Monday, February 06, 2023

Elected to make tough decisions

| April 28, 2010 9:00 PM

Tell us it only seems this way.

That when an elected body finds a political potato too hot to handle, it resorts to one of two undesirable alternatives:

a. It will hire consultants at exorbitant cost to taxpayers.

b. It will suggest that a vote of the people is necessary.

The latter option is rarely employed. Coeur d'Alene wielded that club several years ago when local businessman and Press owner Duane Hagadone offered to build a $20 million community garden on his property downtown but insisted that a section of street be closed to motor traffic. Hot potato alert: The City Council said a non-binding public vote would be needed, and Hagadone, concerned that the vote on his proposal would hurt concurrent public safety and library levies, withdrew the offer.

The consultant option is much more common. In fact, going back more than a decade, just figuring out what to do with McEuen Field has kept armies of consultants gainfully employed at a cost of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Hot potato alert: That sum is about to grow again.

The city and its urban renewal agency plan to pitch in and spend six figures for a conceptual design of the field, an underutilized gem on a staggeringly valuable chunk of land bordering another staggeringly valuable chunk of land serving as a public parking lot just east of The Coeur d'Alene Resort. This latest contribution to the consulting profession is expected to net attractive renderings of what the new McEuen might look like.

We know voters can't have it both ways. You cannot choose people to manage your city and its resources and then, when they do something you don't like, demand that they put that one issue up to a public vote. You elect them to make the hard decisions, and if they don't, you fire them in the next election. If this concept were ever consistently embraced, maybe elected officials would be slightly more daring in making tough decisions and living with the consequences.

But the way it seems? It seems like elected officials who might be even more gun-shy than usual will spend money needlessly to shift at least some of the responsibility for potentially unpopular decisions on others. And that's a waste of the public's trust, not just its dollars.

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