversations enlightened her on the amount of work that has been done to promote diversity, citing the foundation of the HREI, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, educational efforts and the bankruptcy of former Aryan Nation leader Richard Butler as well as the effort to turn Butler's former compound into a peace park.
"I was impressed," she said. "And I was impressed they both took the time to contact me personally."
She said the concerns the group had were primarily around Butler and North Idaho being home to the Aryan Compound more than a decade ago, and whether that movement still had footing in North Idaho.
Recent stories or allegations didn't prompt the concern, she said, although they did wonder if the perpetrator behind the 2011 attempted Martin Luther King Jr. parade bombing in Spokane had any ties to North Idaho. The convicted perpetrator, Kevin W. Harpham, lived in Addy, Wash. A Sept. 7, 2011, Los Angeles Times report of the attempted bombing described the Pacific Northwest as a growing hotbed for white supremacy, and mentioned Coeur d'Alene.
"That was our misinformation," Raney said.
The WOA has around 1,000 members, all licensed medical or osteopathic doctors. Its annual weeklong gathering should be attended by 450-600 people, according to the letter Raney sent.
Carter called news of the possible booking "outstanding."
"I was pretty sure they were happy, they were excited about everything we talked about," he said. "We work on human rights here every day and not a lot of cities do that. And we have a lot of different entities that work on that every day in Coeur d'Alene. And we're very proud of that."
Incidentally, WOA president-in-waiting, Dr. Paul Collins, of Boise, was in Coeur d'Alene April 24 when the Press story on the WOA letter was published.
"He found the area to be wonderful and accepting," Raney said. "He certainly thought it would be an appropriate spot."