Ada County Highway District Commissioner Paul Woods owned up to writing a flippant — some might say snide or condescending — email Sept. 9 in which he suggested a resident of the Highlands Neighborhood in the Boise Foothills was overreacting to traffic changes the district was putting in place on Braemere Road.
Woods did tell me he maybe should’ve toned down the wording of his email to Mike Howard, but he didn’t exactly back off the substance of the message.
“I certainly could have done a better job of writing that email, but I did write it,” Woods said in a quick phone conversation Tuesday afternoon. “It wasn’t my intent to offend him or be as blunt. Generally, I try to communicate with people in the same way that they communicate with me. And, you know, obviously Mr. Howard took offense to some of that.”
On Wednesday morning, Woods left a voicemail in which he said he shouldn’t have sent the email.
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His email to Howard bounced around a few places before landing in my inbox Tuesday. A public records request to the highway district revealed it was part of a four-message back-and-forth.
Howard initiated contact with a Sept. 8 email to Woods. His message opened with the words “I’m writing to you today to express my outrage...” Howard went on to criticize a decision by Woods and his fellow commissioners to put a barrier across West Curling Drive at Braemere.
Braemere funnels traffic from homes east of Curling toward the larger street network. Woods told me a lot of drivers cross Curling and cut through the neighborhood on Braemere on their way to or from Hill Road and Bogus Basin Road. The commission’s unanimous decision, he said, was aimed at diverting those drivers from Braemere, which the district designates as a neighborhood-type road, on to Curling, a road that’s meant to move traffic to and from arterials.
Howard’s email indicated he lives on Harcourt Drive. If he is one of the drivers who uses Braemere as a corridor through the lower neighborhood, the barrier at Curling is an inconvenience. He told Woods he thinks the barrier will lead to greater traffic and resulting safety problems near Highlands Elementary School, located on the southeast corner of Bogus Basin Road and Curling Drive.
“You are not reducing traffic – simply moving it somewhere else,” Howard’s email reads. “You have taken traffic from its accepted and traditional pattern and now have increased the traffic elsewhere, which will certainly lead to unwanted outcomes... Do not, for an instant, believe that you are solving a problem. You are simply creating a problem for someone else.”
Woods’ response the next day voices some frustration:
“First off, there are plenty of things in this world that people should be outraged over, but the minor traffic change for those privileged such as yourself living in the Highlands in Boise, Idaho is not one of them,” he said. “I have watched the traffic and the minor change to residents like you is paltry and would be laughed at by most tax payers in Ada County. Those such as yourself who can’t tolerate the most minor change in your schedule are hiding behind kids’ safety which is sad for the kids and for the future.”
Howard took exception to Woods’ tone:
“Bottom line, I am a tax payer in Ada County and you represent my district,” he responded. “If you disagree with me, lay out your argument and be done with it (which is what I did in my email to you). There is no need to cast aspersions on me based on where I live.”
I’m interested to see how this conversation unfolds as the public finds out about Woods’ and Howard’s exchange. Highlands neighbors — a lot of them, anyway — feel like they’re under siege these days. They fought tooth and nail against a proposed 57-home development in their neighborhood last year but lost when the Boise City Council approved the project. They’re still resisting in court.
Next, as developer Jim Hunter told me early this year, people who live in Foothills neighborhoods like Highlands are really good at learning institutions of City Hall and making persuasive arguments.
On the other hand, I understand that Woods might’ve been frustrated about yet another email from a Highlands resident second-guessing a decision he seems to hold a pretty firm stance on. As he admitted, he could’ve used more tact. The question is whether he, as an elected official, is held to a higher standard than the people — like Mike Howard — that he serves.
Here’s what he told Howard on that topic:
“I am a taxpayer just like you, so being a taxpayer does not give you some special status over me.”