May 26, 2010 in City

Challengers oust incumbent Kootenai County commissioners

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Voters tossed two incumbent Kootenai County commissioners from office during the Republican primary Tuesday in races that were winner-take-all because no Democrats entered.

Dan Green, chairman of the county’s planning and zoning commission and a retired lumber industry executive, garnered 55 percent of the vote to Commissioner Rich Piazza’s 31 percent. The third candidate, businessman Kevin Ratigan, had 14 percent. Piazza was running in his first race for re-election after winning a four-year term in 2006. Green will be installed in January for a two-year term.

In the other race, Jai Nelson, a commercial interior designer who also ran in 2008, defeated three-term incumbent and commission Chairman Elmer “Rick” Currie in a three-way race that split the vote closely. Nelson earned 36 percent of the vote to Currie’s 32 percent. Realtor and appraiser Chris Fillios earned 31 percent. Nelson will serve a four-year term.

Green ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility, promoting responsible growth and restructuring county government into five part-time positions with day-to-day operations run by a chief executive. As he toured the county campaigning, Green said he sensed some anti-incumbent sentiment among voters, but also just heard that people wanted change.

“They wanted critical, objective decision-making, and I think that’s what I offered,” said Green, 54.

The commission positions pay $71,080-per-year.

Land-use was a top issue in the races, with challengers hammering incumbents for delaying approval of the county’s first comprehensive plan update since 1994.

Currie had said the plan was a top priority but said it still had flaws that needed to be ironed out. He said he wouldn’t rubber-stamp a document that didn’t represent all the citizens. Piazza accused challenger Green of using the plan as a “political football,” and said he wouldn’t approve a plan that wasn’t complete.

Nelson touted her rural county roots and her extensive work within, and knowledge of, the building and development industry. She floated several proposals, including putting the county’s checkbook online for more transparency, a two-year freeze on property tax-based budget increases and bringing in hearing examiners from outside the area to remove bias in land-use decisions.

“I think they want someone to represent them that’s really going to listen to the citizens and be more of a representative for them,” Nelson said of voters. She said she thought the challengers’ strong showings “spoke to where we are at in Kootenai County and how much we do need to rebuild. I think the citizens want more of a common-sense approach.”

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