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Post Falls leaders tackle conflict-of-interest claims

by ELLI GOLDMAN HILBERT
Staff Writer | August 1, 2021 1:06 AM

POST FALLS – Conflict of interest and Post Falls City Council aren't bedfellows.

They aren't even in the same house.

That's the assessment of Mayor Ron Jacobson, who responded to ongoing allegations of conflict of interest from some community members.

In matters of land use, a conflict of interest is clearly defined both for the projects and for council members themselves, he said.

Jacobson, who in his full-time job is Vice President of Bank CDA, said he has no financial stake in any of the recent annexations and land-use projects that have been approved by the Post Falls City Council.

Bank CDA, he said, is a small commercial bank that doesn't finance homes, let alone large housing developments.

“We do not make mortgage loans,” Jacobson said. “We do not finance acquisitions of development. We don’t do anything like that in Post Falls.”

Responding to accusations from city residents that members of the council receive financial kickbacks from projects they approve, Jacobson adamantly denied that there is any personal profit to be gained for himself or any other member of the council.

Council President Linda Wilhelm is an independently contracted Realtor for Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty. She's also a frequent target on the alleged kickback circuit.

“She has stated a number of times that she does not participate in new housing development sales,” said City administrator Shelly Enderud. “And she does not work for Schneidmiller Brothers construction.”

In the eyes of the council, Wilhelm has been nothing but professional and upright, Jacobson, Enderud and City Attorney Warren Wilson said.

In matters where even a perceived conflict of interest could exist, Wilson is consulted and the possibility is thoroughly examined.

“Councilwoman Wilhelm has recused herself on more items than anybody on council,” Jacobson said.

On July 6, a rezoning request was brought before the council by Kevin Schneidmiller of Schneidmiller Brothers Construction.

Speaking as a representative for Greenstone Homes, he presented his case leading to the rezoning of the property that will be developed into the North Place East subdivision.

The project wasn't widely embraced by some citizens. About 30 people who attended the meeting that night spoke out against it.

Jacobson explained that council members have clearly defined regulations to follow that are already in place. If a land-use applicant meets the criteria set forth in Idaho statutes, the project must be approved.

Projects are not hand-picked, approved or denied based on personal opinions of council members.

“Schneidmiller Brothers LLC is a different and distinct corporate entity from Coldwell Banker Schneidmiller Realty,” said Wilson.

In the North Place East case, it was the property owner who was applying for the zoning change.

Idaho statute 67-6506 explains that in matters of land use, it is not a conflict of interest unless the council member, their employer, a family member within the second-degree, a business partner or associate is directly receiving a financial payoff from a specific deal.

“If you just happen to be someone who lives in the community and has a job, that’s not a conflict,” said Wilson.

More people in the community does mean that more business services are consumed, but unless there is a direct financial gain by a council member, it isn’t a conflict, Wilson said.

“We handle annexation requests as they come in,” Jacobson said. “We don’t go out and solicit them. We do not try to attract new residents.”

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