First, it is important to be crystal clear – KEA has a deal with the IRS to stay out of partisan political elections. That way, your donations to our organization are tax deductible. We are scrupulously careful about this – for our financial well-being and the well-being of our donors. However, we are allowed to talk about issues important to our organization’s mission. And Larry Spencer, a candidate in the Republican primary for Kootenai County Commissioner has opened the door.

Last week, Mr. Spencer placed an ad on the CDA Press website (and elsewhere, probably) attacking Kootenai Environmental Alliance and Spencer’s opponent Dan Green for work on the new land use regulations under development in Kootenai County. With a background image of the U.S. Constitution, and under a heading “Kootenai County Property Rights Under Attack” Spencer asks, “Kootenai Environmental Alliance doesn’t pay your property taxes. Why does Dan Green believe they should have equal footing in developing land use code that will affect your property?”

Setting aside the fact that with a membership of more than 600 members, we actually represent quite a few taxpayers, this is an odd statement coming from a lobbyist – a person paid to represent private interests to government. According to disclosure reports, Larry Spencer represents primarily developers and at least one oil company. At least we represent the public interest.

Larry Spencer, who has attended maybe one or two of the dozens of open meetings and workshops on the new land use codes, appears to be stirring up opposition where none really exists. There is essentially unanimous agreement that the current county codes are hopelessly out of date and are in desperate need of revision. There is also essentially unanimous agreement that environmental protection – particularly when it comes to water quality in our lakes and streams – is an important consideration when the codes are being written. And there is essentially unanimous agreement that the rights of property owners (and their neighbors) need to be respected under the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions. Indeed, the balancing of these interests is what land use regulation is about.

Spencer’s ad notes (with awkward phrasing) that “Dan Green has asked a property owners group to meet with the Kootenai Environmental Alliance and compromise their position in order to facilitate the development of the unified land use code provisions regarding their property.” And it’s true that KEA has been invited to engage with Coeur d’Alene Lakeshore Property Owners Association and others to work through the details of water quality protections. The property owners have some constructive policy suggestions for the codes, and we do too.

So it is not clear what Mr. Spencer is actually objecting to. Compromise? Collaboration? Clean water? Free speech? The very existence of Kootenai Environmental Alliance?  Is he really opposed to the effort to streamline and overhaul dysfunctional county regulations? We think he’s chosen the wrong topic on which to exploit a split in the community for his election purposes. The split just isn’t there.

UPDATE 4/23: There is indeed another ad now running. This one comes with the alarming and absurdist plea, “Don’t let Commissioners Green and Tondee implement land use codes that will transfer control of your property to the planning department.”