More candidates than ever running for Meridian City Council

With four seats open, 17 candidates vie for the expanded panel.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comOctober 16, 2013 

Meridian residents decided in May to add two new seats to their City Council, bringing the total to six — the same number of council seats that Boise has.

That stimulated public interest in serving. Seventeen people are vying for four seats on the council, with the two new seats each drawing six candidates.

“We’ve never had 17 people run in a city council election in Meridian,” said Natalie Podgorski, a spokeswoman for the city. “It definitely has something to do with the fact that there are two new seats, and you don’t have to run against an incumbent.”

The top priorities listed by these candidates in the Statesman’s Voter Guide: business growth and development, keeping a close watch on the city budget, managing growth, preventing new taxes or fees and maintaining public safety.

Jeff Hoseley, an Advanced Placement economics and government teacher at Meridian High, said the new seats spurred him to throw his hat into the ring for Seat 5.

“Incumbent candidates have such a high re-election rate, I figured if I was ever going to run, it would have to be when there was an open seat,” said the 46-year-old educator, also an adjunct faculty member at Boise State University.

David Moberly is running for Seat 6. The 32-year-old mortgage lender with First Mortgage Co. of Idaho said the new seats were his primary motive for entering the race.

“While I have been interested and involved in local politics for some time, neither of the incumbents seemed necessary to replace, as I believe they have both served Meridian well these past years,” he said.

The current council’s longest-serving member, Keith Bird, is up for re-election. The 72-year-old retired glass-business owner has served on the council for 16 years. The other incumbent — City Council President Brad Hoaglun, Sen. Jim Risch’s former spokesman — decided not to run after all, meaning half of Meridian’s council will be new to the job starting in January.

The idea of adding new seats came out of focus groups after Mayor Tammy de Weerd’s re-election in 2011, Podgorski said. After a public hearing in the spring, the council decided to put it to a vote.

In May, 57 percent of voters said “yes” to the new seats. It should be noted that just 1,019 of the city’s 38,236 registered voters cast ballots (that’s 2.7 percent).

ONE FEMALE CANDIDATE

Genesis Milam, a 40-year-old business consultant and real estate investor, is running for Seat 5.

“It troubles me that there are not more women and not a single minority candidate in this election,” said Russell Joki, a 68-year-old retired educator who is running for Seat 4. “The fact that we have a woman mayor is good news.”

Tammy de Weerd has been mayor since 2004.

But the City Council has had just two women during the past decade: Cherie McCandless finished her four-year term in 2003, and Christine Donnell was appointed in 2004 when Councilman Bill Nary became city attorney.

De Weerd declined to speculate on why so few women are seeking council seats.

“Women provide a unique and valuable perspective, which is also needed in leading our city,” she said. “Meridian has that choice this year, and I hope this inspires others to follow in the future.”

Milam said she would like to see more women and young people involved in city government. She said the time for campaigning may be more than many want to commit.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s grueling,” said Milam, a former business owner and mother of two children, ages 16 and 5. She praised her husband for his support.

Meridian is the third-largest city in the Valley, with a population of about 81,000. Serving on the City Council is a part-time job.

Meridian council members typically spend 10 to 15 hours a week on city business, including Tuesday meetings and representing the city at other group meetings, Podgorski said. The current members each receive $9,000 a year, but in January that will go up to $9,500.

Council candidates run for specific seats, which do not represent geographical districts (as they do in some cities). The top vote-getter in each of those races wins the seat, and there is no runoff if the winner doesn’t get at least 50 percent of the vote, according to Meridian City Attorney Bill Nary.

SEAT 5: JUST 2-YEAR TERM TO START

State statute requires that city council terms be staggered so that half the council seats are up for election at a time. To achieve this, Seat 5’s first term will be shortened — putting it on the same election cycle as seats 1 and 3, up next in 2015.

That shorter initial term for Seat 5 was attractive to Drew Wahlin, 66-year-old managing principal of Idaho Consulting International.

“I’m new to politics,” said Wahlin, who got interested in city government after an issue in his South Meridian neighborhood. “I’m a business guy, not a politician. I wanted to see, if I’m elected, how effective I’m going to be in that environment.”

FAMILIAR FACES

The field includes some well-known candidates, such as Joe Borton.

Borton, managing partner at Borton-Lake Law & Policy in downtown Meridian, is running for Seat 2. The 41-year-old attorney served on the council from 2005 to 2008 and was council president in 2007.

He said he decided to run for Seat 2 after Hoaglun dropped out. There is only one other candidate for the seat — Patrick Malloy, 49-year-old owner of AD Productions — compared with six candidates each for the two new seats.

“It was a good time to get back involved now that my kids are older, and I really believe I can help keep the city on the right track,” Borton said.

If Keith Bird is re-elected to Seat 4, he’ll be Meridian’s longest-serving councilman. He’s lived in Meridian since 1965, when the city had just 1,800 residents.

Bird says he’s proudest of his involvement in the expansion of parks in the city.

“I’ve been involved with every park, except the first 3 acres of Storey Park,” he said. The city now has 19 parks.

He said he’s running again to ensure that Meridian stays on the same course, as a “conservative, pay-as-you-go” city with good services.

Joki, the retired educator, said he’s running against Bird for Seat 4 because “it’s time for a change.” His campaign website is Enough is Enough Idaho.

“I can no longer sit on the sideline and watch Meridian, the city I love, abandon its core values — a small-town atmosphere, top-notch schools and quality public services, such as parks.”

Click here for more information on each of Meridian's City Council candidates

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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