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A great deal of our conservation work in North Idaho depends on attending long boring meetings. We know that people have actual lives, and that going to long boring meetings is not something that most people enjoy. Unfortunately, though, that’s often where work gets done, deals get made, and progress can happen. That’s why we go.

On the other hand, there are a lot of meetings where nothing gets done, nothing happens, and progress is not even part of the mindset. The Bonner County Property Rights Council meeting on November 7th was one of those meetings.

Mercifully short by some local standards, the meeting was still a bit more than an hour of valuable time lost to pointless local bureaucracy. The Bonner County Property Rights Council is a controversial and ideological advisory group established by the County Commissioners to review property rights issues in the County.

On the Council’s substantive agenda were “reports” to be presented regarding their review of County’s watershed protection ordinance and regarding a property owner with a wetlands issue.  As it turns out, the Council’s report for both agenda items was that there was no report at all.

Instead, the Council spent most of its meeting time addressing deficiencies in its bylaws as directed by a recent letter from the Idaho Attorney General. Responding to the AG’s criticism, the Council agreed to place provisions in its bylaws to abide by Idaho law when it comes to public records and open meetings – laws that apply to the Council regardless what their bylaws might say. Also responding to the AG letter, the Council removed a problematic provision in their bylaws that required an oath to be faithful to “free market” and “property rights” principles in order to participate. Instead, participants must now “commit” to such principles. Whatever that means.

And finally, the Council magnanimously agreed to allow “all points of view” to be heard in public comment at Council meetings. But limited to three minutes per person. Because, heaven forbid, the Council wastes people’s time.

 

 

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With increasingly critical attention being paid to Bonner County’s new “Property Rights Council,” the Council is getting defensive. Although paying little attention to actually publishing timely meeting minutes and agendas, the Council has published a new link on its website dedicated to “Media Errors & Omissions.”

First, the Property Rights Council takes issue with a widely published AP story noting the hiring of tea party favorite Pam Stout to administer the new program. The “Media Errors & Omissions” posting notes:

Recent media reports have concluded that the Paralegal Program Manager is utilized exclusively and permanently for PRC work.  This is false. The Paralegal Program Manager is only temporarily being used exclusively for PRC work. This is especially necessary during the initial formation and establishment of the PRC.

Notably not in error is that the occupant of the “Paralegal Program Manager” position has no paralegal training.  Also, notably not in error is the salary of $25,000 for the new 19 hours-per-week position —  a salary well above the going rate in Idaho for trained paralegals.

Second, the Property Rights Council denies that particular programs are being targeted. “Media Errors and Omissions” states:

In an October 14th 2011 AP article, John Miller paraphrases Pam Stout when he states: “Their first tasks include figuring out how to jettison the historical society, extension agency and county fairgrounds from taxpayer support, Stout said”. Pam Stout denies making such a statement and no such item has been placed on the PRC Agenda.

Yet, the linked-to “correction” in the Sacramento Bee only clarifies:

The story also reported the council was attempting to remove taxpayer support from the county extension, the fairgrounds and the historical society. It is looking for ways to replace taxpayer support with user fees.

The fine-point about user fees notwithstanding, unfortunately what has been placed on the PRC agenda (pdf) is the County’s watershed ordinance and whether to “interpose” in an ongoing dispute between a property owner and the EPA (whatever that means). All this before the Council even has approved bylaws under which it will operate.

We are certainly very concerned about what the PRC means for the few environmental protections that currently exist in Bonner County. But we are also very concerned that this inept, one-sided, and ideologically-driven bureaucracy is taking Bonner County far out of the mainstream as to what constitutes good basic local government. From phone calls and emails to our office, a growing number of Bonner County citizens share our concerns. Indeed, instead of concerning itself with “Media Errors and Omissions,” Bonner County should re-evaluate the errors and omissions coming from their own PRC.

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Unelected bureaucrats, creating rules and regulations, running an extreme agenda in a government agency on the taxpayer’s dime. We’re talking the Tea Party’s view of EPA, right?  Nope. We’re talking about the Tea Party itself in Bonner County.

Bonner County’s “Property Rights Council” is meeting tonight (a lengthy pdf agenda here) in Sandpoint. It is a new creature of Bonner County government with big plans “to review county government activities and inter-governmental activities to determine whether they may cause adverse impacts to private property rights.” Pam Stout, a Tea Party favorite – she was on David Letterman’s show last year – was recently hired by the County to run the new council.

The Council’s preliminary plans, posted on the Bonner County website, are elaborate and expansive, and borderline incoherent. Evidently, the Council will set up “review committees” to do legal research, hold hearings and meetings, and generate “Property Rights Impact Statements.”

The Council has also set up an online discussion group “to discuss a broad array of county relevant property rights issues utilizing market-oriented resources.” But in order to participate as a member of the Council, a Review Committee, or even the discussion group, ideological “free market and property rights” orientation and training will be necessary. Seriously.

For example, Councilors, whatever they are, are required to get a special certification:

PRC councilors must complete all stages of certification required of County resident volunteers as a condition of ongoing council membership. This ongoing requirement ensures that PRC councilors meet the same high standards as the volunteers assisting them.  This requirement helps PRC councilors demonstrate their commitment to free-markets and private property rights. (emphasis added.)

The Council has promised to use expert advise from “free market think tanks” with a helpful link to the far-right State Policy Network and a list of “property rights and free market concepts” we can only assume would be part of the certification process.

KEA has sent a public records request to this new arm of Bonner County Government asking for budget information and the legal authority for the Council. We’ll let you know what we find out.

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As the economic crisis in Europe gets closer to the brink of disaster, as the housing and mortgage mess shows no sign of resolution, as political gridlock messes with the country’s credit rating, this is what we get from leadership in Congress:

Which is, of course, nonsense.

Indeed, the rhetoric about EPA regulation from our Idaho representation is increasingly over the top. (Really, Senator Risch? The EPA is like the Gestapo?) We get that there are ideological differences. We are perfectly aware of the onslaught of anti-environment legislation being proposed in this Congress. We’d just prefer that the debate remain fact-based and on the merits, however.

 

 

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Many of you got the franked mailing from Raul Labrador announcing tonight’s first public town meeting in Coeur d’Alene since being elected to Congress last fall. The meeting comes just as the U.S. House of Representatives, under new GOP leadership, passed a contentious version of a continuing resolution to keep funding the government.

We’re looking forward to the meeting, because we think there’s some explanation that Raul owes his Northern Idaho constituents. We certainly understand the need to cut the budget, and we understand the mood of the electorate last fall signaled that direction for Congress. What we don’t understand is the collateral attacks on environmental protection that have very little to do with the budget deficit.

For example, how is the budget deficit served by refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act for mercury pollution from cement kilns? Most of Idaho’s waterways have a mercury pollution problem severe enough that deserve fish consumption advisories are probably warranted. With Idaho leadership, we recently took a step forward by regulating mercury emissions in gold-processing facilities, now, nationally, we take two steps back.

More broadly, how is the budget deficit served by not enforcing the Clean Water Act in the Chesapeake Bay? Or in Florida? Or allowing coal burning power plants to dump into waterways? Or allowing arctic drilling without any environmental oversight? Or prohibiting enforcement of the Travel Management Rule in National Forests? Blocking stream buffer rules in the Office of Surface Mining? Applying the Clean Water Act in mining permits?

Like we said, we get the need to cut the budget. We don’t get the need to deregulate industry by budget votes in the middle of the night. We wonder if Congressman Labrador will provide an explanation.

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I’m heading out of town for some mid-winter sunshine (I hope) and the blogging will be light, if at all, this week. Meanwhile, ponder some of this stuff coming out of Washington DC. The House GOP has some truly devastating cuts for environmental protection planned. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson chairs the subcommittee that will inflict the damage.

Newt Gingrich wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. The House GOP budget proposal does it for him. — NRDC here and here.

The budget cuts funds for grants to state and local entities for clean drinking water and sewer construction projects. — NRDC

The proposed budget would be devastating for species protection efforts. — NRDC (Including wolves)

BLM’s effort to manage wild lands? That’s not happening either. — Idaho Statesman (See also Idaho Reporter on the state legislature’s nullification fetish extending to the BLM.)

 

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Voting on Tuesday

As we’ve said before, we’ve made a pact with the IRS to be utterly and completely non-partisan and therefore we cannot take sides in campaigns for political office.  Still, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the mechanics of the upcoming primary election, so we thought we’d pass along this information we received today from Conservation Voters for Idaho:

Several races will be decided in Tuesday’s election, so it is important to cast your vote in the Primary Election, as well as the General Election in November.

You can register to vote in person at your polling place by showing a current and valid photo ID or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows your name and address.
See www.IdahoVotes.Gov for information.

Please note: Idaho does NOT have party registration, you can vote either the Republican or the Democratic ballot–but not both! You will receive both ballots when voting and if you mark choices on both ballots your vote will be disqualified.

We’re told, by the way, that Idaho’s same-day voter registration law has its origins in the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano.  The registration deadline, evidently, came as people were hunkered down in their houses because of the ash, so officials decided to extend the deadline to election day. UPDATE: We don’t think this is true. See comment below.)

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