Open Government

Ullman plans to skirt the press, blog about county


This article has been corrected below.

When Sharon Ullman first served on the Ada County Commission eight years ago, and regularly took her beefs with the county to the press, it drove her fellow commissioners crazy.

In 2001, four months after taking office, her colleagues Roger Simmons and Grant Kingsford removed her from an emergency communications board and filed an employee harassment complaint against her.[Corrected 4.6.2010: Simmons and Kingsford did not file a harassment complaint against Ullman in 2001. They did defend the county employee who filed the complaint.]

"She feels very strongly about certain things, but she also doesn't mind being contrary and going public with it," said Frank Walker, the Democratic commissioner whom Ullman beat in 2000 after three prior runs for the commission.

Ullman served one term from January 2001 to January 2003 and will take office again on Jan. 12, 2009, after beating Democrat Paul Woods in the November election by more than 6,000 votes.

She may still go public with her disagreements, but she won't be doing it through the press this time around.

"I'm not going to be doing that kind of thing," Ullman said after BW asked her to sit down for an interview. "I'm not going to do interviews with the media, I'm going to communicate directly with the people."

Ullman plans to communicate to county residents through a new blog, a newspaper column similar to one she published in the Kuna-Melba News and Valley Times during her last term, and townhall meetings.

Though the two incumbent commissioners—Fred Tilman and Rick Yzaguirre—say they are prepared to work with Ullman, they also declined an interview on the subject and an e-mail statement from Tilman hints at a fundamentally different view of county business.

"The Board of Ada County Commissioners is confident that business will continue as usual, as it has for decades past, regardless of the change in elected leadership," Tilman wrote.

Ullman, who has dogged the county for decades, picking apart the county budget and insisting on more openness in public records, bills herself as a reformer who is opposed to business as usual.

Ullman supports disbanding the county Planning and Zoning Commission and has backed the idea of restructuring the board to which she was just elected.

And her main theme—reducing property taxes and scrutinizing the county budget—has county workers apprehensive.

According to one county employee who was not around during Ullman's last stint on the board, county workers are worried about slash-and-burn budgeting and that Ullman will be a "bull in a china shop."

But Ullman has had six years to reflect on the successes and failures of her last term after being "thrown out by the electorate," said former Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen.

"She's had several years to think about it," Killeen said. "Sharon Ullman is a very intelligent woman, but she's difficult to get along with because she tends to be looking for an 'I gotcha' issue, more than trying to solve problems."

As the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce sat down with candidates earlier this year, Ullman told the chamber up front that she did not want their endorsement but that she wanted to meet with the group anyway, according to Julie Pipal, who was not at the meeting but now coordinates the group's political action committee.

"We would hope that she would be willing to sit down and talk to people," said Pipal.

In parts of Ada County, Ullman is already talking to people.

"She is in touch with the people in this part of the county," said Glen Stephens, president of the Southwest Ada Neighborhood Association. "She's not going to follow along just because they think it's a good idea," Stephens said. "She's a thinker, she's not a follower."