A belligerent campaign was inevitable from the moment Sharon Ullman filed documents for another run at Dave Case, who knocked her off the Ada County Commission in 2012.
This showdown — so far —has nothing on the nastiness of 2012. In June of that year, Ullman wrote on her Facebook page that 20 years earlier, when Case was an Idaho State Police trooper, he had “assassinated a Payette County reserve deputy.”
Case didn’t fire his gun during the 1992 shooting, which investigators later ruled was justified. He was one of five troopers serving a felony arrest warrant at the Payette County Sheriff’s Office. The suspect, a reserve deputy accused of rape and lewd conduct, was determined to have pulled a gun and pointed it at the troopers.
In 2012, Case called Ullman’s comments “inflammatory” and inaccurate.
The rhetoric is nowhere near as sensational this time around, though there’s still plenty of bad blood between Case and Ullman. Instead of capital crimes, the candidates have focused their attacks on each other’s budget management.
That makes sense. Voters care about their money and don’t want their employees to misspend it.
Commissioner terms alternate between two-year and four-year terms. This time around, the District 3 seat will be for a two-year term.
Ullman and Case accuse each other of exactly the same malfeasance: hiring employees the county doesn’t need and giving department heads whatever they want.
Here’s what Ullman said about the commission with Case on it: “When these folks ask the commissioners for money, the commissioners basically ask them how much they want and write them a check. But the problem is the checkbook they’re using is yours and mine.”
Here’s what Case said about the Ullman years: “Our expenses were exceeding our revenue, and she just kept adding on to the expenses. ... The county, actually, to pay its ongoing bills, was having to dip into their reserve fund. And had we kept going down that road, it would have bankrupted the county.”
On her website, Ullman points out that Ada County’s budget has increased dramatically since she left office.
Of course they have, Case said, because Ullman left the budget in disarray with major unnecessary costs — some expected, some not — and the commissioners had to raise taxes to cover them.
“It’s kind of ironic that she says she didn’t raise taxes, but yet, she created everything that caused the taxes to be raised,” Case said.
Both Case and Ullman are in favor of replacing the old Ada County dispatch center.
ELEPHANT IN THE COURTHOUSE
Dynamis Energy is at the heart of the bitterness between Case and Ullman.
In 2012, Case rode a wave of Dynamis criticism to victory over Ullman, then an incumbent and vocal supporter of the company.
To this day, he blames her for giving the company $2 million of county money to design a machine that would turn garbage at the county landfill into gas, which would then be used to generate electricity. The project fell through amid permitting obstacles and public backlash. The county won’t recoup its investment.
In late March, Ada County agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit with Fortistar, a New York-based company that converts methane from decomposing trash at the landfill to electricity. Fortistar sued in 2013, claiming the Dynamis pact conflicted with the contract the county already had in place with Fortistar. The county tallied $451,000 in attorney fees on that case.
Case said the county is only now recovering from the Dynamis-Fortistar setback.
Ullman stands by her support of Dynamis. She blames Case for souring the county’s relationship with the company by criticizing the landfill project during his campaign and afterward. If Case hadn’t undermined the project, she said, it could be operational by now.
“That’s baloney,” Case said. “That seems to be my quote lately.”
At least Ullman and Case agree on one thing — sort of.
They both oppose the county’s claim of forgone taxes for this budget year. Forgone taxes are increased tax collections that Idaho law allows, but the county doesn’t claim in a given year. Even though the county chose not to collect those increases in past budget years, it can levy for them in later years.
From 2006 to 2012, Ada County commissioners voted to forgo $19.4 million in potential property tax collections. Over the last two years, the county reclaimed $6 million of that money.
In part, the increases are paying for a new 911 dispatch center at 963 E. Pine Ave. in Meridian that the county expects to cost almost $10 million.
Both Case and Ullman are in favor of replacing the old dispatch center, which has run out of room, but they say the county shouldn’t have collected forgone taxes to pay for it. Ullman said the county should’ve promoted the dispatch center to the public, and then asked voters to support a bond to pay for it. She believes involving the public in the decision would have been worth the risk of the bond not passing.
In August, Case voted against the county budget, which included collection of forgone taxes. He said the county should have waited a year or two to accumulate enough cash to pay for the dispatch center instead of increasing taxes to pay for it sooner. Though he liked the idea of involving voters, he wasn’t convinced Ullman’s bond idea was the way to pay for the project.
“What happens if you go out and ask for a bond and it gets denied?” he said. “The need is still there.”
Case said he’s looking forward to seeing the opening of the dispatch center, scheduled for early next year, and catching up on a backlog of maintenance work and upgrades to things like IT equipment, parking space at the courthouse and the coroner’s office.
He blamed Ullman for letting attention to those items lapse.
Ullman said Case and the other commissioners are spending too much money on luxuries, such as check-writing machines and redundant employees. She questioned the utility of the commissioners’ chief of staff, a position held by Larry Maneely, and the county’s public information specialists.
If elected, Ullman said she’ll scrutinize county budgets with an intensity that today’s board of commissioners isn’t applying. She said she’ll analyze each budget item with an eye to reducing or eliminating its cost before approving it.
“Yes, it’s a lot of work,” she said. “It is the primary responsibility of county commissioners. It doesn’t bother me to have to meet with each department head, even if we do it multiple times, and say, ‘This is too much money. Go back.’ ”