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Boise Weekly's Top 14 Stories of 2014

What we reported on in 2014 and why it mattered

by and

So many major events happened last year, we easily could have written a Top 2,014 of 2014. Mindful of what a massive (and monotonous) project that would have been, we instead culled the top 14 stories from the 2014 annals of Boise Weekly.

The range of criteria for what qualified as a "top" story was wide and we chose stories about people who made a difference, events that affected the entire community and ideas that sparked a larger debate beyond our reporting. Among our 14 of '14 are stories in which we looked at how something as benign as a bicycle fed the fire that burns between a county agency and a city; how a brave soldier who has difficulty walking stood up to the government in the name of love; how an applicant for a job at the Idaho Human Rights Commission was discriminated against; and how four little words could make an enormous difference. There are almost a million stories in this naked city. These are just 14 of them (in no particular order).

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ACHD Changes Lanes

For years, Boise Weekly was teased over what some alleged was our obsession with the Ada County Highway District. Heck, a lot of people didn't even know what ACHD stood for, let alone understood its unique authority over what goes on from curb to curb.

Then 2014 happened. In a steady stream of controversies—bike lanes, parking meters, roundabouts and a lawsuit or two—ACHD and the city of Boise didn't play too nice. It was nearly impossible to keep ACHD vs. Boise shenanigans out of the news and that set up an ACHD election like no other.

"Elections matter, obviously," Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told BW in June 2014.

And how. Bieter told anybody who would listen that he wanted to see change on the ACHD commission, and the race to fill two seats on the commission attracted no fewer than eight candidates.

"It's a broken agency," said candidate Kent Goldthorpe in his challenge of incumbent commissioner Mitchell Jaurena. "ACHD is defined by pettiness and political infighting."

Meanwhile, Paul Woods, former Ada County commissioner and ex-Public Works manager for the Bieter administration, tried to set himself apart in the five-candidate field by insisting that ACHD needed more inclusion and less derision.

"Making important decisions with less public input makes my skin crawl," said Woods at an October candidate forum that attracted a standing-room crowd.

On election night, Goldthorpe bounced Jaurena and Wood emerged victorious. As Goldthorpe and Woods were sworn into office Jan. 7, shifting the balance toward a more Boise-friendly ACHD, friends and family crowded the ACHD auditorium to show their approval.

Someone else was in attendance to offer his well wishes: Mayor Bieter.

Ag-Gagging the Truth

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When Boise Weekly saw the first draft of Idaho Senate Bill 1337, we looked at it a little differently than most Idahoans—we envisioned ourselves behind bars. In April 2011, BW visited a Jerome livestock auction as part of an investigation into Idaho dairies, where we discovered high levels of drugs found in cattle linked to Idaho dairies. Auction officials weren't too happy about our presence, called us "terrorists" and if SB 1337 had already become law, we would have likely ended up in the clinker that day.

So, our collective hearts sank a few weeks later as Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signed SB 1337, known by then as the Ag-Gag bill, into law, thus criminalizing the documentation of processes or practices inside Idaho agricultural operations. Even The Atlantic made note of BW's investigations when it told its readers of Idaho's crackdown.

The ACLU, Animal Legal Defense Fund and 15 other litigants filed a lawsuit against Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden over the law, saying the measure "has both the purpose and effect of impairing the public debate about animal welfare, food safety, environmental and labor issues that arise on public and private land." In effect, they alleged that the law has a chilling effect on free speech.

"The public can't improve the situation in these facilities if it doesn't know what's going on," said the ALDF's Carter Dillard.

The state pushed back, and though U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed some of ALDF's challenge, Winmill preserved the lawsuit, saying First Amendment claims against the Ag-Gag law were "ripe for review."

Meanwhile, one of the original bill's most vocal supporters in 2014, Caldwell Sen. Jim Rice, has secured a particular seat of power at the Idaho Statehouse. He's the new chairman of the Idaho Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.