Brent Coles, who was sentenced for misusing public funds, is running for mayor again

Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles weighs in on the city’s 2020 budget

Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles testifies before Boise City Council on the city's budget for the fiscal year 2020. Coles was mayor from 1993 to 2003.
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Former Boise Mayor Brent Coles testifies before Boise City Council on the city's budget for the fiscal year 2020. Coles was mayor from 1993 to 2003.

Brent Coles, the former Boise mayor who resigned the office in 2003 after misusing public money, wants his old job back.

Coles on Friday became one of seven candidates in the race that includes current Boise Mayor David Bieter, who took office after Coles by promising a reboot of the city government, and City Council President Lauren McLean. Ada County Highway President Rebecca Arnold also joined the race Friday.

Speaking at the Boise Depot with his wife, Julie, by his side, Coles began by talking about how he resigned in 2003 and the impact it had on himself, his family and the city. He apologized to his family, to his wife and to Boiseans.

He said he remembers what Boise was like when he first moved to the city. He said the Bieter administration has been making poor financial decisions, including spending $11 million to hire Moshe Safdie, a world-renowned architect, to design the now-delayed new main Boise library.

He said he was running for the office of mayor “so we can change the priorities and the policies just as we did back in the ‘80s.”

Coles was first elected to the Boise City Council in 1983. He was appointed mayor in 1993 when then-Mayor Dirk Kempthorne was elected to the Senate. He was re-elected in 1997 and 2001. He was at one point president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

On Feb. 14, 2003, he resigned the same day the attorney general filed charges against him. He was indicted on five felony counts of fraud and misuse of public money after using city funds to pay for tickets to see the musical “Oklahoma!” and other expeditions on a trip to New York City in 2002. He served 28 days in the Ada County Jail. In 2004.

Fourth District Judge Thomas Neville granted Coles a withheld judgment, meaning that if he completed all terms of his probation, his record could be cleared and his rights would be restored. Coles complied. The restoration means he can vote again and possess weapons. It also means he does not have to list convictions on job applications.

Coles’ resignation cleared the way for Bieter, who was first elected in 2003 and took office in 2004. Bieter emphasized the importance of ethics throughout the 2003 campaign, telling voters he would develop a new ethics code. He established the Boise Ethics Commission, which is the first of its kind in the state.

Coles said he thinks he can win again, despite how he left the office, because it’s “not unheard of for people to have a second chance.”

“The policies and the platform are very different from the current administration,” he said. “What I’m giving the people of Boise is a choice.”

In an interview, he said his message is different from other mayoral candidates, who are telling voters “pretty much the same thing.” He said he expects negative comments but plans to prove in the time leading up the election that he is a unique candidate.

Coles said that if elected, he would support small businesses, freeze the city budget at 2018 levels, and “fully fund our police department and our fire department” to promote public safety and improve response times.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. If no mayoral candidate gets at least 50% of the vote, there would be a run-off vote in December.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.