Whitecaps

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

Name:
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.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Official Ignorance

On April 20, 2007, I submitted a request for public information to the Lake City Development Corporation (LCDC), Coeur d'Alene, Idaho's urban renewal agency. Idaho's Open Records Law does not prescribe that records requests must follow a specific format, however the LCDC does conveniently provide its own REQUEST FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION and/or RECORDS form on its website. If the LCDC's website is down, a copy of the form I used is available here. My request was sent via Certified Mail from the same post office in which the LCDC's mailbox is located.

Note that at the bottom of LCDC's own form is the mailing address LCDC specifically instructs requestors to use when submitting requests pursuant to the Idaho Open Records law. That address, PO Box 3450, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816, is the same official mailing address listed by LCDC elsewhere on its website.

On May 7, 2007, the United States Postal Service (USPS) returned my Certified Mail request. The Certified Mail letter had been unclaimed by LCDC. Here is a scan of the returned envelope. The markings applied by the USPS provide useful information.

First, I mailed the letter on April 20, 2007, from the post office with ZIP code 83814. If an agency has a post office box at that post office, that agency's ZIP code is 83816. My Certified Mail letter never left that post office. Official handling was minimized.

As the USPS-applied imprint on the returned envelope shows, the "1st NOTICE" was placed in the LCDC's mailbox on "4-20-2007." That notice included only the article number (the 20-digit number on the "Certified Mail" sticker applied by USPS) and the date and time delivery was attempted. It included no information about the sender. The intended recipient would have to take the USPS notice to the counter to collect or refuse the mailing.

Second, a "2nd NOTICE" was placed in the LCDC's mailbox on "4/26." That notice contained the same information as the first.

Third, after the addressee failed to take either of the two notices to the counter, the USPS stamped the envelope "UNCLAIMED" and noted the "RETURNED" date as "5/5." Since "5/5" was a Saturday, the unclaimed Certified Mail envelope and contents were returned to me personally (I signed for it from the letter carrier) on Monday, May 7, 2007.

The designation "UNCLAIMED" has a specific meaning for the USPS. When a Certified Mail letter or parcel is "UNCLAIMED", it means the addressee has made no attempt to collect the item or identify the sender. The addressee, the LCDC Executive Director, could have taken either of the two notices from his mail box to the post office's counter and then refused the letter. If that had happened, the Certified Mail envelope would have been stamped "REFUSED", not "UNCLAIMED."

Certified Mail provides the sender with not only proof of delivery but also with proof of attempted delivery. In other words, a Certified Mail letter or parcel prevents the addressee from ignoring it, then saying, "It must have been lost in the mail."

One might suggest that perhaps the LCDC Executive Director was out of town or on vacation or otherwise indisposed and was unable to pick up his mail. That excuse, if offered, would be refuted on two counts.

First, the LCDC Executive Director was seen in Coeur d'Alene by several persons between April 20 and May 5.

Second, on Friday, April 27, 2007, I handcarried a sealed envelope to the Coeur d'Alene City Hall. The envelope contained a scanned copy of the completed LCDC form and a brief cover letter telling the addressee about the Certified Mail in his post office mailbox. The letter's inside address and envelope were the same: Tony Berns, LCDC Executive Director, City Hall, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There was no return address on the envelope. The City Hall receptionist accepted the envelope without any hesitation or question, arose from her chair, and said, "Sure, I'll put it right in his mailbox." The following Monday, April 30, I received a telephone call from LCDC Executive Director Tony Berns telling me he had received my letter and "...will get to work on it." On May 2, 2007, I received a first-class mailing on LCDC letterhead. The mailing was in response to the item I had left at City Hall. The response was on LCDC letterhead and had been dated April 30, 2007.

What this episode tells me is that in addition to its "public" address, the LCDC uses one or more accommodation addresses. One of LCDC's accommodation addresses is the Coeur d'Alene City Hall. There may be others such as one or more private mail boxes (PMB).

It's certainly not illegal for a public entity such as LCDC to use accommodation addresses. In fact, it sometimes makes sense. It should ensure that important and time sensitive items such as checks, bills, applications, and Idaho Open Records Law requests receive prompt attention. PMBs have the benefit of being willing to distribute not only US mail deliveries but also parcels from outside couriers such as UPS or FedEx.

So why would the LCDC, a public agency, engage in the extremely unusual business practice of specifying only one US mail delivery address and then failing to collect Certified Mail sent to that address? Wouldn't a conscientious administrator of a public agency be concerned that he might miss something important if its mail wasn't diligently collected? Of course he would. The answer is that the LCDC has provided "insiders," its friends and business associates, with an address to which they can send material and be assured it will receive prompt attention. Conversely, LCDC can be reasonably sure that anything sent to the PO Box 3450 has been sent by an "outsider" and can safely be delayed or ignored.

Well, if that's so, why didn't the LCDC Executive Director simply ignore my request left at City Hall? My guess is that if he had decided he didn't want to answer it, my request would have been administratively lost and ignored. But as it happens, someone other than I had already asked the same question and received an answer from the Mayor. That allowed Berns to conveniently use the same answer he and the Mayor had given to the earlier inquiry. Thus, he felt he could safely respond to my request with the identical answer.

That the Executive Director of the LCDC who makes more than $100,000 per year intentionally ignores Certified Mail sent to the LCDC's one public mail address ought to concern not only Coeur d'Alene's honest citizens but also its Mayor and City Council.

The Mayor and City Council are supposed to be overseeing the LCDC's Executive Director and Board of Commissioners, supervising them, to ensure that LCDC is responsive to the public's interests. Clearly, supervision in the public interest by the Mayor and City Council isn't happening.

Idaho's legislators have begun to recognize that Idaho's urban renewal laws need to be revised to preserve their benevolent potential while curbing the kinds of abuses that are occurring in Coeur d'Alene. The urban renewal task force expected to be formed by the Legislature in mid-May is a step in the right direction. Legislation reining in the abuses by the LCDC is badly needed, because Coeur d'Alene's Mayor and City Council are failing to fulfill their supervisory duties and obligations to the public. Those abuses don't just affect Coeur d'Alene's citizens. They affect all Kootenai County taxpayers.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what's your bitch? you got the information you wanted didn't you?

1:04 PM, May 12, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for reading and commenting. Well, the LCDC responded to my request with the information it wanted to provide. Others wiser than I will decide on the quality of the answer.

My concern, though, was that the LCDC is supposedly a public agency supervised by the City. The LCDC has no physical address the public can walk into and get information anytime between 9 and 5 Monday thru Friday. That means the public has to submit requests via mail to the one address listed by LCDC. Now it turns out that traceable mail sent to that one address is ignored. Kootenai County taxpayer dollars paid for that mailbox into which ignored mail is placed.

Suppose I had not dropped off the scanned copy of the request at City Hall. Berns would have failed to respond to my open records law request, so I would have to hire an attorney to go into District court to get the information. I am fairly certain that after receiving the filing notice, Berns would have given me the information and I would be out some $$. That is not the way an honest government official and an honest government agency do business.

4:07 PM, May 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berns has no accountability.


- 30 -

5:52 PM, May 12, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for reading this and commenting, too. I disagree to a point. Berns is not accountable to the public, but he is accountable to the big money on the LCDC Board and to the Mayor. Make no mistake about it, Berns is not the brains behind the LCDC corporate welfare program. He is the front man, the mechanical operator who allows others to remain behind the curtains. He is well paid for taking and deflecting the scrutiny and criticism rightfully intended for them.

Consider why someone in his position doesn't have an administrative assistant. Wouldn't you think that he would have better things to do than pick up the mail (or not), answer voicemail messages (or not), deposit checks (definitely), and other rather routine, non-decision making tasks. The answer to why he doesn't have an assistant is not that he wants to retain control, its that his handlers want total control over him. They want a span of control of one. They own Tony Berns. Each and any additional subordinate employee increases their risk that someone will see what's going on and begin blowing a loud whistle. We hope.

7:32 PM, May 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, You got me thinking about Jim Elder. Where does he sit in all this? Also how many boards can one man sit on? Not to mentions both the LCDC and CASA's ethics are very much in question.

8:32 PM, May 12, 2007  
Blogger E.H. said...

strange, even for an urd.

5:21 AM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

Anonymous,

I have to confess to not knowing much about Elder, so I can't really give you much of an answer.

6:30 AM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

e.h.,

"Strange" is the right word.

In contrast to its Request for Information form which directs requestors to send inquiries to the PO box, go to the LCDC's website and pull up its Project Proposal Application, the form that starts the money feeding frenzy. Nowhere on that form is any instruction where to send the required information, certainly not to the ignored PO box. Then again, if you're already an "insider" and the skids are greased, you know where to send the forms, submittals, etc.

6:37 AM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger E.H. said...

very interesting, whether it is the untouchable lcdc or some other quasi gov't entity. I know I am going to vote for a different lcdc board next time.

10:36 AM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger E.H. said...

i thought lcdc was an "urban renewal agency". when did it become a "redevelopment agency"?

10:40 AM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

E.H. x 2,

The LCDC Board of Commissioners is appointed by the Mayor, not elected.

That the LCDC chooses to call itself a redevelopment agency is probably just an effort to artifically elevate its social status (somewhat like putting lipstick on a pig). IC 50-2006 says it's an urban renewal agency.

2:31 PM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger E.H. said...

the vote was just a poor joke. the "redevelopment" is not. perhaps it is evidence that lcdc has lost sight of it's mandate-urban renewal. it is not the same as development. perhaps if it stuck to the urban renewal focus it wouldn't be in 'development' business.

5:07 PM, May 13, 2007  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

E.H.,

I had a feeling you were being sarcastic about the LCDC's "election", but since many other people (well, two or three anyway) sometimes wait eagerly to see what is written on Whitecaps (in my dreams) I figured the point ought to be clarified.

One of the seriously undesirable outcomes of the LCDC has been a corruption of the urban renewal process. Some greedy people have taken a well-intended and potentially beneficial law and abused it for their own profit or for the profit of their families and business associates. Pay attention to the Hayden urban renewal agency and do a link analysis between its board members and LCDC's board members. When you're doing the link analysis, factor in members of the city councils and you'll begin to see the pattern of present and future legislative manipulation form.

9:02 AM, May 14, 2007  
Anonymous trying to help said...

Hey Anon,
Jim Elder joined CASA after it came under fire and Naylor had been caught stealing money. He joined to help a worthwhile organization that had been scammed. He risked his own reputation to help.
I'm not a close friend of his, by the way. I just know about his CASA involvement, not LCDC.

4:28 PM, May 20, 2007  

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