Boise Mayor Dave Bieter

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter speaks during an interview at Alia’s Coffee Shop in downtown Boise, Friday.

BOISE — Mayor Dave Bieter was one of the founding members of a political action committee discouraging residents from signing petitions to put the main library project on the ballot.

On Monday, Bieter said he and “several others” raised the funds to start the Protect Our Libraries political action committee to oppose concerned citizens group Boise Working Together’s effort to gather the 5,000 signatures it needed for a ballot initiative on the library for a vote in November. Bieter said the goal was to counter some “misinformation” about the main library project he had heard during the signature-gathering effort.

“We got kind of nervous, so we thought we’d put another narrative out there,” he said Monday in an interview with the Idaho Press. “It was a pass the hat, throw a little money in (campaign).”

When Protect Our Libraries first launched, the PAC’s campaign manager Robert West declined to name any of the group’s supporters or give any information on who launched the effort. Soon after the signature-gathering campaign ended, the PAC dissolved and West began working for Bieter’s campaign. The Bieter campaign confirmed to the Idaho Press earlier this month that while the PAC was active, it shared office space with Bieter’s campaign staffer Jesse Maldonado.

When asked about the connection between Protect Our Libraries and the Bieter campaign, Maldonado denied that Bieter had donated any funds or the campaign was connected to the group. Both West and Bieter during Monday’s interview attributed this to a miscommunication.

“Jesse was just not in this loop,” Bieter said. “...He just really wasn’t (because) the campaign hadn’t begun officially yet and he wasn’t in this loop. He just misspoke.”

Fundraising reports will not be available until this fall, but Bieter said his campaign donated $1,000 to Protect Our Libraries, and he made some phone calls to jump-start the effort. West said he was in charge of all of the tactics the PAC employed and did all of the fundraising himself. Bieter said he was not involved in any of the day-to-day operations of the campaign beyond helping to get it started.

When asked to specify what misinformation about the main library project Bieter heard that inspired the PAC, he said rumors that library petition supporters were sharing inaccurate information of how much the project will cost, that it will not have a parking garage and the city had plans to tear down the historic 1940s-era log cabin nearby.

He said he was also concerned about outside groups getting involved, specifically libertarian think-tank Idaho Freedom Foundation. West and Bieter said they never made the claim that Idaho Freedom Foundation was directly funding Boise Working Together, but they were concerned that the group was supportive of the petition regardless of whether it was financially backing them or working collaboratively with the petitioners.

Boise Working Together ultimately gathered the roughly 5,000 signatures it needed for the ballot initiative to ask residents if they would like to vote on the main library project and the sports park in the future, otherwise referred to as the “vote for a vote.” The way the ballot language was written has raised legal questions with members of City Council and members of city legal staff who say it is unconstitutional.

In order to circumvent this, City Council members passed an ordinance developed by City Council President Pro Tem Elaine Clegg to directly put the question of the library to voters in November.

Bieter said he still believes holding a vote on large projects like the library is not appropriate, but now that the initiative qualified, he said he supports directly asking the voters instead of the more indirect “vote for a vote”.

“At the point of which the signatures are gathered, it’s such an awful frame, a vote to vote,” Bieter said. “Until they got the signature threshold I hadn’t spent a lot of time with the initiatives, but they are really poorly drafted and unconstitutional …(At this point we’re) stuck with a poorly drafted initiative that is really hard to understand, so I would prefer an up or down version of that to be on the ballot, too.”

Bieter would not speculate on whether the library would pass and what the next steps would be if it failed, but he was overall optimistic.

“The job of the mayor is to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s not always the popular thing, but I think (the library) is both right and popular.”

Margaret Carmel covers the city of Boise. Follow her on Twitter @mlcarmel or reach her by phone at 757-705-8066.

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