Three Republicans are hoping to get the nod from the GOP to be the nominee to face off for a seat on the Ada County Commission.
With Commissioner Kendra Kenyon, a Democrat, stepping down from her seat at the end of the year it leaves the field wide open for a replacement on the three-seat commission for a two-year term. The winner of this contest will go on the face-off with Democrat Tricia Nilsson for the seat, which is one of three commissioners in Idaho’s largest county.
BoiseDev did interviews with all three candidates. In alphabetical order, here are brief summaries of their backgrounds and policy positions for you to read before you hit the ballot box:
A familiar face representing Idaho in Washington D.C. and at the State Capitol is hoping to bring his experience to the Ada County Commission.
If elected, Tom Dayley hopes to focus on building relationships with constituents and other local and state government partners to find ways to cut county spending and develop reforms to keep as many people safely out of jail as possible to keep taxpayer costs down. He said his long history of working in federal and state government gives him the ability to work with people of all political parties and ideas to find solutions, not conflict.
Dayley described an instance in his first year as a State Legislator in 2013 when his fellow seatmate disagreed with him on how to vote on a particular bill. He left the legislature in 2019 after rising to the post of House Judiciary and Rules Committee Chairman.
“(My seatmate and I) had a disagreement and we were talking about why and I said ‘that’s why there are 70 of us in the legislature so we have 70 opinions so that way we can talk about it, sort it out and make a decision’,” Dayley said. “That’s what I think I can bring to the table more effectively than the other two candidates.”
Dayley worked in Washington D.C. as an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, President George H. Bush and President Donald Trump in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education and the Department of Health & Human Services.
He also had stints working at the U.S. Capitol for Idaho Rep. George Hansen, Senator James McClure, Senator Steve Symms, Senator Dirk Kempthorne and Senator Larry Craig. In Idaho, he ran the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Farm Service Agency and served as a Division Administrator for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
Dayley pointed to legislation like the 2022 bill creating a state funding mechanism for public defenders in exchange for property tax relief as the type of solution he would like to broker to help bring county tax cuts. He also said if elected he plans to meet extensively with each county department head to determine what they need to spend and what they can cut.
Like many Southwest Boise residents, Dayley also heard concerns from residents of the area about the City of Boise’s initial proposal to develop the Murgoitio site off of Victory Road with homes and a smaller park last summer. Dayley said he doesn’t have a distinct plan of action in mind for the problem at this time, but he would like to sit down with the City of Boise to “look at options.”
Dayley said he has no interest in defunding the police in any way, but if he is elected he said there are ways the county can help keep jail costs down and help residents return to work instead of wasting time in jail while they await trial. He said Ada County should institute an appeal process for probation violations, allowing those who commit a minor violation a chance to make their case and potentially resolve procedural disputes that could arise due to the high caseloads of probation officers, public defenders and others.
He said if the statistics show Ada County’s population has grown enough that more jail space is required he would support going out for a bond to ask the voters for funding it. But, he said finding other solutions to keep numbers low is also important.
“If somebody goes back into the jail for two years (after a minor probation violation), that’s $50 a day to be in jail. Fifty dollars a day doesn’t help the taxpayer and it doesn’t help the inmate. That doesn’t help anybody.”
A former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy is aiming to trade her badge and gun for a seat at the table at the Ada County Courthouse.
Dawn Retzlaff, a 30-year law enforcement veteran and former homicide detective, hopes to earn the GOP nomination with her focus on making the county government more efficient, addressing homelessness and suggestions for expanding jail space without asking voters for a large bond. She says her past in county-level public service uniquely prepares her for the job.
“One of my objectives would be to work with community partnerships to promote good working relationships and that would help solve problems our government is facing,” Retzlaff said. “I will always be accessible to hear the concerns of the people of Ada County.”
One of her major focus areas is zeroing in on the county’s contracts with outside vendors and other purchases to ensure the county is only paying for what is necessary. She said due to the ongoing inflation and general rise in construction costs, it’s important for the county commissioners to closely review every purchase that goes through the county procurement process and find ways to make vendors more accountable for controlling costs. Retzlaff didn’t name a specific contract or vendor she is concerned about overspending at this time.
Another major issue facing Ada County is the question of what to do with the nearly 300-acre Expo Idaho site. Retzlaff said she listened to a recent county meeting where the project was discussed and didn’t disagree with any of the ideas being considered to redevelop the site. But, she is worried that without a consistent push from politicians like her in the coming years the county’s plans to relocate Lady Bird Park from along Chinden Boulevard to the flood plain along the Greenbelt will falter.
Retzlaff said she supports expanding the Ada County jail due to the population growth, but she does not want to ask property taxpayers for a large bond to pay for it. Instead, she would like to raise public safety impact fees to pay for the project.
In the past several months, the Ada County Commissioners have held several exploratory meetings to discuss possibly building housing on a parcel of land next to Allumbaugh House, the county’s detox facility. Retzlaff echoed comments from other commissioners’ concerns about Boise’s Housing First project on Fairview Avenue, saying a housing facility focused on treating addiction first and foremost is a far superior model rather than providing housing with the option of counseling and addiction services.
“I don’t think having an apartment and saying “here’s the key” is the way to solve (homelessness),” Retzlaff said. “That model is an old model and it doesn’t work really well. I would love to be able to change that over to a successful homeless plan where they had the opportunity to get counseling and there would be no drugs and no alcohol to hep them get on their feet.”
An Ada County Commission old hat is hoping to make a return.
Sharon Ullman is running in her fifth election for this seat. She previously served a term from 2001-2003, and another term from 2009-2013. She ran and lost in 2016, and then again in 2018 when she was bested by Democrat Commissioner Kendra Kenyon, who Ullman is now seeking to replace.
Cutting government spending and rolling back some county initiatives to bring property tax relief are some of her main priorities, as well as her push for Ada County to take control of the Murgoitio Park site from the City of Boise. She also hopes to lobby the Idaho Legislature to reindex the homeowner’s exemption to rising prices, instead of capping it at $125,000 to help reduce the property tax burden homeowners pay.
There are several county programs and projects Ullman is interested in cutting. One is the ongoing plans for a new county coroner’s facility, which Kenyon and former Democrat Commissioner Diana Lachiondo voted to approve without a bond using a land lease agreement. Ullman said Republican Commissioner Rod Beck told her the county attorney found the county cannot legally back out of the plan due to the structure of the agreement, but Ullman would like to “take a closer look at it.”
Ullman also opposes the county’s move in 2018 to purchase the parking garage at the Jules on 3rd development near the courthouse for $15 million. The garage has 400 total spaces, with half of the spaces being rented at market rates to tenants of the development to bring in revenue to the county. Instead of making this purchase, Ullman said the county should have built its own parking structure on the triangle lot west of the courthouse.
She also supports cutting several of the county’s public information officer positions and ending the county’s contract with its lobbyist so commissioners can lobby at the legislature instead without costing more taxpayer money. Ullman also would like to eliminate the county’s chief operating officer because the position comes between the department heads and the commissioners.
“Frankly, I consider that position a bureaucrat,” she said. “The commissioners should be the chief of staff for the county.”
With her long history at the county, Ullman also has taken some criticism over the years. Ullman was one of the proponents of a troubled waste-to-energy project with Dynamis LLC roughly a decade ago that eventually became the subject of a lawsuit and was heavily opposed by some Treasure Valley residents. The deal ended up losing Ada County several million, according to media reports at the time.
Ullman would also like for the county to obtain control of the Murgoitio park site from the City of Boise, even if that requires filing a lawsuit. She said it’s important that the commitment for the land to become a park be honored and Ada County should use its Parks and Waterways Department to help make that happen for taxpayers if the City of Boise won’t.
Ullman said the county should obtain a legal review to see if the City of Boise improperly spent parks impact fees in the Southwest Boise area, which she said should allow the county to make a legal claim to the property. When asked in more detail about Idaho code and Boise’s impact fee program, Ullman said she’s not sure the county could win this legal challenge, but she thinks it should be explored.
And to pay for the park she would like to heavily rely on outside funding sources, not taxpayer dollars, to build it. The City of Boise estimated it would cost upwards of $30 million to green up the land.
“I’m not suggesting the county throw a lot of tax money into developing that as a park,” Ullman said. “I think we would need to look for partnerships, youth soccer, baseball and some of the private sector employers around here.”