Writings and observations

Carlson: Behind the Kroc Center

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The first invitation to tour the Kroc Center was tendered by long-time friend Sandy Patano. I have worked with her on a number of issues for more years than either would want to acknowledge. The former state director for Senator Larry Craig, Ms. Patano was the one indispensable aide and a key reason why he served as long as he did.

She made sure the state offices diligently worked to solve constituent problems, regardless of one’s political affiliation, while also keeping a sharp eye on Republican political machinations. Always a class act guided by a keen mind, common sense, solid character and an infectious laugh, many felt the First District congressional seat could have been hers for the asking when Butch Otter vacated the post to run for governor in 2006.

Since the Senator’s retirement she has kept busy in local and state affairs serving on boards and engaging in some consulting. One of her pet projects was bringing her considerable talents to help secure the Kroc Center for Coeur d’Alene. She rightly feels that the almost $1 million pledge by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe was the critical component to the community winning the facility. I have no argument with her view.

She, like the Salvation Army’s Major John Chamness (who tendered an invite to tour in a response column in the Coeur d’Alene Press) felt that my column cast an inappropriate and unfair cloud on the Kroc Center. I implied it was not a qualifying recipient for the 5 percent “give back” funds gaming tribes committed to provide as a quid pro quo for Idaho approving Indian gaming by initiative in 1992.

The tour on January 10th was indeed interesting and informative. The Salvation Army clearly does conduct a variety of educational offerings, as Major Chamness said, “from health education to swim instruction, and the Kroc Center also provides more traditional educational programs in line with more traditional instruction.”

The course offerings cover a variety of subject matter attractive to a wide variety of ages from toddlers to senior citizens. It is incontestably engaged in education. Since money is fungible, whether the tribe’s dollars actually go for educational instruction or are allocated to the budget for salaries or to pay down debt is all irrelevant.

What is still relevant is whether this meets the definition contained in the initiative which clearly states a preference that the give back be targeted towards surrounding school districts. I will gladly concede the tribe discretion in deciding how close to the spirit of the initiative their donations are. I’m not the one charged with monitoring this, so it’s easy for me to say “great, this does meet the criteria.”

The point in raising the questions was as I said not to question the generous giving spirit of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; rather, it was to say that the state is not fulfilling the monitoring duties laid out in the initiative. The executive director of the lottery does no independent verification; he just accepts what the tribe says.

This lack of independent review is a disservice to all Idaho voters.

The tribe further clouds the issue by claiming it has no obligation to disclose publicly who the recipients of the 5 percent are. Apparently the office of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agrees, as does the Spokesman-Review. However, the Lottery’s first ever director, Wally Hedrick, disagrees and states the public’s right to know and judge whether tribes are indeed complying was a critical element in passage of the initiative.

Hedrick told the Gazette-Record that the information should be public and to claim that it is a privileged part of their operations information that competitors could make use of is patently ridiculous. For the Spokesman Review to buy this bilge water given its history of strongly opposing almost all claims by governmental entities to privileged withholding is tortured reasoning totally inconsistent with its commendable historic guardian of the public right to know role.

Bottom line is the Review is guilty of gullibility at a minimum for not asking for a breakdown of the $130,000 annual Tribal contribution to Gonzaga University. What portion of that donation goes for the luxury suite the tribe has at GU’s basketball games? Whatever portion it is, accountants most surely consider an entertainment expense, not a 501-c-3 charitable donation. But then maybe they have figured out a way to have it credited all as a donation to a charitable foundation.

If so, that is what full public disclosure is all about, letting the public know the details and then decide whether one may be engaging in artful accounting.

Set aside that the Kroc Center may fit into a loose definition of an “educational” contribution, the five questions I asked in the earlier column remain unanswered and are deserving of answers from the State, the Spokesman Review and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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