COEUR d'ALENE - Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene, is looking for answers concerning urban renewal district rebranding, saying she wants to ensure transparency and accountability in the process.
Souza and Sen. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, are members of the Idaho State Legislature's Urban Renewal Interim Committee, which met for the first time on Aug. 10.
During that meeting Souza said the attorney for Boise's urban renewal district, the Capital City Development Corp., brought up "ignite cda," which is the new name for Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal agency formerly known as the Lake City Development Corp.
Souza said she discussed what the agency was doing and another committee member, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, shared his experience with the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency contemplating changing its name.
Souza said Clow pointed to Idaho Code, which states that urban renewal agencies "are to be known as the urban renewal agency."
"I just thought I would check with Tony (Berns) on this," Souza said referring to a list of questions she sent to the executive director of ignite cda. "He will probably say that he is registered with the Secretary of State as the Coeur d'Alene Urban Renewal Agency."
The list of seven questions focuses on asking Berns to explain how the agency's new name meets the intent of Idaho Code, and how the new name communicates that ignite cda is Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal agency.
She also asked Berns to explain where the Idaho Code authorizes his agency to spend tax dollars on a public relations campaign and advertising the new name. She wants to know exactly how much is being spent on the campaign.
Souza also asked Berns to provide several details on the 1,400 jobs his agency claims to have partnered on.
"As a member of the Legislative Interim Committee to study Urban Renewal laws in Idaho, I am conducting research into your organization's recent name change and public relations campaign," Souza wrote in the letter to Berns. "Online ads, print ads, at least one billboard and several TV ads have all touted your agency's new name as well as 'partnering in 1400 jobs.'"
Berns said he sent the request to his legal counsel on Wednesday and asked them to craft some answers to the senator's questions.
Berns said he consulted with his legal advisers on the rebranding of the agency, and they raised "no red flags" concerning the new name. And while the agency has been advertising, Berns said he views that as communication and public education.
"We are just using a variety of venues to communicate who we are," Berns said. "We want to drive people to our website so they can learn more about who we are."
Berns said he expects to answer Souza's questions in a timely manner.
Souza said the interim committee is looking at Utah's urban renewal laws, which were recently revised to better define urban renewal in that state.
"Idaho is looking closely at that," she said, adding the committee cannot implement exactly what Utah did because of constitutional considerations.
However, she said, the committee is going to make several recommended changes to Idaho's urban renewal laws, and even some laws related to urban renewal.
"The issue is transparency, accountability and the use of taxpayer dollars," she said.
The interim committee will meet monthly through November before the next legislative session begins in January.