‘Big money’ at play in Eagle’s election as Avimor owners, others seek to oust mayor

On Oct. 24, as a panel of Eagle city council and mayoral candidates was drawing to a close, Mayor Stan Ridgeway offered voters his closing thoughts.

“This campaign has been very negative with untruths and big money from special interests, and Eagle residents have expressed concern that our city in the future may be run by developers and special interests,” he told the audience.

This campaign has seen over $90,000 donated among the mayoral and City Council elections. Much of that money has come from developers and real estate firms, as well as individuals who have waged legal battles against the city during Ridgeway’s first term.

Two men are challenging Ridgeway’s bid for re-election, and four candidates are vying for two seats on the council.

The most money has gone to support mayoral candidate Jason Pierce, who has so far raised $30,054. Pierce has been a member of the city’s Parks and Pathways Committee, Planning and Zoning Commission, urban renewal board and City Council. He is a salesman for Integrated Security Resources.

Ridgeway, the incumbent, has managed to raise a little more than half that much, $16,207. Opponent Christopher Hadden, a stay-at-home father, has self-funded his campaign with $2,808.

Avimor donates $20,000 to campaigns

Proponents of annexing the planned community, Avimor, into Eagle seek to unseat Ridgeway, who, with a council majority, want to prevent the long-planned annexation. Since the summer, the city has been working to remove the Foothills from its comprehensive plan, which would prevent Eagle from annexing Avimor. A public hearing on removal is scheduled Nov. 18, after the election.

Avimor was approved in the early 2000s by the Ada County Commissioners as a planned community. But since then, the county has tightened restrictions around planned communities to the point where they are nearly impossible to build.

Without a path to county approval, Avimor’s continued expansion may depend on Eagle annexing the 23,000 acres its founding family, the McLeods, own in the Eagle Foothills. But Ridgeway has argued that annexation would increase sprawl and be too costly for the city.

In September, Avimor managing partner Dan Richter told the Statesman that it would take “just an election cycle” for the city to come back around to annexation.

Avimor and its partners have donated at least $20,000 toward the Eagle campaign so far, according to a Statesman analysis of campaign finance records.

The company donated $10,000 to a political action committee called Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth. The PAC was formed by Steve Martinez, the owner of Tradewinds General Contracting, a luxury home builder in Boise, and accountant Douglas E. Black, who also founded Blue Sky Construction.

Pierce and City Council candidate Charlie Baun, an environmental consultant who serves on the Ada County Planning and Zoning Committee and the Eagle parks commission, received $5,000 apiece in individual contributions from families of partners invested in Avimor, the Statesman previously reported. Baun previously worked as an environmental consultant for Avimor.

In an interview, Richter told the Statesman that neither Pierce nor Baun had made any promises to annex Avimor.

Pierce and Baun have said that they support the comprehensive plan as it is now written, which Avimor helped expand to include the Eagle Foothills in 2007.

“I think they have an appreciation for all the things that we’ve done,” he said. “Any dramatic change in the comprehensive plan should get more than just a couple months of outreach.”

Growth in Avimor
The Avimor planned community has already built over 400 houses north of Eagle along Idaho 55 on the 800 acres it had approved. Now, it hopes to expand into the remaining 23,000 acres, but that depends on Eagle’s willingness to annex that land into city limits. Kelsey Grey kgrey@idahostatesman.com

Construction firms form political action committees

Black and Martinez’s PAC seems to be funded entirely by those who seek to profit from increased growth.

In addition to the $10,000 from Avimor, the Conservative Citizens for Thoughtful Growth PAC received $5,000 from the Building Contractors Association of Southwest Idaho. Of the $15,500 total that the PAC received, $15,000 already has been spent on mailings and broadcast advertising.

Pierce, along with Baun and City Council candidate Brad Pike, a fire commissioner for the Eagle Fire District, have also received individual donations from the Building Contractors Association of Southwest Idaho.

All three candidates also received $1,000 donations from C15 LLC, which is owned by the Conger Group, a Boise land development consulting firm owned by Jim Conger.

Ridgeway’s campaign also brought in $1,000 from Robert Grubb, who manages a construction company, and $500 from Republic Services, which manages Eagle’s trash collection.

Sued in court, fighting back at polls

Many of the donations to Pierce’s campaign have also come from a small group of rich Eagle residents who, for various reasons, want to see Ridgeway removed.

Nearly $3,000 for Pierce’s campaign has come from the family of Kevin Zasio, founder and CEO of the Boise-based records management firm Zasio Enterprises. Kevin’s wife, Cindy, is Pierce’s treasurer.

He is also on the board of the Two Rivers Homeowners’ Association, which the city sued for blocking public access to a parking lot with access to the Greenbelt. Two Rivers won the original lawsuit, but the city is appealing.

Zasio’s fellow board members, Craig Kvamme and Joseph Mueller, donated $1,000 apiece. There are seven board members total, according to the association website.

“There has not been a single discussion about supporting any mayor or city council member in the HOA official meetings,” Zasio said in a phone interview with the Statesman. “We are tired of the general direction Eagle is going, and we want to see a change of direction.”

Zasio said the Two Rivers homeowners association had “zero discussions” with Pierce about his position on the Two Rivers lawsuit.

Apartment backlash

Zasio is one of several people also suing the city over its decision to approve Molinari Park, a development that would add 307 townhouses and apartments with 5,000 square feet of retail space near the southeast corner of South 2nd Street and East Plaza Drive in Eagle’s downtown.

The suit, filed by Michael Colby, Debra Mayhew, Judith Robinson, Paul Villaret, Cari West and Zasio, alleges that the project would hurt their property values.

Mayhew also donated $600 to Pierce’s campaign.

Eagle City Council.jpg
Brad Pike, Stan Bastian, Jill Mitchell, Charlie Baun and Dave Parrie are running for two open saEagle City Council.

Conservation Voters back Eagle’s incumbents

Conservation Voters for Idaho, a nonprofit that backs candidates that vow to protect the environment and natural resources, has endorsed Ridgeway and incumbent City Councilwoman Jill Mitchell.

“Different candidates across the state were chosen because we think they’re the best candidates to protect clean water, open space and insure quality of life for everybody,” said Conservation Voters’ executive director Courtney Washburn in an interview with the Statesman.

A political action committee organized by the nonprofit accepted a $1,402 donation from a Columbus, Ohio-based firm called JVA Campaigns LLC to be directed toward Mitchell and Ridgeway’s re-election. Conservation Voters of Idaho also contributed $500 apiece to Ridgeway and Mitchell’s campaigns. PACs operate independently from a candidate’s campaign.

A searchable campaign finance database of all the Eagle candidates is featured below. It was updated on Oct. 31, 2019:

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.