The Right (Wing) Stuff: Northern Idaho Property Rights Council Takes Libertarian Stance 

Bonner County advisory board comes with partisan viewpoint

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Referring to the 13 other advisory groups currently working with the county, Rasor wondered aloud why there were so many questions about the PRC and none regarding groups like the airport or animal advisory boards.

"No one seemed to question the staff time that was used to support them," he said at the county employee meeting. "I have no problem with the questions, but I'll be frank with you, they seem a little disingenuous."

For Bauer, who has taken the lead in the Prosecutor's Office for setting up the PRC, the "vitriolic" response has been based on a lack of understanding.

"Some environmental groups, they believe that respecting property rights is going to automatically lead to environmental degradation," he said. "I think that's an assumption that's not borne out at all by the State Policy Network research. ... The Property Rights Council needs to be given a chance before it's rejected out of hand."

Wayne Hoffman, founder and intellectual engine behind the Idaho Freedom Foundation, gave a presentation to the group via video and said he's had an ongoing conversation with Rasor and Bauer on how best to establish the council and set its prerogatives.

"We provide information to a lot of different groups across the state--try to get them to embrace free-market ideas and educate people about the proper role of government and what can happen when the private sector is really allowed to develop and engage without the intervention of the government," he said. "I applaud them for working with government officials to seek free-market solutions wherever possible, to look at private-property rights and give them the attention they deserve. It sounds like they're off to a good start."

Where some Bonner County employees seem to be leery relates to just how the PRC defines "property rights."

Christine Quayle, a jury commissioner who heads the Association of Bonner County Employees, raised one point of concern by noting that part of the PRC's purview is to look at county insurance and risk management--areas that go well beyond land use.

"If this is a property-rights council, why is it investigating employee insurance?" she asked.

Rasor's response: "Property taxes pay for those benefits."

Pressing on, Quayle asked whether that meant that "pretty much everything is up for investigation," and Rasor confirmed: "It is, as it is for all citizens. ... If it has any impact on your property it can be investigated by a property rights council. Any impact, even economic."

Bauer confirmed that understanding of the council's scope in a subsequent interview.

"It's not limited to real property," he said. "Anything with county activities that might affect property rights is fair game for us to mission."

Admitting he hadn't heard "a whole heckuva lot" about the Bonner County PRC, Tony Poinelli, Idaho Association of Counties deputy director, said a scope that broad is "actually getting beyond what I think of as property rights. ... Whenever I think of property rights, I think of planning and zoning."

According to Bauer, the PRC fills a need that county planning and zoning doesn't--and can't--meet.

"The Planning and Zoning Commission looks at property rights among about nine or 10 other goals that it's pursuing. It's very normal for planning and zoning to subordinate property rights in favor of other goals," he said. "The purpose of the council is to take a real solid, deep look at those issues. ... The idea here is, 'Let's just get the information from reliable, academic-level sources and get it in front of the commissioners.' It's not to dictate a decision."

Still, the injection of political philosophy into a county advisory group doesn't sit well with Harris--nor does the idea of creating another deliberative body square with its stated purpose of limiting bureaucracy and stripping away government regulation.

"Procedurally, it's just bad government," he said. "Some of the stuff doesn't make any sense; it seems like a layer of bureaucracy. ... It's also just very exclusionary. It's a one-sided ideological program that just seems out of place in county government."

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