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Idaho mulls fate of furnishings from never-occupied governor’s mansion

There likely won’t be a governor’s yard sale, but Idaho is quietly moving to liquidate the furnishings that filled its never-occupied governor’s mansion before the hilltop home was handed back to the Simplot family on July 1. “The basic supposition really is that there’s no interest in a governor’s home owned by the state shown by any past or current governors,” said Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, who chairs the Idaho Legislature’s governor’s housing committee. “So we thought it’d be best to develop a plan to dispose of the furnishings.”

The furnishings, which include two bedroom sets, dining furniture, wall art, kitchen supplies and more, were carted out of the home before the July 1 deadline and moved into two “pods” at a Boise storage facility, where they’re now being kept at a rental cost of $318 a month. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idahoans suggest other possible uses for unused governor’s mansion…

Idaho could turn its unoccupied, hilltop governor's mansion into the "Governor's Hill" winery, one citizen suggests, remaking the grassy hillsides into terraced vineyards and the house into a tasting room and visitor center. Or it could give the place, former home of the late billionaire J.R. Simplot and adorned with a huge American flag, to the Veterans Administration for a recovery center, "of course keeping the flag flying in honor of all those who have served," proposed another.

Idaho still hasn't figured out what to do with the vacant mansion - where no Idaho governor has lived - but a month after a public hearing drew calls for getting rid of it, the state's received 50 public comments to a legislative panel charged with overseeing it. Nine wanted to keep it as a governor's residence, but all the rest had other ideas. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

As Idaho wrestles with gov’s mansion issue, Simplots don’t want it back…

Idaho is discovering that it's easier to take a mansion than it is to give it back, reports AP reporter John Miller: The heirs to J.R. Simplot, the self-made billionaire who died in 2008 at age 99 and who donated his hilltop home to the state for a governor's mansion, don't want it. "The family's position hasn't changed," said David Cuoio, a Simplot spokesman, on Wednesday, referring to an earlier statement. "J.R.'s home was given to the state with the understanding that it would be used as the governor's house." Click below for Miller's full report.

Hearing on gov’s mansion wraps up, comments still taken online

"I appreciate everyone that came and testified," Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said after a half-dozen people spoke. He suggested the Governor's Housing Committee schedule a meeting in the next 30 days or so and "absorb what we heard today and wee where we go." Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, told the audience, "I'm glad you came and gave us a lot of good information to think about." She added, "You can still comment on the website." The state will continue to take comments on the fate of its governor's mansion at governorshouse@adm.idaho.gov. NOTE: If clicking on that link doesn't work with your email program, you can still email in your comments by copying and pasting the address into your email program, or typing it in; the address is good (I checked). Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Testimony: ‘Part of history,’ ‘Pretty grandiose for a governor’

Among those testifying on Idaho's governor's mansion:

Mike Kostanecki, pictured here, spoke in favor of keeping the Simplot home as Idaho's official governor's residence. "My main concern is, What are we going to do with Simplot Hill?" he asked. "It's a part of history. … That hill … stands for Idaho. … I think that reverting it or selling it would be an insult to J.R. and his family. He didn't give it to the state to make money, he gave it becuase he was proud of it and what it stands for. You can't have Idaho without that flag and the hill." He added, "If you go up there in the winter, there's hundreds of kids up there in the snow. … For the life of me I can't believe we would let this symbol of Idaho go to some developer."

John Hecht said, "I recommend disposal of the property. … I see no need for a governor's mansion." He said most Idaho governors have been from within the region, and the monthly housing allowance Idaho governors were given when the state lacked an official residence was "quite generous and quite adequate." Hecht noted that governors don't entertain seven days a week, and said there are plenty of other sites for such events in Boise.

John Gannon told the Governor's Housing Committee, "I think the 19th century governor's mansion concept just isn't working in the 21st century. And that's why for the last 25 years, we've had a governor's mansion program that is unsuccessful - it hasn't worked. We still don't really have a governor's mansion with a governor in it." Gannon said no other public official is required to live with his or her family in a residence that's picked out, designed and furnished by others.

Ray Johnson said, "I had the opportunity of living on Irene Street when the old governor's mansion … was around the corner." He said he liked that. "It was situated within a community in a residential area, and I enjoyed living in the area where the governor was, and I thought the house fit quite well. … That kind of fit the governor of the state of Idaho." As for the Simplot house, however, he said, "I look at it as an excellent home for Mr. Simplot. I thought it represented his position well and his success in his business. … But I was never quite comfortable with it as the home for the governor." Johnson said he'd favor selling the home or allowing it to revert to the Simplots, and going back to a housing allowance for Idaho's governors.

Barbara Kemp said, "I think it's inappropriate to continue funding this mansion on the hill." She said it's too expensive. Plus, she said, "It seems pretty grandiose for a governor that you do want to feel like is part of the citizenry, is down here with us, is working on our problems."

Idahoans get chance today to weigh in on governor’s mansion

Today is the day that Idahoans will get to weigh in on what to do with Idaho's official governor's mansion, the former J.R. Simplot home on a grassy hilltop in north Boise, topped by a giant American flag. The Governor's Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, will meet in room WW55 of the state Capitol from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.; you can see the agenda here. There'll be a presentation about the history and operation of a governor's residence in Idaho, followed by public testimony. There's more info here.

No Idaho governor has ever lived in the Simplot home, which the billionaire donated to the state for an official governor's residence because Idaho had none. Current Gov. Butch Otter is Simplot's ex-son-in-law, and lives at his own ranch in Star. Upkeep costs for the mansion are running more than $177,000 a year, including maintaining the giant lawn that covers the grassy hilltop.

The tale of the governor’s mansion that isn’t

For more than three decades, Idaho has struggled with the issue of a governor's mansion, ever since then-Gov. Cecil Andrus refused to live in the deteriorating Boise home the state had provided since 1947. Billionaire J.R. Simplot's donation to the state of his hilltop mansion in 2004 seemed to end the dilemma, as it was donated specifically to be Idaho's official residence for future governors. But no Idaho governor has ever lived there, and lawmakers' patience is wearing thin over the maintenance costs for the 36-acre grassy hilltop spread - an estimated $177,400 for the next year, including $80,000 in grounds maintenance and $40,000 for electricity.

"I just think that the idea of a governor's mansion in general is wrong," said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who's pushing to sell off the property. "We have a different perception of these kind of perks than we used to." Bock said his constituents have been clear: "It's just the sort of thing that … just drives them absolutely nuts."

All but five states provide official residences for their governors, and most, like Washington's, are historic properties laden with tradition and close or adjacent to the state Capitol. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Panel OKs guv’s mansion maintenance budget, vow to address future of home

Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, moved to approve the budget for the state's official governor's residence - the former Simplot mansion - for next year of $177,400 as proposed. "I don't think there's any question in anybody's mind that this isn't something we can just let go on and on and on," Black said. "This was a very generous gift from the Simplot family. … But we do need to move forward on it, and I think what we've talked about today is rational and is a good start." That includes scheduling a public meeting in September on the overall issue of the future of the home, to present all the related information and take public input. State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna seconded the motion.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, offered a substitute motion - to approve the budget, but only on the condition that the home be put on the market immediately. "I haven't found anybody, not one single person, who supports a governor's mansion," Bock said. Rep. Phyllis King, D-Boise, seconded Bock's motion. "To pay $177,000 just to maintain a house I think is outrageous," King said. "It's just way too much money."

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said there's money in the state's fund to maintain the house for now, "But it's something we need to deal with and need to air." He noted that the deed requires the Simplot family to be given first right of refusal before the home is sold. "Let's give the public a chance to have their input," Winder said. Bock then withdrew his substitute motion, and Black's motion passed on a 3-2 vote, with Bock and King dissenting.

Issues raised about Idaho’s guv’s mansion, public meeting set for September

The Governor's Housing Committee meeting today has drawn a number of members of the public who are objecting to Idaho continuing to maintain the former Simplot home as a governor's residence and state event facility, though no Idaho governor has lived there. One even suggested that on an interim basis, the mansion could be used to house the homeless. "We can't resolve the long-term issues here today," said the panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian. But he said he's "willing to have a process" to take public input on the issue. Today's meeting is to vote on the budget for the upcoming year, which is set at $177,400, with $80,000 of that to go for grounds maintenance.

Said Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, "We have not really tried to find out what the people want." State Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna agreed to post information about the issue, including its history, on the Internet; and Winder said he'll set a public meeting for September.

Public meeting scheduled after concerns over law violation in email vote

The Governor's Housing Committee has set a public meeting for this afternoon, after a senator on the panel objected that an earlier vote by email on the committee's budget for the upcoming year for upkeep of the hilltop former Simplot mansion violated the Idaho Open Meeting Law. After Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, objected, the panel's chairman, Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, scheduled today's meeting. "It is a good learning experience for all of us, including myself," Winder wrote in an email to the committee members.

Winder sought advice from Deputy Idaho Attorney General Brian Kane, who responded, "It appears that the committee will need to take corrective action in order to comply with the Open Meeting Law." That, he wrote, means acknowledging the violation, convening in a properly noticed and open meeting, voiding any previous action, and taking the business up again. In addition, Kane said all email traffic should be incorporated into the committee's record.

The public meeting is now set for 3 p.m. in the Len B. Jordan state office building, Room 155. The agenda includes the panel's $177,400 budget for the coming year, much of which would go to grounds maintenance. The Simplot family donated the hilltop home to the state as a governor's mansion, but no Idaho governor has yet lived there.

Senator: State panel’s email vote on gov’s mansion violated open meeting law

A Democratic senator contends Idaho officials violated public meetings laws with a hasty email vote this week on the $177,400 budget to cover landscaping, mowing and watering the expansive lawn below the vacant Idaho governor's mansion, the AP reports. Sen. Les Bock of Garden City sits on the Governor's Housing Committee, which oversees the hilltop mansion in Boise. He said Thursday the committee's budget vote didn't give the public adequate notice to consider whether the spending plan was appropriate.

The five-member panel voted 3-2 via email on Tuesday to spend the money for fiscal year 2013, with Bock and Democratic Rep. Phylis King of Boise opposing it. Voting in favor were Teresa Luna, director of the Department of Administration, and Boise Republicans Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep. Max Black. Now, an in-person meeting of the panel is being planned, after Bock, an attorney, wrote to the committee saying, "I have concluded that the recent vote on the Governor's Housing Committee's FY2013 budget was conducted in violation of Idaho's open meeting law. The vote on the budget is, therefore, null and void." Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.