Tuesday’s CdA Press headline shouted “Butting heads on branding”, with a photo of LCDC / ignite cda executive director Tony Berns right next to a picture of me. It was a bit overly dramatic, in my opinion, but did serve to get people’s attention.
The story stems from LCDC, our urban renewal agency in Coeur d’Alene, and their recent name change to ignite cda. This public agency, which is funded by property tax dollars, is spending and budgeting a total of $120,000 on this rebranding name change and public relations campaign. (They say it’s not public relations, it’s community outreach.)
As the State Senator from District 4, which is the entirety of Coeur d’Alene, and also as a member of the legislature’s new Interim Committee to study Urban Renewal in Idaho, I remain concerned about this use of public dollars.
Two weeks ago I wrote Tony Berns a letter, asking seven basic questions about the agency’s decision. The Press called me right away to ask if they could run an article about my letter and I agreed. You can read that lively piece here.
In the above-mentioned August 20th article, Tony Berns is quoted, saying he “sent the request to his legal counsel on Wednesday and asked them to craft some answers to the senator’s questions.”
Professionally crafted answers are what we got back, finally, after almost two weeks. I wonder how much those cost? You can find the full version of my letter and ignite cda’s responses by clicking here then also click “Related Documents” on the side.
Tony sent a lot of words. He, through the efforts of his legal advisors and probably the public relations firm, all of whom are paid with taxpayer dollars, tried to defend the decision by the urban renewal board to spend $120,000 to improve their public image.
It appears that perhaps, despite the expensive defense by the agency’s attorneys and consultants, they are now making some small changes after my questions. Their website has a newly added subtitle under the “ignite cda” logo, which identifies it now as Coeur d’Alene’s urban renewal agency. And in an advertisement in today’s Press, they explain that the Kroc Center was funded by a $72 million dollar grant from the Kroc family, and that LCDC gave $535,000 (which is less than 1%). They also failed to mention the $4 million dollars provided by the City of CdA .
LCDC takes credit for the Kroc Center and the Library. The Kroc Center did not need LCDC, it would have been built anyway. It fails the “but for” test, which is this: But for urban renewal, would the project have been built? Yes, the Kroc Center would have been built. Yes, the Library also would have been built without urban renewal—remember, we voted to approve a public bond for the library.
We want the responsible use of the public’s money by this public agency. What we really need from our urban renewal agency in Coeur d’Alene is honesty and accountability.
Here’s my advice: Ditch the new name and logo, cancel the PR contract, return to the original name of Coeur d’Alene Urban Renewal Agency. Get rid of the paid consultants, lobbyists and the overpaid executive director position. Hire a manager and a clerical assistant and let’s have the board members stand for public election. We can even pay them a small fee for their time, which would place them under a higher level of the Idaho Ethics law.
And on the legislative interim committee, we will work toward a clear, responsible, updated law with built-in limitations, supervision and accountability.
Here we have Idaho, a state full of good, hard working, responsible, honest people simply looking for their government’s public agencies to be the same.