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Commissioner race heats up with write-in

Currie, loser in Idaho primary, fighting back

A Kootenai County Board of Commissioners race that appeared to be settled after the primary election has deteriorated into rumor, innuendo and mudslinging.

Jai Nelson won the three-way Republican primary, defeating sitting three-term Commissioner Rick Currie and challenger Chris Fillios. Since no Democrat or third-party candidate entered the race, it appeared Nelson was a shoo-in for a January swearing-in.

Then early last month, Currie re-entered the race as a write-in, with Fillios’ support. Both claim Nelson misled the public about her business ethics and her personal associations.

“If Chris Fillios had won, I would still be disappointed, but I would not have felt as bad for the citizens of Kootenai County,” Currie said. “He’s a good, honest man, and he didn’t try to mislead anybody. Bottom line, if he had won, I would not be sitting here today.”

Nelson, however, says Currie’s write-in campaign constitutes sour grapes. She said two-thirds of county voters told Currie to “move on” and that the voters’ choice should be respected.

“The citizens made a clear choice to move ahead toward a new direction and leave the status quo behind,” Nelson said when Currie announced his write-in campaign.

Currie and Fillios accuse Nelson of not registering her business properly or paying the requisite taxes on it. They also say one of Nelson’s campaign staff threatened during the primary to start a sex-scandal rumor about Fillios if he won. Fillios’ wife, Linda, wrote an open letter to the Idaho GOP chairman in a local newspaper saying a Nelson supporter started that rumor about her husband and that the GOP should withdraw its support of Nelson.

“Her ads and cards say trust and transparency. I’m supposed to be the slick city guy,” said Chris Fillios, who is originally from New York City. “But it’s the all-American girl that has the issues.”

Nelson labeled it “sad” that Currie has chosen to “go down this road. I think it speaks for itself.”

Via e-mail, Nelson said the supporter in question has not been involved in her campaign since the middle of the primary. She said at that time “confusion arose” about the placement of a campaign sign and she “asked him to conclude his efforts.”

“Since that time,” she said, “he has not been involved in my campaign effort.”

The accusations of not registering her business or paying the right taxes appear to be false. The secretary of state’s office said Nelson is not required to register her business with the state because she runs it as a sole proprietor. In addition, Nelson said she leases her office space and furniture and thus is not required to pay personal property taxes on it.

Business owners are required to register with the county, said Chief Deputy Assessor Rich Houser. However, Nelson’s Studio J Interior Design business is not required to do so because it is run under the auspices of a business operated by her father, Houser said.

Currie also takes issue with Nelson’s repeated statements that she plans to place a freeze on any property tax-based budget increases and pay for any overruns by tapping into the county’s reserves, which at times Nelson had placed as high as $56 million.

In a Friday e-mail to The Spokesman-Review, Nelson placed those liquid assets at closer to $24 million, citing Kootenai County’s comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2009. She said that amount constitutes “unreserved fund balance, which is available for spending at the county’s discretion.”

Currie said most of the county’s reserves are earmarked for specific uses. He placed the amount of those liquid assets closer to $5 million or $6 million. County Treasurer David McDowell said the actual number is about $7.8 million.

Included in the $24 million sum Nelson referenced is a $13.7 million “rainy day fund,” McDowell said, enough to run the county for three months in case of an emergency; $2 million of that was allocated to the 2010 budget. McDowell said Nelson is correct that the rainy day fund is available at the county’s discretion, but said it’s not advisable to spend the fund down because it is designated for emergencies.

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