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Eye On Boise

Catching up on the news…

The depths of summer used to be such a slow news time that a week off wouldn’t yield a ton of missed news – but not this year. Here’s a catchup on some of the news from the past week while I was off:

NEO-NAZI VIOLENCE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIGILS IN IDAHO: The violence in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend as white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters, which left a 32-year-old woman dead and many more seriously injured, has launched a political brouhaha, after President Trump initially refused to condemn white supremacy. In Idaho, hundreds gathered for a vigil last night at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial to support the victims and speak out against hate. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo issued statements strongly condemning the violence and the hate groups involved, as did Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, a candidate for lieutenant governor; Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer; and others. Vigils also were held in Moscow, Rexburg, and elsewhere around the state.

IEN SETTLEMENT: The Lake Pend Oreille School District joined about 60 other Idaho school districts and charter schools in a $3.5 million settlement with the FCC, which will be repaid for federal E-rate payments made to the districts from 2009 to 2014 under an illegal contract issued by the state for the Idaho Education Network. The district told the Bonner Daily Bee that the money will come from the state’s legislative legal defense fund. You can read the Bee’s full story here from reporter Mary Malone.

EDMUNDS RESIGNS AS LABOR CHIEF: Ken Edmunds, director of the Idaho Department of Labor, abruptly resigned, telling the Idaho Statesman that his departure was due to “philosophical differences” with Gov. Butch Otter’s office, and that “my style did not work.” Edmunds has headed the agency since 2013; it has 550 employees, and currently is facing a lawsuit in federal court charging that the agency abused its subpoena power to obtain the personal cell phone records of a whistleblower and ascertain his identity; Edmunds then fired the 23-year employee. Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, told the Associated Press that Edmunds’ departure wasn’t because of a lawsuit, but declined to elaborate. The Statesman has a full report here.

BAYES RESCUED FROM FIRE, WIFE FOUND DEAD: Former fringe Idaho gubernatorial candidate Walter Bayes, 79, was rescued from a wildfire in Shoshone County in North Idaho, and his wife Virginia, 74, was later found dead. Bayes refused medical treatment; his wife’s death is under investigation.

VAILAS, FERNANDEZ, SAYLER ALL ANNOUNCE RETIREMENTS: Idaho State University President Robert Vailas, who has had a stormy tenure including major clashes with the university’s faculty but has continued to hold the strong support of the state Board of Education, announced that he’ll retire next June. Lewis-Clark State College President Tony Fernandez also announced that he’ll retire next June after joining the Lewiston college in 2003 and serving as its president since 2011; he built record enrollment even as college enrollment declined nationwide. Also, Maj. Gen. Gary Sayler, adjutant general of the Idaho National Guard, announced that he’ll retire in October after a 45-year military career.

WILDFIRE RISK UP: The National Fire Preparedness Level has been raised to its highest point, PL-5, as of Aug. 10. It’s the first time the wildfire preparedness level across the nation has been raised to that level since August of 2015; it’s the fifth time since 2007. Fire officials said hundreds of new lightning-caused fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana helped prompt the increase. To date, the U.S. has seen 40,845 wildfires burn more than 6 million acres; the number of fires is slightly below the 10-year average of 44,000, but the acres burned are far above the 10-year average of 4.2 million.

SIX SWITC EMPLOYEES DISCIPLINED FOR ABUSE: The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare announced that six employees of the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center, which houses patients with intellectual disabilities, have been disciplined for psychological or physical abuse and neglect of seven adult residents; all have either been fired or have quit. There was no sexual abuse. The department found that two employees were abusive to the patients in a single unit, and four were aware of the conduct but didn’t report it, which constitutes neglect.

 5th DISTRICT JUDGE APPOINTED: Gov. Butch Otter appointed Hailey attorney Ned Williamson to replace recently retired 5th District Judge Robert Elgee. Williamson is a former deputy prosecutor in Blaine and Canyon counties who has run a private legal practice in Hailey since 2001. Meanwhile, Otter’s office announced that the governor’s interviews with four prospective Supreme Court justices have been delayed as Otter recovers from two back surgeries and an infection, but Otter hopes to make his selection by the end of August. The four candidates to replace retiring Justice Daniel Eismann are Boise attorney Rebecca Rainey, 2nd District Judge John Stegner, 7th District Judge Greg Moeller; and 5th District Judge Richard Bevan.

ECLIPSE LODGING CRUNCH: The Rexburg Standard Journal reported that a local landlord who had rented a spot to a visitor for the eclipse last year demanded the guest pay $65 more a night, and when the guest refused and demanded a refund, the landlord refused, leading to a likely court fight. Local officials said contract law likely would prohibit such a move, but also called it a moral violation. Meanwhile, AirBnB reported that Idaho is the fourth-highest state for AirBnB arrivals the night of the eclipse, with more than 8,300 arrivals booked. Idaho trails only Tennessee, South Carolina and Oregon. And Weiser High School opened its practice field to additional tent camping, announcing that $100 will buy a space for three nights including use of the high school showers; there’s info on that here.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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