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Rathdrum mayoral contest heats up

RATHDRUM – Dueling campaign signs and slanted letters to the editor are just a few of the signals the race for mayor of Rathdrum is a heated one.

Vying for the top job are current City Councilmen Ken Hayes, 81, who has two years left on a four-year term, and Vic Holmes, 52, whose four-year term ends in December.

What makes the mayor’s contest interesting is the fact that if Hayes wins, he’ll get to appoint his successor.

“That would create a supermajority, which means you can hire and fire,” said politics-watcher Paul Matthews, who can’t vote because he lives outside the town limits and moderated the local candidate’s forum Oct. 23.

Hayes and Holmes part ways when it comes to city spending.

Hayes calls himself “a real conservative on spending tax dollars.” Holmes said he, too, is frugal. “But I’m the type of conservative who believes things need to be bought and services need to be maintained,” Holmes said.

Hayes voted against the proposed 2008 Rathdrum city budget, complaining that increases in staff salaries and benefits were too high. And he proposes capping higher salaries as a way to boost pay among those in the lower ranks, he said.

Holmes said he plans to be “fiscally responsible, but not to a point we create too much turnover with our employees,” , adding that the city spends a considerable money training new hires who could earn more doing the same work in neighboring towns.

Hayes added he wants city staff to answer for its time. “We don’t have much accountability in a lot of our departments. Public Works is one. They just don’t have to account for what they do, when they do it and why,” said Hayes, who’s been accused by Public Works’ employees of tailing them while they’re on the clock.

Holmes proposes to quell any distrust of city staff at open workshops where employees could summarize progress as well as obstacles in public projects.

Hayes wants to give residents a lot more influence on city government. He’d like to hold town hall meetings to let citizens weigh in on important issues. He’d use residents’ suggestions to “build our city agendas,” he said.

Both men agree maintaining and expanding city infrastructure will be paramount in the years ahead.

And they also agree attracting good, living-wage jobs is something they’d like to work on.

In addition, Holmes wants townspeople to come together to designate a new city park from among several suggestions recently tossed around.

Hayes said he’s “straightforward and honest,” adding “it’s not me, it’s we, you and I and the taxpayers – that’s who I want to see run the city.”

Holmes cites his years of community involvement and a string of leadership and coaching positions he’s held in Rathdrum as preparation for taking the reins.

Matthews said he hopes whoever wins does so by a big majority, ensuring community buy-in and support.