Meet the new boss, same as the told boss…
This week’s city council meeting was a return to form for the elected leaders of Twin Falls: government spending, appointing morally compromised officials, and ignoring the will of the people they serve. There was one highlight this week which we’ll get to later, but overall, the city council was once again breath-takingly willing to spend our money, charge us more, and demand more compliance with the government.
The first item of interest was the appointment of the newest council member to fill Shawn Barigar’s seat 3. If you are a frequent reader of MVLA’s articles, you will most likely be aware of the ethical concerns we have with Shawn Barigar. For those of you who are new here, Mr. Barigar has been president of the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce for almost twenty years, and he was on the council in some capacity for most of those years. This presents an obvious conflict of interests since business and government often have monetary relationships that affect government resources. Unfortunately, the newly appointed member of the council Alexandra Caval also has a conflict of interests, as she sits on the Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency. She also represents the state of Idaho to the 9th Circuit Court, which I am sure won’t affect her decisions on city council at all. Only one sitting council member voted against Ms. Caval’s appointment: Nikki Boyd. We reached out to councilwoman Boyd for comment but received no response.
In a forthcoming article, MVLA will be diving deep into the Twin Falls city council’s proclivity to fast track city ordinances by applying the “third and final” rule, but to summarize: if the council wants pass a new ordinance but doesn’t want to deal with those pesky state & local laws that ensure the public is thoroughly informed about the subject matter that the ordinance addresses, they can enact this loophole in the law. Rather than taking three separate meetings to read the new proposed ordinance in full so the public is well informed about it, council can vote to put the ordinance on “third & final reading by title only”. This means that the mayor only needs to read the title of the ordinance once, and then the council can vote on the ordinance itself. In the roughly two years attending city council meetings, I have never once seen the council pass an ordinance in the normally prescribed way. Monday night, the city council followed this pattern and voted 7-0 to immediately enact another ordinance.
The main draw at Monday’s meeting turned out to be a vote to change the way the city handles utilities accounts for rental housing units. Currently the city of Twin Falls requires rental tenants to open, pay, and close their own utilities accounts when they move in and out of their rental housing units. The proposal before the council was to change that so that the owners of the rental housing units would have to assume full responsibility for their tenants’ utilities accounts. The landlord will have to put their tenants’ accounts under their names and assume financial responsibility for their bills to the city.
In a rare display of the council having an actual debate and disagreement (something this city needs more of) the council was split 4-3 on whether or not to shortcut the rules and fasttrack this ordinance into law. The main argument emerged when the majority of the council voiced their opinion that not only should this change be enacted, but the city should be doing more to pursue and punish citizens who are delinquent on their utilities bills. Councilwoman Nikki Boyd voiced her support of imposing higher fines for repeat offenders of utilities billing delinquency. Councilwoman Boyd asked several times why the city doesn’t have any “teeth” in the delinquency notices they send out, and asserted that it was the city’s job to make sure people pay their bills. The other side of the debate didn’t speak to why they voted no, but it is only common sense that if a government authority wants to shift personal responsibility from individuals receiving a service to those who own the property but do not benefit from said service, a no vote is going to be popular with the people. That no vote did not reject the change in the utilities law, it only forced the council to do what they legally should do every time there’s a new city ordinance or change to an existing one; allow the citizens several weeks to hear the ordinance read aloud before enacting it. The final vote on whether or not to punish property owners wont come for at least two more weeks.
When the time came for general public input, Twin Falls resident and serviceman David Leavitt approached the podium to speak. He told the council about a promotion that he had passed up while serving in the military because his conscience wouldn’t allow him to pursue the position. In a bit of cosmic poetic irony, just when Mr. Leavitt was making the point that when he looks around Twin Falls’ city government he sees a lack of that same personal responsibility and self-reflection that made him refuse a promotion, Mayor Ruth Peirce cut him off and announced that his allotted time had expired. Mr. Leavitt’s point was a good one: why don’t the moral quandaries that all the citizens of Twin Falls can plainly see regarding the council go unremarked upon while the council members are free to make money on the side, give themselves raises, and generally benefit from their positions on the council? No answer was rendered. Other than those details, it was a typical night of spending your taxpayer dollars on projects that could probably have been bid cheaper, city manager Travis Rothweiler pulling the strings of the council members quietly but effectively in his alcove, and citizens’ concerns and requests going largely ignored.