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Nancy Merrill: Ada's U.N.


They put their cell phones, turned off, in a basket. Even the dog was sent away. Oh, and the media was, too.

But Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill said that was what it took for Ada County mayors and Ada County Commissioner Paul Woods to sit down and have a frank discussion about the issues they have with one another.

Although Boise Mayor Dave Bieter has had differences with other municipalities and with the county before, it was Star Mayor Nate Mitchell's op-ed in Sunday's Idaho Statesman, referring to Bieter's "dirty political tactics and regional cooperation blunders" that inspired Merrill to set up the eight-hour closed gabfest.

"It was probably the most incredible experience," Merrill said in an interview with BW. "We could look across the table at each other and say, 'What are your obstacles, mayors?'"

Keith Allred, who leads the nonpartisan think tank Common Sense, moderated the discussion.

Although nothing concrete came out of the meeting—and it's just as well that nothing did, or the law might frown on the closed-door meeting—the mayors did exchange personal cell phone numbers, Merrill said.

And yes, they do have their critics. Although the Statesman editorial board praised the closed meeting, local blogger and watchdog David Frazier, who goes by the online handle "Boise Guardian," calls them "growthoholics" who are "in a barfight to see who can grab the other guy's tax base while the developers sit on the sidelines buying the booze and watching the turf battles."

Merrill has heard the critics. "If you have a family with a family dispute and you want to gather your family to talk about family issues, you wouldn't invite the neighbors in," she said.