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Tuesday voters to pick county commissioners

Voters don’t have to wait long to see who will control the Kootenai County Commission, because Tuesday’s Republican primary determines who gets the job.

Three candidates are vying against commission Chairman Dick Panabaker for his District 3 seat – Katie Brodie, Rich Piazza and Mike Piper.

Businesswoman and political newcomer Claudia Brennan is challenging Commissioner Rick Currie in District 2.

The winner takes all in both races, because no Democrats or third party challengers have filed for office.

District 3

Brodie, 57, a former Kootenai County Planning Commission chairwoman and Jobs Plus assistant, said her aim is to figure out how to reduce the county’s spending while attracting commercial and clean industrial businesses to Kootenai County to expand the tax base. She wants the county to give more money to Jobs Plus to help in that effort and thinks a commissioner should often travel with recruiters as a show of support.

Brodie, who is currently an Idaho Forest Industries property manager, has raised $24,540 in her bid for office, which is probably the largest amount ever reported on a single campaign finance report in a county race, election officials said. The cash, including 10 donations of $1,000 each, comes mostly from local residents and people in the timber and auto sales businesses in addition to members of the well-known Jacklin grass seed family. Concerned Businesses also donated $1,000.

Panabaker, 63, a former Hayden mayor who was elected to the County Commission in 1994, wants to stay in office two more years because he thinks there’s a lot of unfinished business, such as the county’s relationship with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, especially when it comes to control of Lake Coeur d’Alene and residents’ docks. He also wants to continue his work on the Coeur d’Alene River Basin Commission, which oversees cleanup on mining waste in the basin, and making sure portions of the Rathdrum Prairie are preserved for open space.

Panabaker said he refuses to “roll over” for special interest groups, namely Hagadone Corp., Concerned Businesses and the local business recruiter Jobs Plus.

In these tight budget times, Panabaker said it’s inappropriate for the county to give $50,000 to nongovernment agencies such as Jobs Plus. He has raised $5,700.

Piazza, 57, a retired county tax assessor, thinks the commission needs an ordinary citizen who will represent everyone in the county, not just special interests. He ran against Panabaker in 2000 because he disagreed with the commission’s vote to put the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway refueling depot over the aquifer.

Piazza thinks the county must work with Idaho and Washington officials along with the federal government to study the aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for 400,000 people.

Piazza said the county could also entice employees to stay by enhancing benefits even if it can’t afford pay increases. He has raised $5,035.

Piper, 57, is in the race because he’s upset with how the county is managing growth. Piper is not employed, but he leads the conservation watchdog groups Save Hayden Lake, Alliance for Responsible Growth and Canfield Mountain Preservation.

He wants the county to start enforcing its laws for classifying and subdividing land.

He thinks the county needs to lobby the Idaho Legislature to change state law to allow counties to charge impact fees like cities do to help pay for infrastructure in new developments.

He opposes special interest groups taking over the county and advocates for the common resident.

He hasn’t solicited campaign donations but has raised $1,301, which includes $575 of in-kind donations.

The District 3 candidates are running for a two-year term.

District 2

Brennan, 51, argues the commission lacks the management skills she has from owning Unique Printing for 25 years. She thinks the current commission has done a poor job managing the county’s $54 million budget.

By giving the pocketbook more scrutiny and finding savings in some departments, she said the cash can be found to give sheriff’s deputies larger salaries and more money to Jobs Plus. Brennan also touts her communication skills. She has raised $13,550.

Currie, 56, thinks that, as a native, he has the perspective and insight needed to run this quickly growing county. Currie said the commission scrutinizes the budget and additional money from new growth is already eaten by state mandates such as indigent care and district court costs. He said people who have never served in office before don’t know the difficulty in managing the county budget, even if they are business owners. He has raised $3,992.

Currie, a former car salesman, was elected in 2002 after beating out well-known Commissioner Ron Rankin in a high-profile race. He then went on to beat former Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Chris Copstead, who ran as an independent to avoid the Republican primary.

Currie and Brennan are vying for a four-year term.


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