December 18, 2022
By: P.A.G.E. Co-founder Lydia Noble
It takes a lot to get this community riled enough to take civic-type action. But Bannock County Commissioners did just that following their 12/02/22 announcement that, without any public input and within a one-week timeframe, they were considering earmarking $8M (almost half) of their $17M+ American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allotment for a proposed multi-use sports stadium. Ultimately, ARPA money for stadiums is NOT likely an appropriate use according to the final Federal ARPA guidelines issued in January 2022, and per the Idaho State Journal on 12/08/2022. Though, Commissioner Tovey did attempt to clarify that this was a multi-use (sports) “facility.”
Now on life-support, per one Commissioner, this project started with a discussion in July 2021 between Commissioner Tovey and Jeff L. Eiseman (of Georgia-based Azalea Sports Ventures and Agon Sports & Entertainment.) More recently, Commissioner Hough visited the $43M Augusta ballpark that Eiseman spoke about on 11/29/22. The looming question is how is it possible they JUST learned this project was likely not allowable? From their 11/29/22 meeting, all indications were that they would meet on 12/09/22 to make a decision—nothing formal yet, just decide to work toward an agreement and solidify other contributions and investments for this $20M project. But after the backlash, the public was told the Commissioners still had a lot of unanswered questions, that they needed to gather more information, evaluate options, and that “no” decisions would be made yet.
Further tarnishing this incident was Commissioner Tovey’s rant during the 12/09/2022 Commissioners meeting (watch the first few minutes on YouTube.) “I think it’s really indicative of our community that we are failing at an epic rate…” and then “I get so sick and tired of the flippin ‘don’t spend my taxes.’ I pay more taxes than just about anybody. And what I’m gonna do in my next career, if I decide to stay in Pocatello, I will be one of the top taxpayers in this community. I am sick and tired of the very vocal minority ruining this community. That’s what’s happened.”
Wrong! First, this project is potentially an inappropriate use of ARPA money per the County’s own legal department. Second, when has a “vocal minority” had any real power or spending authority? Blaming the failures of both Pocatello and Bannock County (to bring economic development to our area) on any “vocal minority” exercising their civic responsibility is misguided at best. Third, it wasn’t a “vocal minority” speaking out on this project. Many community members across multiple political and economic spectrums took to social media and/or contacted the Commissioners to express their opinions. Some were outright opposed. Others were not opposed, but took offense at the lack of good information from the County and their lack of effort to obtain any public input on such a large expenditure. Minimally, where was their proof (business plan, financial analysis, etc.—the “due diligence”) that this project was financially viable?
This project was clearly spearheaded by Commissioner Tovey. Could his frustration stem from a desire to get this done before leaving office, hence the lack of due diligence? He appears passionate that this amenity will save our community from failing and prevent small business doors from shuttering.
Which leads to a side topic for public awareness. Since approximately mid-September, Commissioner Tovey reduced his attendance at County meetings. At some time thereabouts he also began working in the private sector. His attendance at County meetings has since been limited to a couple Friday meetings per month. Noted exceptions were a couple of “key” Tuesday meetings in November (canvass of votes and the ballpark presentation, after which he left that meeting.) This may be allowable under Idaho Statutes, but most citizens expect their elected Commissioners (paid a salary in the ballpark of $79K+) to put in full-time hours. I venture to guess there might be bi-partisan outrage if local news media had made it known that a current Commissioner also works in the private sector. Is Commissioner Tovey continuing to collect his commissioner salary? And, if so, what is his reasoning for continuing to collect said salary? Pocatello for Accountable Government Entities (P.A.G.E.) representatives asked him that via email on 12/13/22 with minimal expectation of response. But, this topic is likely best suited for the Idaho Legislature: “Should public officials working in the private sector be permitted to collect full-time equivalent salaries for their elected positions when they are not fully serving the public during regular business hours?”
Our community is reasonable. We can see the value in having such amenities. That’s why there are so many different plans for amenities being developed (River Vision, Ross Park Master Plan, Historic Downtown, etc.) If ARPA monies won’t work, but evidence clearly shows that a stadium “is” the forward-thinking project this community needs to prosper, what’s stopping it? Forward-thinking, passionate leaders don’t rely on taxpayer monies to breathe life into projects. True leaders find a way to make it happen. They get business plans developed and provide prospectuses to potential investors. $20M among friends, supporters and investors is doable if based on a solid business plan with solid returns. Right? Ultimately, taxpayers only want to see the same “due diligence” applied to their taxpayer investments as is applied to private sector investments. Something our elected leaders need to remember when “investing” taxpayer funds.