COEUR d'ALENE - A Coeur d'Alene City Councilman defended his neutral position Tuesday, despite believing some in City Hall want him to take a stand on the recall issue.
The city said that's not the case.
Any city employee or committee member may become involved in the recall effort - or its counter movement - so long as it's done on their personal time, City Administrator Wendy Gabriel said.
And that includes criticizing council members publicly.
"If they want to be involved, they have a right to," Gabriel said Tuesday. "As long as they're not interfering with city business or using city resources."
The issue stems from a Press letter to the editor from the city's Arts Commission chair, Eden Irgens, published April 13, that described Councilman Dan Gookin's relationship to some people tied to the recall group, RecallCdA.
The letter points out that Gookin - who has said he wants to remain neutral during the recall - was a founder of Opencda.com. The website "tends to oppose the current administration" in Gookin's words, and its other founders are actively involved in the recall effort.
"This is evidence he is clearly taking sides," Irgens wrote in her letter about Gookin. "After reading this, I ask you, citizens of Coeur d'Alene, do you trust him? I personally cannot trust him now."
After reading the letter, Gookin emailed Gabriel asking what the policy was on city representatives publicly criticizing council members.
"While I do not believe we have the authority to dictate that position to our volunteers, I also believe it reflects badly on the City to have someone in a prominent volunteer position publicly criticize a Council member," he wrote.
Gabriel responded that it wouldn't be prudent for the city to crack down on people's opinions.
Jeff Connaway, she pointed out, is on the city's sign board, yet was one of the original 20 signatures on the recall petitions to oust City Council members Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers and Deanna Goodlander.
"Nobody, at least to my knowledge, challenged his right to do that," she said Tuesday.
Gookin said he was disappointed in the response, which he classified as "the other side does it, so we're going to too."
He said if committee members were vocal about supporting the recall, "you'd see a policy in 20 seconds."
He was upset that his email exchange with Gabriel was posted on an online blog Tuesday morning, though unaware how, which he felt was done to make him look bad.
"I believe I was set up," he said. "The anti-recall crowd wants to drive a wedge in this community."
The city, and its council, have fractured over the McEuen Field debate and the recall effort.
Recall supporters are circulating signs and seeking signatures on petitions, while opponents have created signs of their own while mailing fliers outlining why people shouldn't sign.
Computer animated videos about McEuen Field and the recall effort have been posted on YouTube.
Irgens said she was "stunned" about Gookin's reaction, which goes "against the very idea of transparency."
"Basically, I have no right to speak," she said of Gookin's stance.
Meanwhile, Gookin said he hasn't been a contributor to Opencda.com since he became a councilman. He said he stopped posting comments on any website, including Opencda.com, since the emotionally charged recall effort took foot two weeks ago.
The comments Irgens included in her Press letter to the editor that associated Gookin with the recall group were taken from Gookin's post on Opencda.com from March 24.
"If you want the LCDC gone, then elect me a mayor or two other conservative councilmen and I'd be happy to kill it," Gookin posted about Lake City Development Corp., the city's urban renewal agency that has pledged $11.5 million to pay for McEuen Field's reconstruction.
It was posted before the recall effort launched, but sounded tied to the effort to some because if the targeted incumbents are recalled, the remaining council members would eventually appoint a mayor who would then fill the rest of the vacated seats.
Gookin said the comment was about the relationship of the city and its urban renewal agency, and the scenario was hypothetical - not about a recall. He said it was an attempt to drag him into the recall.
"It's just the sideshow," he said. "All in all, I wish there were some adults in City Hall, because it doesn't look like there are."