The two Republicans who won election to the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday appear to be philosophically aligned on at least two key issues facing the county.
Dan Green and Jai Nelson both say that when they take office in January they’ll push for a ballot measure to restructure county government so daily operations are run by a hired administrator. They also both intend to hold the line on property taxes or decrease them by using money from reserve funds.
“There is surplus money in reserves in the county, in excess of what I think is prudent,” said Green, 54, a retired lumber industry executive.
Nelson, 48, who runs a commercial interior design business, said, “The rainy day fund is ample. That’s taxpayer money.”
In a tight three-way race, Nelson defeated commission Chairman Elmer “Rick” Currie on Tuesday with 36 percent of the vote to his 32 percent. Realtor and appraiser Chris Fillios received 31 percent. Green beat first-term incumbent Commissioner Rich Piazza with 55 percent of the vote to Piazza’s 31 percent. The third candidate, businessman Kevin Ratigan, received 14 percent.
Because no Democrats entered the race, Nelson and Green won the seats in the Republican primary and will be installed in January. Green said the sitting commissioners have seven months of work left, and he doesn’t intend to meddle. Both he and Nelson said they hope the commissioners complete the long-awaited comprehensive plan update before they leave office.
“They still have decisions to make. We should give them the latitude to do that,” Green said. “They’re still the commissioners.”
Commissioner Todd Tondee, who did not face re-election Tuesday, ran for office in 2006 on a platform that included restructuring county government to hire an administrator. However, his thoughts have changed after four years in office, he said Wednesday. Green is advocating for five part-time commissioner positions, but Tondee doesn’t think commissioners can work part time.
In addition, Tondee said, for maximum efficiency, an administrator should have authority over all county departments. That authority wouldn’t exist in other departments run by elected officials unless they too are appointed, he said. The citizens appear to like the accountability of electing the clerk, the coroner, the sheriff and the assessor, he said.
“With that accountability comes inefficiencies,” he said. Tondee said he’s not opposed to evaluating the idea, but he said “people want government to run like business, and this county government was not designed to run like a business.”
While Green places high importance on the idea of restructuring county government, Nelson is less sure it’s necessary. She said she’s committed to pushing for a vote on the idea, but “if that’s voted down, I’m ready to reorganize and restructure without that person on board. I don’t think that’s an absolute necessity to have an administrator. I’m not sure if this is the time in Kootenai County to have an administrator.”
Nelson also ran on proposals including: posting the county checkbook online to show people what government spends money on; hiring a hearing examiner from outside the county to remove potential bias from land-use decisions; and convening an economic summit to brainstorm ways to jump start Kootenai County’s economy.
“We need some leadership, and I think this is the board that can do it,” Nelson said. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve.”