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Panabaker, Currie the best candidates

A good argument can be made for each of the candidates running for Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Panabaker’s position.

Katie Brodie has a wealth of experience as a former chairwoman of the county planning commission and as an assistant for Jobs Plus, an economic development corporation responsible for bringing new jobs to Kootenai County. Mike Piper is heavily involved in responsible conservation efforts that have preserved wetlands around Hayden Lake and a mountainside near Hauser from questionable development. And Rich Piazza is an advocate for the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Aquifer who narrowly missed upsetting Panabaker two years ago.

Panabaker, however, is the only person among the six people running for two commissioner seats who’s indispensable. In his three terms and almost 10 years at the courthouse, he has helped streamline county government, supported two successful measures to use the local-option tax to expand the overcrowded jail and risked his political career to make the right decision in granting permission to Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad to build a refueling depot near Hauser Lake. Add to this Panabaker’s institutional knowledge at the courthouse and his important work as chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission, and he easily deserves re-election.

The Spokesman-Review endorses the Republican primary bids of Panabaker and a second incumbent, Commissioner Rick Currie. With no Democrats in the contest, the Republican primary is, in effect, the election.

Commissioner District 3: Dick Panabaker

Panabaker has twice made the kind of gutsy calls that constituents say they want from elected officials but often prove politically fatal.

In his most publicized stand, Panabaker cast the tie-breaking vote, in a 2-1 decision that enabled the railroad company to proceed with plans to build a controversial refueling depot over the region’s sole-source aquifer. Some critics — and there were many — refuse to concede that the railroad could have called on the federal government to provide the necessary approval and that the stringent conditions placed on the refueling station and state-of-the-art construction will make it one of the safest in the United States. Two and one half months later, Panabaker narrowly beat former county employee Piazza in a three-way primary race.

“I thought I was done,” Panabaker said of his political career after the depot vote.

Twice, Panabaker stood up to a small group of disgruntled Republicans to win passage of a half-cent, local-option tax to pay for jailhouse expansion and to provide property tax relief. The second vote was necessary after the Idaho Supreme Court declared the original law creating the local-option tax unconstitutional.

Brodie might have been our choice if she were running for another commissioner position.

Knowledgeable, candid and energetic, Brodie has a deep understanding of the planning process, which would serve her well as an elected official spearheading an overdue rewrite of the county comprehensive plan. She would also use her experience as a local job recruiter to model herself after former commissioner Frank Henderson, who traveled with Jobs Plus officials to entice businesses to relocate to Kootenai County. Brodie’s one down side is that she’s tied too closely to local development interests.

Commissioner District 2: Rick Currie

Currie is one of the most pleasant surprises at the county courthouse.

In his 2002 race for county commission, we endorsed, with reservations, Currie’s general election opponent because Currie lacked local government experience. The same can’t be said now. No one in recent memory has thrown himself into his work and gotten out of the office more than Currie, the son of former Democratic Commissioner Elmer Currie. Seemingly, he’s everywhere, attending groundbreakings, public functions and city council meetings in the county’s far-flung areas. By osmosis if nothing else, he has obtained knowledge of Kootenai County that few commissioners before him have. He should be positioned now to use that information to better serve the county.

Also, Currie is known for his attention to detail, particularly when dealing with the county budget. In the past year, Currie and the commission have saved money by buying office space instead of paying high rents; streamlined billing to eliminate county late fees; and saved money by refinancing the County Administration Building loan.

“Even in a $56 million budget,” Currie told The Spokesman-Review, “every cent counts, and these are taxpayers’ dollars we are keeping an eye on.”

Challenger Claudia Brennan, a long-time Coeur d’Alene businesswoman, has good ideas on ways to save taxpayers’ dollars, too, and a solid pro-business track record. If elected, she plans to work with Sheriff Rocky Watson to retain deputies and jailers who are bolting for higher pay at other local departments. To her credit, she recognizes the county made a mistake when it axed the county administrator position several years ago, before Currie took office.

In the race for Panabaker’s spot, the remaining challengers came across as one-issue candidates: Piper would be a strong advocate for controlling growth; Piazza would work to keep county employees by paying them good salaries and benefits. Those issues are important.

We believe, however, that incumbents Panabaker and Currie are more well-rounded and the best qualified for the commission seats.

 

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