Robert Ehlert: Panel measures mettle of Boise’s candidates for mayor

The mission of the Idaho Statesman’s 10-member Boise Mayoral Election Panel was four-fold:

• Interview candidates Dave Bieter, Judy Peavey-Derr and Seth Holden.

• Evaluate and rate them based on their answers to about 20 questions the group fashioned.

• Come up with impressions about the candidates that would help voters make their decision in the Nov. 3 municipal election.

• Wake up Nov. 4 and learn voter turnout in the Boise mayor election exceeded all expectations.

I began working with the Statesman Editorial Board to recruit panelists last month. Though the deadlines for nominating and assembling this group were tight, I was extremely fortunate to take on this task with such an enthusiastic, engaged and professional group.

Throughout the process I served as moderator-secretary — and now as facilitator in the Statesman’s efforts to share the panel’s findings online and in print.

What you have on the opposite page is a grid reflecting the general questions we asked, summaries of the candidates’ answers (in print we were limited by space) and the panel’s ratings.

Each answer was rated by each panelist on a scale of 1 to 5: 1 signifying “strongly disagree” and 5 signifying “strongly agree.” Though some panelists only noted the answers on their “scoresheets,” others took the opportunity to critique answers with additional comments.

All of these are reflected in the Alphabetic Tabs — A-H on the online scoresheets. A is the consensus of the three community members on our Editorial Board; B through H are the individual scores and comment sheets of our citizen panelists. Because our Editorial Board is “unsigned” when presenting pieces, it was decided the panelists would score and comment anonymously, too.

The object was to bring insight from this small representation of voters who, in many cases, were meeting the candidates for the first time.

Though the math of the numerical “ratings” end up being in Mayor Bieter’s favor overall — both the citizens and the Editorial Board gave him higher scores — the comments don’t necessarily indicate an endorsement.

Read all of the feedback from panelists by following the link on this story at IdahoStatesman.com.

One panelist put it this way in a note to me last week:

“Mayor Bieter is a likable person who is very capable and who has excellent credentials and experience for the job. My main concern about him is the strong negative attitude he displayed toward ACHD (Ada County Highway District) and the organization structure for roads in the county (which I am positive toward). Judy Peavey-Derr is also a pleasant and likable person who is running basically on less taxes (more for less through better management) and on her perceived assessments of Bieter’s limitations and failures. Seth Holden seems to be running primarily for the experience and the position that it is time for change (which is frequently a belief of the electorate in such situations). He has positive ideas, but as might be expected did not demonstrate the depth of knowledge about the issues that the other two candidates did.”

In fact, there is a lot of information generated by the Statesman that voters can consider when researching this race: stories by Sven Berg and others; Twitter traffic generated by reporter Bill Dentzer at #BoiseMayor during the interviews; videos of the candidates answering the first three panel questions; full-on audio files of the interviews; and information about additional forums where the candidates will answer more questions.

Though I would encourage voters to spend some time with the grid, that is but a starting point when considering the sum of all of the information online.

For instance, a panelist commented that Bieter seemed dedicated to working for a solution to the city’s homeless population, but wondered what he had been doing about it for the past 10 years. Others made the assessment that Peavey-Derr is adept at pointing out Bieter’s shortcomings, but she’s not likely to win the race by positioning herself as the I-Am-Not-Bieter candidate. She needs to communicate her vision. Though they all appreciated that the 25-year-old Holden was in the race, they did not cut him slack when he appeared uninformed.

More panelist comments

• “Mayor Bieter feels he’s done great work in the last 12 years as mayor and has a lot more to accomplish. He doesn’t see the need to change a good thing. What exactly does he plan on doing in the next four years and how is he going to help Boise grow correctly? How exactly will he be better at cooperating and collaborating with other entities?”

• “ (Peavey-Derr’s ) statements seemed full of innuendo about how the city has been goverened,” and that carried over to another comment: “She made the issue about personalities, not her ideas for the future.”

On this experience

• “The interviews solidified in my mind that a metro form of government is the solution for many issues discussed (transportation, representation, land planning, etc.). And that the only way this can happen is for Boise to soften its somewhat isolationist stance, in cooperating with other agencies and municipalities. It will take true leadership and trust for the mayor to do this. ... Thanks for the honor of letting me know the candidates first-hand.”

• “As a young professional it is so important to be involved and connected with our community. It has been an honor to participate on this panel and I am thrilled to help educate Boise citizens on these three mayoral candidates. ... It’s wonderful to see three distinctly different people share the same love for Boise. It’s a testament to our city and our community.”

• “Every election is an opportunity to pause and evaluate our community’s current status and the vision for where it could go. This panel was an excellent way to get candid responses from candidates to evaluate the person with the best vision and most genuine passion for our city.”

For more on the issues, listen to the full audio of the panels’ questions and the candidates’ answers here:

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman’s editorial page editor. Reach him at 377-6437 or follow @IDS_HelloIdaho.