Boise & Garden City

‘We should be trusting our government,’ says new Boise group backing $85 million library

Stadium and library initiative: 1,500 signatures each

Boise Working Together presents 1,500 signatures to the city clerk, to bring the stadium and library to a citizen vote.
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Boise Working Together presents 1,500 signatures to the city clerk, to bring the stadium and library to a citizen vote.

In the fight over a new $85 million main library, rival sides are competing to see if the issue ends up on Boiseans’ ballots in November — but they’re not waiting until election season to start their campaigns.

Two groups have started campaigns in recent weeks to share their pro-library ideas with voters. Their efforts come amid a petition drive by a group called Boise Working Together, which wants voters, not the city, to decide the library’s fate. The new library would replace an aging main library on South Capitol Boulevard.

One group, called Protect Our Libraries, started its campaign at the beginning of April. Its treasurer and campaign manager, Robert West, said Protect Our Libraries has one full-time staff member — himself — plus five to 10 volunteers and $15,000 in private donations.

“We should be trusting our government to make decisions,” West said in a phone interview. He said the city already has sought and obtained a lot of public input.

Protect Our Libraries is sending its volunteers to neighborhoods to hand out flyers that encourage would-be petition signers to “know before you sign.”

The flyer lists what it calls three facts: that “public libraries benefit our communities,” that “placing public library projects on the ballot is bad governance,” and that “outside organizations are trying to influence local government decisions.”

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Campaign-style lawn signs reflect the emergence of groups to drum up public support for Boise’s proposed $85 million new main library, countering a drive by the 4-month-old Boise Working Together group to put the library spending question on the November 2019 ballot.

Asked about the outside organizations, West told the Statesman that the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which gets money from undisclosed donors, is against the library. A vote on similar projects would open the door for “unwanted” private interest groups to get involved in local politics, West said.

Spokesman Dustin Hurst told the Statesman that the Freedom Foundation objects to the library’s cost and believes the city has spent irresponsibly in the past. Boise Working Together officials say their group has no ties to the Freedom Foundation.

The other pro-library group, the Boise Library Foundation, has begun to put up signs supporting the library. They’re similar in size to signs from Boise Working Together calling for a vote on the library and stadium projects. But Bev Harad, chair of the library foundation, said in a phone interview Thursday that the foundation had no opinion on the initiatives and instead focused on being positive in promoting the libraries.

“The foundation supports all Boise libraries,” said Harad, a former Boise School Board trustee. “We’re promoting education and awareness, and we’re keeping it on a library level in that we support a new library.”

She said she doesn’t consider the 100 or so signs to be political because the library foundation’s only goal is to promote a new library as the current main branch is “bursting at the seams.” She worries that an election would delay the project.

The Boise Library Foundation serves as a fundraising arm of the library system. Its funds do not come from the city budget. West said his organization has not worked with the foundation and operates independently of it.

Volunteers for Boise Working Together say they are not all inherently against the proposed library but believe it and a proposed stadium should be put to a public vote because they require the spending of millions of dollars of public money.

The library would cost an estimated $85 million and the stadium $50 million, much of which would come from taxpayer money.

Boise Working Together on Wednesday filed 1,507 signatures for the stadium election and 1,510 for the library. Proponents need 4,962 signatures for each. More will be filed soon, spokesman David Klinger said. The group had raised $6,272 as of April 13, from 64 donors, with the largest donation $400, Klinger said.

Jamie Heinzerling, Boise’s deputy city clerk, said the 4,962 signatures required represents 20 percent of the total votes cast in the last general city election. In the 2017 city election, 24,810 people voted.

The signatures are due April 30, less than two weeks away.

The signatures also must be submitted by May 1 to Ada County, which verifies them against voter registrations. If someone who signed isn’t a registered voter, the signature does not count.

“I’m optimistic,” Klinger said. “People are interested in this and want to sign. It’s just a matter of getting the petitions to them.”

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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.