City Government

Will Council Ground Bieter’s PR Flight Of Fancy?

After seeing how the Daily Paper, Channel 6 TV, and the GUARDIAN shed the light of public scrutiny on Team Dave’s plan to seek $60,000 in taxpayer money in an effort to hire a PR firm to “educate” voters on a state constitutional amendment about airport debt, we predict it will crash and burn at tonight’s council meeting.

Probably won’t be a spectacular crash. We figure it will be a bumpy landing–possibly with no vote at all–as they table the motion for further study or some such face-saving move. They will not want to simply consider the expenditure and be on the record with a NO vote. While the captain of this flight to influence voter’s minds needs to be grounded, he will probably luck out with a canceled flight due to (political) “bad weather.”

At issue is HJR5 on the statewide November ballot. Cities are pushing to eliminate the constitutional rights of voters to approve long term debt at airports. The Supreme Court ruled we have the right to approve major public debt projects–regardless of the source of revenues. Team Dave and others seek to deny citizens that right.

The STATESMAN ran a well reasoned editorial today calling the PR effort “ill conceived.” We agree.

This just came in as a press release from the IDAHO FREEDOM FOUNDATION, a non-partisan think tank with a conservative reputation.

News release: July 20, 2010
Contact Wayne Hoffman (208) 921-6749

Records show Boise using government resources to influence ballot election

BOISE — Records obtained through the state’s Public Records Act show Boise city officials are engaging in campaign activity on the taxpayers’ dime, attempting to win passage of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. The Idaho Freedom Foundation filed a public records request in June, asking for documents related to House Joint Resolution 5. HJR 5, if approved during the November general election, would allow cities to debt finance airport projects without a vote of the people.

“The documents clearly illustrate that the city is using public resources to advocate the passage of a ballot measure,” said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “Our city halls, county and state offices and school districts should not be mini-electioneering factories working to promote the passage or failure of the issues on the ballot. Whether or not the city has broken the law is not the issue. It clearly has violated the public’s trust through the misuse of public resources.”

Among the documents are notes from a March 22 meeting of city officials including Mayor Dave Bieter and top aides. According to the meeting agenda and handwritten notes from the meeting, the mayor and his staff discussed the formation of a political action committee, fundraising for the organization and who would serve on its board.

In April, the state Legislative Services Office asked the city to develop statements for or against HJR 5 for the Secretary of State’s election publications. City staff came up with two statements to educate voters why they might oppose the amendment: the fact that the amendment removes the supermajority vote requirement for all debt projects and that all airport funds “are public in nature and should require a supermajority vote.” But when the city submitted its proposed statements to Legislative Services on April 23, it left out any potential statements that voters might consider to oppose the amendment. The city submitted six statements in support of the amendment.

“In case you were wondering why no AGAINST statements are included, it’s because we couldn’t come up with any good ones,” wrote Ross Borden, the city’s director of intergovernmental affairs, in his email to Mike Nugent, the director of legislation and research for the Legislative Services Office.
A June 11 email from Bieter to mayors and airport managers throughout Idaho clearly shows the city’s interest is the passage of the amendment. In the email, Bieter asks for a meeting of city leaders “so we can discuss ways to work together to pass this important amendment.”

On Tuesday, the Boise City Council is supposed to consider spending $60,000 to “educate” the public about HJR 5.

“The city is trying to label its effort as ‘education.’ Clearly, that’s not the objective. The city is attempting to use public resources to influence the outcome of an election, and that’s an inappropriate use of government resources,” said Hoffman.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Yes the economy is down and some of Idaho’s indicators are not the best, but as a whole Idaho will fair well. I am glad Idaho’s constitution has the backbone it currently has in regards to debt. I fear politicians would bury us in a pile of debt just as other states and cities are facing. I strongly support keeping the constitution “AS IS”.

  2. This may seem odd coming from a PR professional, but I agree that $60,000 of public money to educate the public on the airport bond issue is not a necessary expenditure at this time. I find it unfortunate that the Mayor’s office does not already have a mechanism in place to keep constituents educated and updated on changes, new projects and the like. The Mayor has a website and newsletter to express his views, as well as a press officer. I would like to see these resources used rather than additional expenses. All of that being said, educational outreach is a valid goal for any public or private organization, but one that has to be supported by the voters and included in an approved budget. I would love to see more communication from the Mayor’s office, possibly approached as a long term investment for the community rather than a short term, one-issue solution.

  3. Jules, it’s ok for the mayor and council to spout their opinion on this amendment, but it is simply inappropriate to use tax dollars in any way including having the pr flack on salary do it. Newsletter, same thing. If tax dollars are used to fund the writer and/or the distribution, then that is an inappropriate use of tax dollars as well.

    And Dave, don’t you think at least some of the council were on board with the idea to begin with? I can’t imagine that all these bizarro ideas the mayor has come to the council at the same time they’re presented to the public with no heads up to the council. What I find sad is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the council willing to either shut these schemes down in their infancy or willing to come out in public after they’re made known and criticize them. To me that means they all think alike.

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