Robert Ehlert: Voters ignore GBAD election at own peril

rehlert@idahostatesman.comMay 24, 2013 

Reaction to the Greater Boise Auditorium District election results Tuesday has ranged from joy to dismay to shock over how large an impact so few voters might have exacted on the region's future.

To recap, two new faces unseated incumbents and were elected to six-year-terms: Jim Walker, a Boise firefighter, and Steve Berch, a Boise business consultant. In the race for the two-year term, Peter Oliver, who is in real estate and who was appointed to the board earlier this year, defeated a Walker-Berch ally by only 19 votes.

Walker, Berch and Oliver will join sitting members Hy Kloc and Judy Peavey-Derr in directing the GBAD board for at least the next two years.

Among the questions:

1. Why was there a public vote on, essentially, how a regional organization should allocate its assets: a $13 million nest egg, $2 million annual revenue stream and valuable downtown parcel?

2. How is it that only 9,400 people in the district - which includes more than Boise, but not all of Ada County - got to play such a key role?

3. Why was such an important vote set at a time when low voter turnout was almost guaranteed?

Here are my observations.

1. Technically, 9,457 of us voted for GBAD board members, whose views will certainly result in allocation of these assets. I believe voters made their decisions almost solely on whether they wanted to apply the assets toward conventional convention center enhancements or new attractions, such as a multipurpose stadium. The allied Walker-Berch-Kloc bloc represents a new majority on the five-member board. Though Berch promised to consider options in addition to a multiuse sports facility in Thursday's Statesman, we will keep our eye on results.

It is hard to believe that Walker, who campaigned on "action" and who carried the brightest torch for a sports facility, is going to back off. He said in a candidate forum he doubts the convention center enhancement plans will muster the necessary "allure" Boise needs to boost its profile.

2. The problem here is that 95 percent of eligible voters abstained. It is a fresh lesson that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make people care about something. Maybe since the 5 percent bed tax and rental fees at Boise Centre were mostly coming out of visitors' pockets and not citizens, locals never felt "skin" in the game.

3. The election was well-reported and its importance advanced in local media, especially at the Statesman. There are only four possible election dates available in Idaho: certain Tuesdays in March, May, August and September. The GBAD terms were up in June. There was no choice available but May 21.

The outgoing members of the board faced a number of obstacles that impeded progress - some were out of their control and some were due to differences of opinion. Those who voted Tuesday sent their opinions through their ballots: Stop the debate and do something. Those who didn't vote missed an opportunity to hire the people who will decide the agendas, amenities and attractions of the future.

Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Reach him at or (208) 377-6437.

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