COEUR d'ALENE - A group of Coeur d'Alene citizens is launching a recall drive against the council members who have supported the McEuen Field conceptual plan.
The group, RecallCdA, will seek enough signatures from registered voters to recall council members Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander and Mayor Sandi Bloem.
"I think we've done enough talking," Frank Orzell, an organizer of the group, told The Press Tuesday. "I think the McEuen Park is kind of the last straw - the straw that broke the camel's back. The denial of the (public) advisory vote and the subsequent election really hit a lot of people. One of the messages that sent out was, 'We don't care what you think.'"
Orzell said he will deliver 20 signatures, the amount required to begin each recall petition, to the City Clerk's office at 10 this morning.
Once the office approves the petition form, RecallCdA will have 75 days to collect signatures from 20 percent of the registered voters during the last election to put the recall vote on the ballot this November. Only petitions signed by registered voters who are Coeur d'Alene residents will be considered valid.
The targeted council members, whose terms all would have just one year remaining by this November, said news of the recall didn't come as a shock since they had heard rumors about one, but they stood by their votes to approve the McEuen Field conceptual plan as it has moved forward.
"I disagree that we haven't listened to the public. We've compromised on a lot of the issues," Bloem said on the downtown park plan whose first phase originally was to cost $28 million, but has dropped to $14 million after some amenities were taken off, and others, like the boat launch, were left on. "We're still listening, and we'll always be listening. There are some people that think we are not listening because we choose not to do something their way. I understand that, that's fine, but I don't agree with that."
Orzell declined to disclose other members involved in the drive.
To make the Nov. 6 ballot, recall supporters must gather a substantial number of valid signatures. The total number of registered Coeur d'Alene voters in 2011, the last election, was 21,554. There will be a separate petition for each of the four candidates, and each petition would have to collect 4,311 signatures. The Kootenai County Clerk will verify signatures.
If it gets that far, the outcome of the recall vote must not only be a majority, but each incumbent must receive more votes in support of a recall than the incumbent received votes during their last election.
In 2009, each of the four candidates won re-election. Kennedy earned 3,162 votes, McEvers 3,280, Goodlander 3,146, and Bloem earned 3,955.
Goodlander, as the other incumbents agreed, said citizens have the right to organize the drive.
"People got to do what they think is right," she said in reaction to the news. "I truly believe we're doing the right thing. You don't vote based on if you're going to get elected or not. You vote if you believe in what you're doing. In this case, I voted because I believe we needed to change McEuen park."
The proposal to overhaul McEuen Field has been a polarizing topic in Coeur d'Alene for decades. But it gained steam, not only in Coeur d'Alene but Kootenai County, ever since city officials proposed a long-term, multi-million dollar conceptual plan more than a year ago.
A press release Orzell shared with The Press states the incumbents have "failed to represent the voice of the community in their excessive spending of taxpayer monies. Included in the list of examples being cited by voters across the city are the approval of a $39 million plan for McEuen Park, excessive salaries for city employees and a growing list of other projects..."
Left off the recall list is council member Ron Edinger. He has sided with four incumbents on several other city issues, such as city salaries, but not McEuen Field. Edinger has voted against everything tied directly or indirectly to McEuen Field, including the city's fiscal year budget because it allocated money toward replacement facilities tied to McEuen Field, such as land for a possible baseball stadium at Cherry Hill Park.
Orzell said Edinger had opposed other city issues as well, and added the recall wasn't a political attack, rather a nonpartisan effort in reaction to concerns he has heard about the park planning process. Those concerns increased after the council voted Jan. 17 against issuing a public advisory vote on the fate of the downtown park. That vote took place during the second council meeting with new members Steve Adams and Dan Gookin, who won seats after campaigning on opposing the city's park planning process. Opponents pointed to election results as proof citizens were dissatisfied with the plan, and wanted their own say.
"If that's not classic denial," said Orzell, a resident of Coeur d'Alene for six years, "I don't know what is."
Proponents of the park have maintained the officials were responsible for making the tough decisions, especially one that has been talked about for decades and was a primary reason the city's urban renewal agency, Lake City Development Corp., was formed.
LCDC has pledged to fund $11.5 million for the project. The urban renewal boundary in which McEuen Field sits expires in less than 10 years. The encroaching sunset date is one of the reasons officials put the park plan into action. The final cost of the project, originally estimated to be up to $39 million with replacement facilities included, is too far out to pinpoint, they said, as the conceptual plan could take years to build out, using a variety of funding sources, grants or donations.
"This is obviously one of the biggest (issues) we've had" as a council, Kennedy said. "You just keep pressing on and doing the best job you can.
"Frank is entitled to do what he's doing," he added.
Orzell, a management consultant, has been politically active in several city issues recently. He has addressed the City Council about his various concerns at meetings and by writing opinion pieces in The Press. He met with Bloem on a couple of occasions to offer his help free of charge in regards to the McEuen Field project, he said. He said he did so to help bridge a growing rift over the project. Bloem said fees weren't discussed during those meetings, but Orzell was not given any duties. Orzell also applied for LCDC's vacant board seat earlier this year, but was not selected. He said he did so to offer a different viewpoint on the board.
RecallCdA will have an office at 296 W. Sunset Ave., Suite 21, starting April 15. No paid staff are members of the group, Orzell said, but the political group Strategery did help out. Strategery is a campaign-based marketing firm headed by Kootenai County Reagan Republican members Ron Lahr and Jeff Ward, who supported seven municipal candidates - also Republicans - across Kootenai County during last November's election on grounds that municipal elections aren't nonpartisan elections. RecallCdA has a flier, but Orzell didn't say whether the campaign group designed it. Ward declined comment and Lahr did not return an email seeking comment.
While Orzell did not name anyone else involved in the drive, Mary Souza, another political activist who has opposed the McEuen plan, issued an online newsletter Tuesday afternoon shortly after Orzell talked with The Press.
"We, the people of CdA, now deem it necessary to reform our local government for our protection and benefit," she wrote, also calling for citizens to gather in front of City Hall at 9:30 this morning for a rally before recall filing paperwork is delivered.
"I don't know what to say," McEvers said on his reaction to the news. "If they feel that strongly ... what am I going to say to change their minds?"