Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not Your Father's Kootenai County

I hope everyone read The Spokesman Review staff writer Erica Curless's article Outgoing planning chief reflects in the Saturday, June 17, 2006, newspaper. Midway through the article, departing Kootenai County Planning Director Rand Wichman observed, "The face of the community is changing. This is not the laid-back, easy-going community it once was. The public has become to some degree fed up and frustrated. They're much more demanding."

Exactly! Wichman got it, but unfortunately many Kootenai county and city leaders have not. To paraphrase General Motors' slogan for its now-extinct Oldsmobile, "This is not your father's Kootenai County." It hasn't been for several years, but local government leaders bewitched, blinded, and bedazzled by growth and short-term prosperity didn't notice the change. They've cheered the influx of developer dollars but ignored the increasing expectations of the residents delivering the tax dollars.

People moving here have the same reasonable expectations for high-quality public service and government administration as people in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, West Palm Beach, Cleveland, Fargo, Cheyenne, Omaha, Anchorage, and Aspen. They haven't spent their entire lives in northern Idaho. They've been other places and seen other things. It's likely they've experienced bad government and good government and have learned how to distinguish between the two.

Kootenai County's just-departed planning director isn't the only public official aware of the change in public expecations.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) is responsible for providing introductory and advanced training to over 80 different federal law enforcement agencies. Its clients live and work throughout the United States and its territories. So it can respond to the needs of its partner agencies, FLETC monitors the public's changes in expectations for law enforcement. The scope and magnitude of the changes reported to it were discussed in the FLETC 2000-2005 Strategic Plan. On page 9 of that plan under the topic "Changes in Expectations," FLETC Director Ralph Basham said, "Faced with real problems affecting the very fabric of society, the United States is relying increasingly on law enforcement solutions. For example, the dramatic increase in the number of law enforcement officers mandated by Congress, the enhanced funding for the 'war on drugs,' and significantly increased spending for counterterrorist activities exemplify the expectation on the part of policy makers that law enforcement efforts will ameliorate societal problems. In other contexts, law enforcement officers are increasingly being called on to act as 'problem solvers,' taking on roles quite different from those associated with traditional enforcement."

The FLETC Director continued, "While being called on to address a widening array of social problems, law enforcement agencies are also being held to heightened levels of scrutiny and accountability. In today's world an officer must ensure that his or her actions pass not only the test of legality, but they must also pass the more subjective tests of appropriateness and propriety. The citizenry expects law enforcement personnel to act with professionalism and is quick to react with complaints and lawsuits when this expectation is violated."

Compare what Rand Wichman said last week with what Ralph Basham said six years ago. Two different observers at different times from different levels of government and from different professional career fields noted the public's expectations have changed. Those expectations are for an increase in quality of service. People are not demanding more for less; they're demanding better for less. More precisely, they're demanding better value for their tax dollar. If local officials won't or can't meet the public's reasonable expecations, the public will install officials who can.

No, this is definitely not your father's Kootenai County any longer.


Blogger StibitzRK said...

Hear hear, I am so thrilled that someone finally got it. Bill, I think you nailed it. Lets just hope that others elected to serve the public's interests get it too.

5:54 PM, June 18, 2006  

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