Nearly two years after the subject first came up, I grimace every time I see those piles of dirt and that big heavy equipment sitting idle at what was once the Upper Tibbs Place. Last summer, I got to watch the charming old farm slowly disintegrate piece by piece to make way for a new subdivision, which would bring many tax dollars to the city.
In the many months since the original developer, a man of many names and addresses, put forth his application to subdivide the place and have it annexed into the City of Sandpoint, I've waited and watched for several townhouses (of the 'affordable' variety) to spring up on the hillside overlooking Great Northern Road. So far, just piles of dirt.
In spite of opposition from neighbors surrounding the place, which included reminders about wetlands on its south end and the busy and oft-blocked train tracks to its east, elected officials seemed determined to bring that land onto the city's tax rolls. The wetlands claim from the neighbors fell on deaf ears because the developer announced that he'd stood in that area in July, and it was dry as a bone. Never mind that my dad always avoided that area with his tractor because it was so boggy.
It took a few meetings and eventually a new developer, who had a biologist tell him, lo and behold, those were, indeed wetlands, but the city sages got their way. The land was annexed into the City of Sandpoint, and a more conservative subdivision was approved. Now, it sits. I wonder how much tax money the city has derived from that 22 acres.
I bring up this situation because of my own experience of sitting through several meetings where citizens were invited to speak their peace. At the end of these meetings, we'd leave scratching our heads, wondering why we were invited. It was very apparent that our comments served as merely a part of the necessary "going through the motions" of government officials and their cronies getting their way in the end.
This morning I chuckled about the letters in the Daily Blat concerning those rebel City Council types who had the audacity to seek out public opinion in hopes of determining the direction Sandpoint ought to be moving. Somehow my civics classes taught me that publicly-elected officials should seek the opinion from their constituents. I never saw any handbook, however, on just how this was supposed to be done.
Therefore, I always assumed these elected officials used a variety of methods. They talked on the telephone or visited with people in the supermarket or even wrote letters to folks asking for ideas from the people they represent. So, when I heard about the rogue survey by two council members a week or so ago, I was quite amazed at the wrath it incurred. Again, I'm scratching my head.
How does a survey and what the people think cause harm to the workings of our publicly elected bodies? Can't other elected officials take the initiative to use their own methods of collecting information? Do people who get elected by the people automatically lose their right to ask questions of their constituency? Does gathering information automatically translate into decision-making? Aren't elected officials expected to debate issues using information they receive from a wide base of opinion and expert knowledge? Are there some rulebooks these people ought to read before they run for public office?
If so, I think the public needs to know about them and where they can be obtained. Maybe, if we, the neighbors, who opposed the subdivision that was going to earn Sandpoint so much tax money, had gotten a look at the rulebook we could used a more effective strategy with our elected officials and saved the city from one of its current white elephants.