Elections

4 seek vacant Ada commission seat; patience, listening are key

Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre will be the longest-serving commissioner when he retires after 14 years in office.
Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre will be the longest-serving commissioner when he retires after 14 years in office. jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

In January, a mountain of tough choices will greet whoever emerges from the four-way race to replace Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre.

That’s to be expected. All governments face problems. Ada County’s don’t appear to be any more urgent than normal. As always, money — or a lack of it — is a common theme.

Over the next few years, Rick Yzaguirre said, the next board of commissioners will need to figure out ways to pay for some major projects, such as adding administrative space to the courthouse, finding parking for county employees and, someday, building a new jail.

Yzaguirre also worries a brain-drain cycle could weaken the county’s prosecutor and public defender offices.

“We’ve got a lot of young folks right out of school that are green that we spend an insane amount trying to educate them and get them to the point where they’re ready to do the job, and we lose them,” Yzaguirre said.

The next commissioner will need enough patience to develop a thorough understanding of the issues facing Ada County if he or she is to help find solutions to these and every other problem that comes up, he said.

“I would say in the first few weeks or months, lay back,” Yzaguirre said. “Be a good listener; go out and meet all the various elected (officials) and department heads; and get educated before you make any even short-term and long-term decisions.”

Yzaguirre, 66, first took public office in 1987, serving on the Eagle Fire Protection District. Two years later, he ascended to the Eagle City Council. He served as mayor of Eagle from 1997 to 2003, when he was sworn in as a county commissioner.

Though he’s retiring, Yzaguirre said he’ll look to “re-engage” somewhere, perhaps on a committee or two. Other than that, he’s looking forward to having more free time to spend at places like his cabin in Cascade.

“If I get through the month of May, I’ll be the longest-serving commissioner in the history of the county,” he said. “Nobody here has finished 14 years.”

Meet the candidates to replace Rick Yzaguirre:

DEMOCRATS:

Stanley Johnson

Age, hometown: 71, Meridian

Job: Retired

Experience: Former secretary treasurer, Teamsters Union Local 483, Boise; Executive Board chairman, Ada County Democrats, Legislative District 14

Website: stanley-johnson.ruck.us

Why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?

Johnson says he’ll draw on private-sector experience, including six years in a leadership role for the local Teamsters union.

“You’re a jack of all trades in that business,” he said. “I have had a lot of experience dealing in budgeting and (human resources) management, handling money and the whole thing that goes with sitting on the Commission.”

Should Ada County contribute money toward solving homelessness?

“Yes, I think we should, but the only time I would ever vote in favor of putting county money into that is if the county had one of the commissioners on a board to help oversee how the program and how the money is spent. It’s just not a blank check...There’s got to be some oversight.”

Which aspects of Commissioner Yzaguirre’s service would you imitate? What would you do differently?

Johnson, who lost to Yzaguirre by 10 points two years ago, didn’t have much nice to say about the retiring commissioner. He criticized Yzaguirre for failing to pay taxes at a business the incumbent owned in Eagle.

As to what he’d do differently, Johnson said he wouldn’t have gotten involved with Dynamis, a company the county paid $2 million for a garbage-to-energy plant that never materialized. The county should’ve scrutinized that and other contracts more carefully, Johnson said.

What costs can the county cut or control to avoid tax increases?

On this question, Johnson said he’d examine every budget item to make sure the money is being spent efficiently. He also said he wouldn’t “claw back” tax increases that the county has foregone in past years, as commissioners did this year.

“Now, it’s legal,” he said. “But morally, it’s not right, because you should set a budget and you should live by that budget. And if you know what you’re doing and you put your time into your budget, you’re not going to have to do that.”

Stanley Johnson, candidate for Ada County Commissioner, District 2, talks about why he is running and what he thinks of the Idaho Legislature's action on public defense reform.

T.J. Thomson

Age, hometown: 41, Boise

Job: Internal auditor, Idaho Power

Experience: Boise City Council since 2010

Website: TJ4Ada.com

Why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?

“I’ve spent my career as an auditor seeking out fraud, waste and abuse at the public- and private-sector levels. ... One of my top priorities, if elected, is to increase efficiencies in government operations and really reduce impediments to economic growth and just, ultimately, reduce the burden to taxpayers. And that’s something that I’m uniquely qualified to do.”

Should Ada County contribute money toward solving homelessness?

“Focusing on mental health services and really partnering with cities and charitable organizations and community leaders on supportive housing solutions may actually reduce (county) costs...while also assisting our homeless population. ... Rather than spending millions on medical treatment, legal services and ambulance rides, serving as a community partner on tax-saving alternatives such as Housing First is something that I believe is worth exploring”

Which aspects of Commissioner Yzaguirre’s service would you imitate?

“He’s really done a great job of listening to those he serves, and one thing I’d like to emulate is just taking the time and understanding the issues as he has. ... I want to get to a level that I understand the issues at the depth and breadth that Rick Yzaguirre does”

What would you do differently?

“I’m not pointing specifically at Rick, but, over time, relationships have been fractured in several cities. And I believe that those relationships can be improved.”

What costs can the county cut or control to avoid tax increases?

“Ada County has the ability to provide property tax relief to new and expanding businesses large or small. But they haven’t really defined that criteria or really taken advantage of that tool to bring those good-paying jobs here or help them expand.”

“Also, as cities expand, and in other words, county services shrink, we should...provide those savings back to our community in the form of property tax relief.”

TJ Thomson, candidate for Ada County Commissioner, District 2, talks about why he is running and what he thinks of the Idaho Legislature's action on public defense reform.

REPUBLICANS:

Teri Murrison

Age, hometown: 59, Eagle

Job: Administrator, Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission

Experience: Ada County Planning and Zoning Commission, former chairwoman, Tuolomne County (Calif.) Board of Supervisors

Website: terimurrison.com

Why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?

“I bring a unique perspective from outside of local government right now...If you look at the current conflict that is going on between some of the jurisdictions, I’m not part of that. And I’m able to use my skills, my education, my training and my background as a former county commissioner to pull people to the table and try to work together.”

Should Ada County contribute money toward solving homelessness?

“That’s still to be seen. The bottom line is, if there are savings to county budgets because of Housing First, then the county should consider contributing toward that ... it would be wise to take a wait-and-see approach and, indeed, if there are cost savings that are sustained over time, and the program is working, I’d be willing to look at that.”

Which aspects of Commissioner Yzaguirre’s service would you imitate? What would you do differently?

“Commissioner Yzaguirre has been very effective in recreation issues. I think that he has poured his heart and soul into trying to make sure that the park system is good, that the Greenbelt system is always improving. I’d like to carry that on.”

“I would probably do a little bit more outreach into the communities. I’d like to see listening sessions. I’d like to see some district hours where I would make myself available to people in the district that wanted to meet with me “

What costs can the county cut or control to avoid tax increases?

Murrison said she’s in favor of setting up accounts for each department where unused money would accumulate.

“How about taking the amount that they’re able to put aside during the year and put it in that savings account, so that over the year, or two or three, departments can save up for some of those major expenditures. A pay-as-you-go approach. ... Rather than delay that investment, let’s save for it.”

Teri Murrison, candidate for Ada County Commissioner, District 2, talks about why she is running and what she thinks of the Idaho Legislature's action on public defense reform.

Rick Visser

Age, hometown: 64, Boise

Job: Retired

Experience: Former attorney, Idaho Innocence Project, conducted reports and bill tracking for Idaho Supreme Court

Website: voterickvisser.com

Why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?

“I’ve lived in Ada County for 40 years, and my family lives here, and I’m committed to quality living in Ada County for myself, my children, my grandchildren and my parents. And I bring a philosophy of common sense, accountability and fiscal responsibility.”

Would you be in favor of spending Ada County money to try to solve homelessness?

Like other candidates, Visser is intrigued by the Housing First partnership the city of Boise, Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority, Idaho Housing and Finance Association and others want to use to put dozens of chronically homeless people in homes. Also like them, he wants to be sure the investment would save money.

“I would have to take a look at the situation...Generally, my understanding is the most successful (models) are the ones that put people in apartment settings. People have their own space...When these projects work, there’s less crime with these people...you get savings in other areas.”

Which aspects of Commissioner Yzaguirre’s service would you imitate? What would you do differently??

“I’d have to truthfully say I’m not that familiar with his policies and philosophies...Mine is practicality and I’ll stand by it on any government projects with the county.”

What costs can the county cut or control to avoid tax increases?

“I’ll give you an illustration of fiscal responsibility: If I were an Ada County commissioner and the plans for the current Ada County Courthouse came before me, I would not approve that project. Because the courthouse is needed, but the esthetics and waste in it is not needed.”

“That thing has so much wasted space in it. I mean, it’s beautiful, but if I were a businessman and I were building a new office for my company, I wouldn’t waste money like that.”

“Any kind of a project we undertake, I would try to make it as practical as possible.”

Rick Visser, candidate for Ada County Commissioner, District 2, talks about why he is running and what he thinks of the Idaho Legislature's action on public defense reform.

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