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Teri Ottens

Busy mother and business owner finds time to be a community watchdog


In her professional life, Ottens runs an association management company that specializes in providing management services to small non-profit and trade associations who can't afford a full-time office and staff-setting up board meetings, conferences, training, trade shows. Clients include the Idaho Youth Games, Community Action Partnership of Idaho (working with the state to write grants and get federal contracts to serve the low-income part of the community) and the Idaho Society for the protection of At-Risk Children.

But it's what she does the rest of the time that makes Ottens stand out. Her volunteer work with community organizations puts her in an unpaid, unhailed and unglamorous role as a community watchdog.

Community is important to Ottens and she gives a lot of her time to those citizen groups that keep an eye on public agencies and public servants in the interest of the public they are supposed to serve.

One such organization with which Ottens volunteers is the Angie Leon Investigative Task Force, a domestic violence awareness group formed in the aftermath of the young Caldwell woman's murder. In May of 2003, Angie Leon was murdered by her husband, Abel Leon. (A civil lawsuit brought by Angie's mother, Sylvia Flores, against the county is currently pending.)

Like the rest of the community, Ottens was shocked by Angie Leon's murder. But, Ottens says, she was somehow unable to say, "that's so sad" and move on, "like we usually do when we hear about such things." Ottens's own daughters are 22 and 24. "Angie would have been 23," says Ottens, "right between my daughters." Thinking, "that could've been my daughter," Ottens decided to get involved and now chairs the ALITF.

The ALITF takes action to assist victims of domestic violence, and the group is currently working to get a "fatality review law" on the books that would require an investigation of the law enforcement and court systems if anyone is killed through domestic violence.

As she began volunteering with the ALITF, Ottens learned that Abel Leon had a string of arrests for domestic violence, both felony and misdemeanor, but most of the charges would be reduced from felony to misdemeanor crimes or plead out entirely. Says Ottens, the ALITF didn't understand how someone with such an arrest record was getting repeatedly slapped on the wrist, so they wanted to understand the system better.

From her work on the Angie Leon Task Force, Ottens learned of CourtWatch (which she currently co-chairs), citizen volunteers who watch criminal court proceedings and get training on the workings of the legal system. The group gets defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, reporters and others to address their group and explain how the court system works. CourtWatch publishes a quarterly report in the Idaho Press-Tribune in order to educate citizens on what they should really be expecting from the court system and elected officials.

Another citizen effort in which Ottens participates is the campaign to recall Canyon County's prosecuting attorney (a campaign led by a victim of domestic violence, Susan Caudle)-a dedication born of Ottens's involvement with the Angie Leon case and the findings of CourtWatch.

The amount of time required and the oft-depressing nature of this community work takes its toll on Ottens, but she can't imagine not being involved. "I've always volunteered-on the United Way board, for Paint the Town-and considered myself pretty savvy as to crime and what people go through," she says. "But I had no idea of the extent of domestic violence or crime in our community."

She continues, "It's really easy to live in your own little world and think nothing bad will happen," Ottens says. "It's much harder to step out and realize something might happen and that you need to do something before it does."

Part of the problem, according to Ottens, is the disconnected nature of th community. "People used to watch the kids in the neighborhood. Now we don't know each other and the kids can't even leave the yard. Crime and isolation and road rage and discourtesy are so common because we have no connection with other people."

Says Ottens, "I believe in the power of one." She believes that each of us has the power to make a difference, if we're just willing to use it-as she has obviously done. "Changes have to be made and they are being made," says Ottens, "but there's a lot more that needs to be done."