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A Year in the Books

After a tumultuous year, Ada County commissioners look forward to the future

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When Ada County Commissioners Kendra Kenyon and Diana Lachiondo took their seats on the Board of Commissioners, they drastically changed the political landscape in Ada County. For years, the commission was a quiet Republican stronghold, and when it made headlines, it was embroiled in controversy.

Kenyon and Lachiondo's victories made waves as they joined the sole remaining Republican on the Commission, Rick Visser. The county election was heralded by some in the local political sphere as the most important local election of 2018, but there was work to be done.

From a $30 million tort claim from trash-to-energy project Dynamis, a $2.7 million whistleblower settlement and a large protest of the contentious Dry Creek Ranch subdivision, the situation inherited by the sitting commission was messy. The buck didn't stop with the election, either, and the county is currently battling a lawsuit from the Idaho Press Club over its alleged violation of public records law.

In fact, the whistleblower lawsuit that cost the county millions was one of Lachiondo's points of contention with former Commissioner Jim Tibbs during the 2018 election.

"I think that during this last budget cycle, it was a hard pill for people to swallow. If you think about the 3% they were looking to take from foregone [tax revenues], just look a few news cycles back, we're all paying $2.7 million from a lawsuit because Case and Tibbs illegally fired someone," Lachiondo told the Idaho Press at the time.

With a year in the books, the sitting commission has some accomplishments it touts as steps toward a better county. Lachiondo said that the county's adoption of a non-discrimination hiring policy, a clean energy resolution and continuous regional dialogue between government bodies are high notes for her.

Visser, the longest-standing member of the commission, highlighted bringing Ada County back into the Idaho Association of Counties, which former Commissioners Tibbs and Dave Case voted to leave. Visser also noted his continuous push for the county to adopt a more efficient budget.

The Ada County Commission is one of the better-paid boards in the area, with each commissioner earning approximately $115,000. In Idaho, boards of county commissioners meet every day, though not every day's meeting is substantive.

However, it is required that minutes and attendance are taken at all county commissioner meetings. At meetings where decisions were made or major discussions facilitated, commissioners' rates of attendance varied. Between the swearing in on Jan. 15 and Nov. 6, Lachiondo had the highest attendance of 97% present at at least one meeting per day, according to the minutes. Kenyon was next in line, with 93%, according to an analysis of the minutes. Visser showed a 77.5% rate of attendance, according to the minutes provided by the county through a records request.

Despite a lawsuit within the first year, the commissioners have big plans for the future Specifically, dealing efficiently with the rapid growth of the county will be a hot-button topic for the county. Both Lachiondo and Kenyon discussed smart development as a goal for 2020.

"We are growing and it's a matter of how we handle that growth," Lachiondo said. "It's kind of like aging, it's how we grow older more gracefully."

For Kenyon, curtailing sprawl and taking a hard look at development in or near the foothills in unincorporated Ada County, specifically in the Avimor and Dry Creek areas, will be important in the coming years.

"I think we can look at water conservation," Kenyon said. "I think we need to look at not only the quantity of water, but the quality of water."

Even though there is plenty of water to reach those communities at this time, Kenyon said she is concerned about what will happen during years of drought. Kenyon is also interested in looking at more conservation or wildlife management areas. For her, all of her goals tie back to maintaining and standard and quality of life for county residents.

For Visser, he hopes to push for more fiscal responsibility, specifically noting that he'd like a leaner, meaner budget. Specifically, he would like to freeze expenditures to 2020 levels.

One of Visser's biggest gripes with other commissioners in the last year was the decision to take foregone taxes without first looking for inefficiencies in the budget. Both Lachiondo and Kenyon disagreed with his assessment at the time, saying the budget had been thoroughly reviewed.

What is unclear will be the county's action, if any at all, on the Ada County Fairgrounds. The county is required by state law to host a 10-day fair every year, but some have speculated that the grounds may move elsewhere. To help decide the future of the land, the board has drawn together a citizen advisory committee that will be announced in the coming weeks.

"Essentially, we're calling everybody back to the table," Lachiondo said. "We need to take a hard look."

While the commission may seem to be fighting fires in every which direction, it's trying to put them out one by one.

"Really," probably my overall goal is to leave Ada County a better place (than I found it)," Kenyon said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about a county ordinance. The county has not yet signed a policy requiring motorists use hands-free cell phone devices while driving. Boise Weekly regrets the error.

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