COEUR d'ALENE - It's over.
The recall effort against four city incumbents failed Monday, officially ending a two-month petition drive that sought the seats of Coeur d'Alene City Council members Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander and Mayor Sandi Bloem.
After the Kootenai County Elections Department certified the signatures over the last week, and City Clerk Susan Weathers calculated the final numbers Monday, each petition fell between 185 and 251 certified signatures short of the 4,311 signature benchmark required to prompt a recall election.
"I now declare this recall process closed," Weathers said at a press conference announcing the outcome.
Around two dozen people, including media outlets, attended the press conference in the Old Council Chambers. None of the incumbents were there, but applause broke out as Weathers read each incumbent's final signature total in front of attendees and television cameras.
"It's an affirmation of the fact that the majority of people do support these four people and what they're doing, and we do believe they deserve to keep doing the jobs they were elected to do," said Jennifer Drake, co-organizer of Stop The Recall, the citizen group which opposed the recall effort after it was launched April 5. "They've done great things for the community and they have such a strong support system behind them."
While the official declaration came late Monday, word that the effort was going to fail began circulating Coeur d'Alene Saturday afternoon after the Elections Department stated that signature rejection rate on the petitions was around 24 percent. The rejection rate needed to stay under 20 percent, and early Monday the office said the certification work was complete, with the rejection rate finishing at 23 percent.
"This isn't a victory celebration," Bloem said, at her store, Johannes and Co., after learning of the official outcome. "It's difficult it happened. I think anyone can say it's been difficult and tough, no matter what your view is on the recall. One has to look at what has happened and say, 'What have we learned from this? What is positive out of this?' And I do think there are some positives. One is, I think a lot more people were engaged and tried to know the facts and tried to know what's going on and listening to both sides and getting involved. And particularly with younger people, I saw. And the community needs that. In order to be more healthy, we need to be more engaged."
How the community moves forward after such a politically tense time is yet to play out.
The incumbents echoed a statement by Bloem that people from all sides of the political fence need to come together to move the city forward. That can be with more communication, and a better job by the city at getting its message out to avoid rifts some felt were started by the spread of misinformation, they said.
"Frankly, we can improve city communication, and we need to," Kennedy said.
Each of the four petitions had roughly 4,000 signatures, more signatures than the number of votes each incumbent received in 2009 to earn their seats, which were between roughly 3,100 and 3,900.
"There are a lot of people unhappy enough to sign a recall petition," Kennedy said. "Obviously the city needs to improve our communication, and improve how we get fair and accurate information out in the face of a lot of contention."
Frank Orzell, RecallCdA organizer who attended the press conference, conceded the results, and said the next time the voters will have a chance to express their views will be during the city's next general election in November 2013. He added that he doesn't have any plans to pursue litigation, addressing rumors circulated online that the results might hit the courts.
"Once again, the voters of Coeur d'Alene are denied a public vote," a statement issued by Orzell read. "It is with great sadness and disappointment that I concede ... For now."
He thanked the supporters and volunteers who petitioned on RecallCdA's behalf, and agreed that people need to work together moving forward. Idaho code says a failed petition drive cannot be brought forward against the same targeted incumbent for 90 days, but Orzell's statement made clear that November 2013 would be the time for the next active effort.
"Healing demands healing from both sides and a willingness from both sides," Orzell said on moving forward. "And there are sides."
Just over two months ago, RecallCdA launched the recall effort at City Hall under snowfall and cheers from supporters. Afterward, the group was organized and visible soliciting signatures across town. Last week, the group turned in around 5,300 signatures on each incumbent's petition. But 23 percent of those signatures were rejected for not being certified registered Coeur d'Alene voters - a requirement to count on the final tally.
They were rejected, according to Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes, a Republican, because the names simply didn't appear on the state voter registration list that Hayes's team used to check the signatures.
The incumbents were targeted largely for their support of the estimated $14.2 million McEuen Field development plan, and their lack of support for a public advisory vote before or after adopting the park's conceptual plan over a year ago.
"I do not apologize for what we have done in trying to bring the voice of democracy to the community," Orzell's statement said. "We did what we could and we are proud of our accomplishments."
In the end, 4,073 certified signatures marked Goodlander's petition, 4,077 on Kennedy's, 4,060 on McEvers' and 4,126 certified voters signed Bloem's, closing a final chapter in the highly publicized drive. McEvers could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
"I think we can take a breath," Goodlander said. "I just believed strongly in the city and in the community and I didn't feel like they would get the (signatures), and they didn't ... If nothing else, this has in some ways galvanized this community."
"I feel like two and half years ago I ran for office and I was elected for four years to do the best job I knew how to do and that's what I get to do," Bloem said. "I get to finish my four years and finish the job I was elected to do."