Canyon commission races draw a crowd, but just one Ada incumbent is challenged

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comMay 2, 2014 

  • AVOID LINES BY VOTING EARLY OR BY MAIL

    May 14: Last day to request mail-in absentee ballots.

    May 16: Early voting ends.

    May 20: Election Day, polls open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots must be returned to county clerks’ offices by 8 p.m.

    Early voting in Ada and Canyon counties is underway.

    Ada County early voting takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at the Ada County Elections Office, 400 N. Benjamin Lane in Boise.

    Canyon County early voting takes place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at the Canyon County Elections Office, 1102 E. Chicago St. in Caldwell.

    For information in other counties, contact the county elections office.

    Registered voters may request an absentee ballot via www.idahovotes.gov, or in person or in writing from your county clerk’s office. Written requests must list your complete name and address and the address you want it mailed to, and it must be signed by you.

    Election Day: All voters will be asked to show photo ID or sign an affidavit attesting to their identification.

    Look up where you vote via IdahoVotes.gov or on the Ada or Canyon county election websites. Call Ada County at 287-6860 or Canyon County at 454-7562 to confirm your polling place.

    Not registered to vote? You may register during early voting or on Election Day at your polling site.

What exactly is a county commissioner?

Each of Idaho’s 44 counties has an elected board of commissioners that serves as the county’s governing body. Commissioners set the budget, levy taxes, establish policy, enact and administer county ordinances, make land-use decisions, and appoint department heads and residents to county advisory boards and commissions.

Commissioners typically oversee several departments, such as paramedics, emergency management, planning and zoning, building permits, solid waste, juvenile court services, public defenders, fairs, parks and recreation, and weed and pest control.

Do they oversee everything then?

No. Each county has six other elected officials who oversee other departments: assessor, clerk, coroner, prosecuting attorney, sheriff and treasurer.

Ada County has 1,692 full-time employees and an annual budget of $208.6 million; $93 million of that comes from property taxes. Ada commissioners are paid $100,357 annually.

Canyon County has about 700 full-time employees and an annual budget of $73.9 million; $36.3 million of that comes from property taxes. Canyon commissioners are paid $81,961 annually.

Unlike in city races, county officials run as representatives of a party. Regardless of where they live, all county residents are eligible to vote in all county commission races; the candidates must reside in certain districts.

Who’s running in Ada County?

In District 1, incumbent Republican Jim Tibbs is unopposed in the primary and the general election. In District 2, Republican Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre is seeking a fifth term and faces challenger Jeff Laughlin in the May primary. The GOP nominee will face Democrat Stanley Johnson in November.

About the contested races

Yzaguirre, an Ada County commissioner since 2003, was an Eagle mayor (1997-2003), Eagle City Council member (1990-97) and a business owner.

It’s that experience in local government that “makes me uniquely qualified to understand Ada County government’s responsibilities to its citizens,” Yzaguirre said.

He cites his work accomplishments as creating a new landfill citizen advisory board, expediting and streamlining public records requests, and making audio recordings of county board meetings available on the county’s website.

His top priorities are setting a long-term strategy for managing the county’s budget; better communication with Ada County residents; and getting the Sheriff’s Office a new 911 dispatch center.

Laughlin, who has never held political office, was a finalist in 2010 to replace Eagle Mayor Phil Bandy.

He said his lack of political experience makes him a good choice. “I can bring a fresh and open-minded look to the position,” he said. “I will not make this a career and will not seek re-election after my term.”

His top priorities are reducing the budget without raising taxes; stopping county in-fighting and staff turnover; and listening to residents.

Who’s running in Canyon County?

District 1 incumbent Republican Steve Rule is seeking a fourth term. He faces challenger Sid Freeman in the primary.

District 2 incumbent Republican Kathy Alder, seeking a third term, faces challengers Tom Dale and Connie Constantine.

District 1

Rule, a commissioner since 2006, served four years on the Middleton City Council. He started out working in his family business, Rule Steel, and is the former owner of Rule Sales and Service.

He said his “stable, solid leadership and decision-making based on years of business experience and interaction with many different government agencies, municipalities and businesses across the Northwest” make him an asset for the county.

His top priorities are continuing to lower the county’s property tax levy; protecting county property rights; and setting “examples for other taxing districts by doing more with less.”

“The larger cities and schools in particular will have to learn to live with less,” he said. “The Canyon County commissioners have reduced county government by over 20 percent since 2008. The cities and schools have not.”

Freeman owns Sunny View Farms in Caldwell. He is a Canyon County Republican Central Committee officer who has served 12 years as GOP precinct chair and two years as district chair. In 2010, he was a finalist to replace Sen. Brad Little.

“The fact that I am not in need of this position for my sole livelihood, or my retirement, and that I see this as purely a call to duty of service to my community, and my party, makes me the better choice,” he said.

Freeman said he has studied commissioner meeting minutes.

“It is apparent that the commission leadership is good at running day-to-day meetings. But when it comes to being frugal and to listening to the expertise of the other elected officials, and the citizens, they fall short,” he said, citing the case of former prosecutor John Bujak. That “cost the county $920,000 to date — and was 100 percent preventable, if they would have just taken the advice of the county clerk.”

His priorities are to regain the lost trust and respect of Canyon County citizens, and create a strategic plan with a clear long-term vision.

District 2

Alder, a longtime Melba farmer, is an advocate for preserving farmland and supporting agriculture. She has served on several agriculture-related boards and commissions. She was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2010. She said her nearly six years in office has given her insight to county operations.

Her top priorities are to reduce property taxes; expand the existing jail without increasing debt or taxes; and “fight for local oversight and management of Lake Lowell.”

Born in Idaho, Constantine spent 12 years working for Morrison-Knudsen Co. and 19 years with the federal government in Washington, D.C. She retired and returned to Idaho in 2005.

She unsuccessfully challenged Alder in 2012. Her top priorities include adding jail space, relocating the county fair and cutting county taxes.

Dale, the longtime Nampa mayor, decided that he wants to stay in politics after his November loss to then-Councilman Bob Henry. Dale says the skills, experiences and relationships he gained as a mayor and councilman “will bring a perspective to the board of commissioners that is lacking.”

“The past 12 years have given me the opportunity to gain a wealth of experience in the economic development field, and I would represent Canyon County well to potential industrial and business investors,” he said.

His top priorities are building a new jail; resolving the fairgrounds conflict; and having open communication between the office and county and city officials.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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