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Holidays are not slowing the rightward march of the Bonner County Property Rights Council. Monday night, the controversial Property Rights Council is sponsoring a “public seminar” on “The Theoretical Basis for a Property Rights Council.” The featured speaker is Sandpoint-based James L. Payne. Mr. Payne is a frequent contributor to the polluter-friendly and Koch-connected Independent Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education. It is unclear how this seminar got officially scheduled — the PRC meeting scheduled for last week was cancelled and prior meetings made no mention of the seminar.

Mr. Payne’s anti-government views are not exactly mainstream.  For example, he is critical of government spending, sure. But he’s even opposed to FEMA and government-supported disaster aid. (“The private sector can and does address all of these issues.”)  He is sharply critical of environmental regulations, sure.  But he’s opposed to regulations designed to prevent major environmental “catastrophes” like the gulf oil spill.  Instead, Payne concludes, “In the final analysis, overcoming environmental abuse is not likely to be achieved by governmental dictation. Instead, it is a process of social learning that includes everyone: friends and neighbors, reporters, pamphleteers, teachers, researchers—and companies too, as they discover how pollution hurts their image and their bottom line.”  Yeah. That’ll work.

Meanwhile, check out yet another article exposing the Bonner County Property Rights Council. This one from Boise Weekly.

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In the portion of its website labeled “Media Reports Including Errors and Omissions,” the Bonner County Property Rights Council cites a flattering statement from the “National Association of Rural Land Owners.”

“Bonner County, ID is serious about protecting Property Rights. Every County and City in America can learn from this new, innovative approach to protecting property rights. They are just getting started but they have the right idea!”

High praise indeed. But who is this impressive National Association? The organization is not listed as a charity with the IRS and is evidently too small to be required to register as a charity with the State of Washington. Indeed, it appears to be simply one of several websites for the right-wing ranting of a single individual in western Washington.

Meanwhile, not listed in the PRC’s media clippings is a superb article from Trish Gannon at the River Journal. For anyone interested in the Bonner County Property Rights Council, we suggest starting with the River Journal article before taking the recommendation of an ideologue from Issaquah.

UPDATE 11/26/11: The “Media Reports” portion of the PRC website is no longer available from the PRC’s homepage, but the link above still works.

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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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Well, it seems we’ve touched a nerve over at the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation. They are NOT pleased with our recent blog posting about the Priest Lake wetland case. Pacific Legal Foundation represents the Sacketts in their procedural fight with the EPA.

Of course, the “PLF Liberty Blog” doesn’t really take issue with our analysis. Mostly they are critical of our lack of outrage over the EPA’s use of their Clean Water Act authority. And they are critical of our emphasis on the procedural nuance lost in the broadly anti-EPA Fox News coverage.

So, to be fair we will officially admit it — we’re as ideologically-driven as they are.  But our outrage is more typically reserved for people who bulldoze wetlands without a permit.  As we wrote in our posting, the U.S. Supreme Court will tell us only how the wetland issue will get decided under the Clean Water Act.  Which is why we will reserve our outrage until a Court weighs the evidence on both sides.

 

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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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Just as Kootenai County gets on with the long-overdue business of re-writing the dysfunctional land use codes, the chronic malcontents have indeed crawled out from under their rocks to wail about their property rights and to attempt to derail an important process. Unfortunately, their lack of concern for everyone else’s property rights illustrates how misguided they actually are.

In a hysterical email that was widely circulated, several local residents are stirring up opposition to the County code revision process. The email opens with:

“If you care about Freedom and Property Rights and you live in Kootenai County, WAKE UP!”

And in the Coeur d’Alene Press article about the controversy, local representative Kathy Sims is quoted as saying “We’ve got to be very, very careful we don’t lose our private property rights.”

The problem is that what I am allowed to do on my property needs to be balanced with the impacts I have on yours. Indeed, your property values are probably protected by reasonable restrictions on my property rights.

In fact, land use planning and land use codes are actually required by state law in Idaho. It is not an option for our County Commissioners. The fact that they are taking the job very seriously and inviting a broad spectrum input is healthy and wise.

The advisory committee formed by the Commissioners for the code-drafting process is heavily weighted toward the business and development community, with advisers representing builders, realtors, developers, planners, land use lawyers, the local Chambers of Commerce, and even the so-called Citizens for Balance – a group that fought hard for a slack comprehensive plan. These business representatives are well-equipped to defend property rights in the code-writing process.

But they also recognize that this process needs to be followed to completion. Property rights – both yours and mine – are better protected with clarity and certainty in our land use laws. The current patchwork of laws, many of which date back to the 1970s, are utterly unclear and hopelessly uncertain. We need to fix our codes, we are required by Idaho law to do it, we have a process underway, and constructive input will be very important. But hysterical claims of property rights violations are decidedly not helpful to anyone. Rep. Kathy Sims, in particular, should know better.

 

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