June 20, 2022
The Untold vs. Continuing Story
by: P.A.G.E. Cofounder Lydia Noble
Amazing what people fail to hear and understand . . . yet they often believe they have the sole voice of authority and truth. Not so!
I attended the City Council meeting on May 19th when it ended abruptly due to breaking of the quorum. Majority Council Cheatum, Leeuwrik, Mansfield and Mayor appeared to believe themselves blameless. (The mayor’s “tiebreaker vote” can cause this 4-vote majority as he most often votes “with” these Councilmembers.) The 4-vote majority that night thought they held-all-the-cards, using procedural tactics to force approval of city spending without discussion. Instead, they demonstrated their lack of understanding and inclusion and their continuing refusal to address growing overspending despite a looming recession. The unwillingness of this 4-vote majority to face facts, along with their use of premeditated tactics, perpetuates the hostile Council work environment. Insightful, important spending questions must STOP being mischaracterized as “attacks.”
The untold story is that Council reviewed public responses to the Comprehensive Plan earlier that same day. Councilwoman Ortega focused on the number of respondents registering “exclusivity” as an unhealthy trait in our community. Council appeared to agree, indicating this was an issue warranting attention. They spoke about how economic viability and personal safety were influenced by peoples’ willingness to fit-in-with and accept others.
Then, just hours later, Council showed their true values. Ms. Ortega requested two financial agenda items be temporarily removed from the Consent Agenda for further discussion. Questionable procedures followed with a quick motion by majority Council to lump these two items back together and approve them—seconded immediately. Clearly premeditated actions. A rushed vote followed, completely ignoring Ms. Ortega’s right to publicly address these two items in detail.
Please realize, Council has no agreed-upon, adopted process for running meetings. Instead, their loose, undefined, so-called “parliamentary procedures” open the door to manipulative conduct.
With a single, appalling display of exclusivity, Council forced aside all citizens who voted Ms. Ortega into Council to ask such questions. She appeared visibly shaken. Councilman Bray did try to reach out—possibly to console, apologize or offer support.
The hostile environment persisted—Ms. Ortega left. At that point, I believe Councilman Bray saw two options: 1) stay and be a part of the problem; or 2) leave in the hopes of being part of a solution. He left, not wishing to be part of majority Council premeditated exclusivity—traits so easily exhibited by majority Council and Mayor.
Elected leaders who don’t understand their reliance on exclusivity to achieve a goal demonstrate how far we have to go as a community to overcome such behaviors. Actions speak louder than words.
I’ve invested significant time and effort following Council. Retiring as an integral part of an INL finance/budget team, my interest in the city is due to ever-increasing property taxes. I wanted to learn what drives this process—what is my return-on-investment? Logically, I started with the City since it receives the largest share of our property taxes (>50%). Unfortunately, I encountered a system offering “selective” transparency at best.
Routinely, three minority Council (Bray, Ortega, Stevens) ask questions—determined to prioritize transparency and fiscal oversight (their job.) Mayor and three majority Council disdain this accountability—examples of questions they find offensive: 1) ongoing requests for detailed purchasing-card reports—missing since November; 2) clarification of $9,553/month charge for on-site NAPA store/employee; and 3) asking which public works building roof was repaired for $42K+. By asking these questions and attempting to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility, minority Council are accused of conducting a “campaign of ridicule” and being “demeaning.” Have our elected officials and/or city employees forgotten about our system of checks and balances and why it was put into place?
Look to your property value assessments for the continuing story. In the short time since received, people report their assessed (taxable) property values rising from 20% to >100%. These dramatic increases come on the heels of the Council giving guidance to construct the initial FY2023 Pocatello budget with the HIGHEST base tax increase allowable, 3%. Plus, Council green-lighted their statutory ability to use taxes shelved over the last few years to seek an additional 4% increase. Not even included in this proposed 7% increase are allowable “New Construction” and “Annexation” increases—easily another 1%. Most disturbing of all, prior-year actions demonstrate Council does NOT make significant cuts after initial budget construction.
Believing that Pocatello population growth will ease our tax burden is misguided. Any increases in revenue due to growth simply fund our out-of-control city budget instead of being saved for future needs resulting from that growth. In reality, existing residential/commercial taxpayers shoulder the growing tax burden. Meanwhile, some Council act like taxpayers don’t deserve consideration—just ante up now, you’ve been getting a “deal” for years! So much for Council representing “The People.” Look around—where is our return-on-investment?
Have you experienced the exclusivity demonstrated by some Council toward other Council? Are you fed up with the “information control?” If so, commit to attend meetings. See “your” elected representatives in action. After all, being silent and invisible has cost you dearly.