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HB217 not an attack on Boise library, stadium

I am so surprised that a leader of an organization like Idaho Smart Growth would profess and promote the idea of voting as undemocratic!

Voting — to elect our leaders, for public bonds and other issues — is enshrined in our Constitution. Public hearings, open communication and the magical “open and transparent process” are all there to keep elected officials in check and from forgetting whom they work for. The term Scot Oliver forgot to mention is called “checks and balances.”

“Boise Working Together, Inc.” the group of “prominent and progressive Boise residents,” represent a broad swath of Boise, both geographically and politically. They are neighborhood leaders, activists from Southeast Boise, the North End, Northwest Boise, Downtown and all over the Bench. Rep John Gannon initiated the group under one theme: the right to vote.

It is interesting to listen to the opposition from elected officials who rely on the vote when that same vote is used to rein them in, control their spending or to nudge them on path they need to take. Or, most of all, to remind them whom they work for. Never have I seen or heard of a candidate running for office, proclaiming, “Vote for me and forget about what I try to do or how I spend your money while in office.” Thank you, for providing a key issue to bring up in the next very important election cycle.

There are numerous underlying issues at play here. “Boise Working Together, Inc,” which I am part of, is NOT arguing for or against a new Main Library or Downtown sports or a stadium. Instead, we strongly feel that if these public, municipal projects, built “for the people” are right and correct for the people of Boise, they will  survive a vote. If they don’t, they obviously wouldn’t be the right projects for Boise, would they?

We are all familiar with the public bonding initiative process for schools, open space, fire stations and libraries. It works — some pass and others do not. The voters, whose money funds these projects, will have spoken either way. When our officials cleverly find and seek funding mechanisms that deliberately and openly remove the voter from the equation, while legal, it is not right or correct. It also calls motivation into question, doesn’t it? The Constitution is very clear in how and when municipal debt requires a public vote.

House Bill 217, currently on hold, per a Senate committee chairman’s prerogative, seeks to close loopholes in the urban renewal laws. Urban renewal was originally intended for areas of blight. It was intended to encourage private development while assisting in the construction of infrastructure. It was never intended to be a slush fund for development of high-end condominiums, hotels, or as a funding vehicle to circumvent the public vote.

The closure of these loopholes has been attempted before. Dave Frazier, Boise Guardian, filed a lawsuit against the City of Boise and the Greater Boise Auditorium District for this same reason. That lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court through numerous ruling and appeals. Also in 2016, a bipartisan legislative task force revised and revamped the urban renewal laws in an attempt to bring the various uses of urban renewal funds under control. Yet, here we are once again.

Either way you slice it, look at it or spin it, this about the public right to vote when vast amounts of money are being spent on public projects. It’s a simple concept: “Let’s Vote!” After all, it is our right, whether you like it or not.

Dave Kangas is a realtor with Silvercreek Realty, Boise and a founding members of Boise Working Together, Inc, a group gathering signatures to place Boise’s proposed downtown library and stadium on the November ballot. A Boise native, Kangas is past president of the Vista Neighborhood Association and has been active in the Boise community for years.

About Dave Kangas

One comment

  1. Dave … I’m sure you believe you are doing the right thing. There are, however, multiple problems with what you argue in your article:

    (1) This country, and most of its states and localities are based on “representative democracy” (not “direct democracy” where we vote on every issue, project, etc.) wherein people are elected to represent the people. We have elected representatives who have worked hard, under existing law, to bring quality projects (Stadium and Library, etc.) and now the opponents of what they have done want to change the law. This hamstrings future planning and prevents legally elected officials from doing their jobs.

    (2) These projects, the Stadium in particular, are not creating “slush funds for private developers.” That is not an honest characterization. The area where the Stadium is proposed is a broken-down, weed-infested, crumbling parking surface disaster. If it doesn’t qualify as “urban blight,” then I don’t know what does. The “infrastructure” that would be built for this project is the stadium. This would then support 2 privately owned and operated sports teams, community events, AND $70-100 million of completely private investment around the project. This is EXACTLY the type of project that urban renewal funds should be supporting.

    (3) You mentioned the Frazier/Boise Guardian lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court as if that somehow bolsters your position. What you failed to mention is that the Idaho Supreme Court UNANIMOUSLY voted in favor of Boise City/GBAD. The fact that the case made it to the Supremes doesn’t in any way argue for the merits of Frazier’s case.

    (4) Your article is filled with language and innuendo which characterizes the actions of Boise City, GBAD, etc. as trying to skirt the will of the people. This is not a fair characterization since they are working within the current confines of urban renewal statutes. In other words, they are simply following the law to do something they believe is good for the city – hardly nefarious.

    (5) Finally, Idaho’s super-majority and 55% thresholds skew the outcome of public votes toward the MINORITY opinion. There have been many votes in my time in this valley where the majority wanted something, but because the threshold is not a simple majority, the project did not pass.

    The reasons I’ve elucidated, and many others, are the reason why some see it as “dirty pool” to change existing law right as it is about to be used to build two worthy projects for this city.