North Enders Split On Election

The following is a guest opinion. The GUARDIAN will offer equal space to opposing views.

North End Resident

An angry North End faction, bent on seizing control of the Neighborhood Association, has resorted to hiring a PR firm with a record of high fees and involvement in failed projects like the $100 million Safdie Library. The calculated use of hired opinion consultants to shape, manufacture, and steer public sentiment to desired ends increasingly plagues the civic sphere in Boise. The city ubiquitously uses expensive consultants to create what is often an illusion of public process. Now aggressive consultant tactics have surfaced at the local-most level in the North End Neighborhood Association (NENA) board election.

As a North End resident, I was taken aback to read news that a group of angry neighbors, hurling accusations and smearing sitting Board members, had moved to take control of the NENA Board in a chaotic October Zoom call election. NENA has long worked to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. It helps neighbors facing traffic and other problems with the city and ACHD, provides input on innumerable development projects. assists struggling neighbors, and annually holds the Hyde Park Street Fair to raise funds for community projects. This all-volunteer non-profit has done an amazing amount of good work. 10,000 neighborhood residents are kept informed through a print newsletter hand delivered by volunteers to doorsteps, and through posts on social media.

Media reporting on the election was filled with the views of those claiming anger about Block 75, TRICA, and a tavern. These places are close together. Block 75 is owned by the First United Methodist Church – the community garden and parking area north of the Cathedral of the Rockies. Around 15 years ago, homes there were demolished for a controversial church plan to build a large apartment and parking complex that never materialized. NENA, hoping to find ways to defuse hostility, commissioned a report on the historical and social background of the site and its fraught history. Right now, nothing concrete is happening with Block 75. By fracturing NENA, the residents are undermining their own interests if faced with future development.

The TRICA childrens’ theater project has been going on for many years. Recent contention is over parking for expanded activities. The NENA board did not oppose activity expansion. The tavern is a non-issue, as the NENA board opposed it. This has been mis-reported by some media. Hostility here appears most aimed at outgoing NENA President Mark Baltes, who wrote a personal letter of support. He was not up for re-election, retains his Board seat, and had already planned to step aside as president. Mark has given countless hours to NENA. The North End would be a much less pleasant place to live without Mark’s ceaseless efforts over decades. Other NENA volunteers who had shouldered newsletter, media and other work have faced accusations and vitriol, and been driven or voted out.

Consultants Stirring NENA Turmoil

The events surrounding the October Board meeting were tantamount to a coup. An on-line post on the aftermath of the chaotic Zoom election revealed that the angry neighbor group was working with Atlas Strategic Communication consultants. Atlas Services include public meeting coordination, street team coordination, message development, geo-targeting, social media, crisis response, stakeholder engagement and other activities. Consultant profiles show Bill Shawver as its “strategic counselor” a military general, and former head of the Idaho Homeland Security Department and Idaho Power communications. I first encountered his name when he was involved in a murky non-profit associated with former Mayor Bieter’s failed attempt to base F-35s in Boise. A Guardian article“Gowen Strong” Is Private Non-Profit Using City Staff In Violation Of “Public Purpose Doctrine,” described lobbying, and “potential improprieties and deliberate deceptive moves”. Gowen Strong dissolved after its activities were spotlighted. Shawver later helped found Atlas.

Public Records related to the city council’s vote uprooting the historic Log Cabin to clear the way for the $100 million dollar Safdie Library/civic center project show the Library Foundation hired Atlas in a lucrative contract to try to sway public opinion in an effort to oppose a popular citizen ballot initiative underway. The project was resoundingly rejected by Boise voters, in part because citizens were fed up with slick attempts to manufacture consent making an end run around public process. Most recently, Atlas has a lucrative city contract rebranding sewer plants as “water renewal facilities” and pushing a plan including injection of partially treated sewage effluent into our aquifer, and discharge into the Farmer’s Union Canal, which could result in contamination plumes of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”, pharmaceuticals and other toxics across large areas of Ada County.

Petition for Special Meeting Under Bylaws

It is unclear when Atlas started working with the NENA coup faction, and who is funding them. The October election had been preceded by flyer distribution and posters in a small area of the neighborhood, accusations against board members, and promotion of a bloc of candidates. In the Zoom election, some participants refused to identify themselves, as chaotic maneuvering took place. After news broke of the election events, NENA members circulated a petition requesting a Special Meeting. These are legitimate mechanisms identified in the bylaws. The petition (signed by over 180 people) lists concerns about bloc voting, candidates spreading malicious information, intimidation, undisclosed familial relationships [brother/sister and husband/wife candidates], and an underlying agenda.

It states: “Our requested resolution is an invalidation of election results and a new election no earlier than January 2021, with candidates and biography information to be posted to the NENA website in advance of the election, so that all voting members may make educated choices in neighborhood representation. The new board members elected at the annual meeting on 10/27/20 were not fairly or honestly elected, do not share the values of the North End neighborhood, and would not appropriately represent the neighborhood at large.  They have a documented agenda that is self-serving (see: TRICA, Block 75). Instead, we believe that board members should be elected based on their experience, qualifications, prior volunteer history, and dedication to the good of the entire neighborhood”.  

Consultant E-mails About Special Meeting Bombard the City

I obtained city e-mails from Atlas’s Erin Hudson through a Public Records Request. Five documents were withheld, so the full extent of the interaction remains unknown.

On 11/19/20 Hudson e-mailed undisclosed recipients “Tell NENA to Ratify the Board Election” concerning the November Special Meeting held in response to the petition.

“Good morning,
I hope this email finds you in good health. My name is Erin Hudson and I’m helping out a group of residents in Boise’s North End who have been made aware that the North End Neighborhood Association’s (NENA) board is attempting to delegitimize the recent board election. The Idaho Press covered the initial election at the end of October. As educators and administrators who work in schools in the North End, you are members of the association and have a vested interest in the outcome of this election …”. The e-mail went on to summarize Atlas’ spin on election events. Hudson continued: “We know that as educators, these values are important to you and are a part of the lessons you teach every day. We are asking educators in the North End who want to see NENA respect the democratic process …
1. Participate in the upcoming meeting on Tuesday, November 24
2. Share messaging on social …

What kind of sleazy operation tries to turn teachers against the parents of their students potentially on the NENA board, and cast suspicion over an NA?

On 11/20/20, Hudson sent a long reminder of the Special Meeting to the City’s Melinda McGoldrick spinning in detail the coup faction’s version of the election confusion and chaos:

Hi Melinda,
I hope you’re doing well and staying healthy! I am working with a group of North End residents who have expressed concerns with the North End Neighborhood Association board. They held a board election on October 27, where 6 seats were filled replacing two at-large board members. Based on an online petition and comments on social media, it appears it is the intention of the board to not ratify the results of the election at their upcoming meeting.
… As a leader in the Energize Team that manages the neighborhood associations in Boise, we felt it was important you were aware of the situation. We understand the City’s role in Neighborhood Associations is largely neutral, but this is outside the normal expectations of how these boards operate and sets a dangerous precedent for future generations of the board, as well as other neighborhood associations …”

It turns out that Hudson would be very familiar with city staff working with neighborhoods because she was recently employed at the city for two years, including in community outreach. Then she briefly was with the Bloomberg campaign as its Idaho Communications person, under close Bieter aide and fundraiser Amber Pence, who ran the short-lived Idaho office. After Bloomberg folded, Hudson moved on to Atlas.

During the NENA Special Meeting, attorney Tim Tyree identified himself as a lawyer representing Ms. Spengler. On-line searches show he’s the legal counsel for the Boise Regional Realtors Association and had previously worked for Hawley-Troxell. Her e-mail above also referenced Tory Spengler, part of the angry neighbor faction. On-line searches indicate Spengler’s husband works for a A-10 Capital, a commercial real estate finance business.

On 11/20/20 the city’s McGoldrick replied that they would observe the Special Meeting. 

On 11/24/20 Hudson sent a “reminder” to undisclosed recipients about the NENA Special Meeting:
… As members of the association, we felt it was important for you to be aware of the actions of the NENA board and to encourage you to attend the meeting … If you need any additional information or have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out”.

After the Special Meeting, Hudson sent yet another e-mail to the city’s McGoldrick complaining it was “one-sided” and prodding the city for additional oversight.

“Hi Melinda,
We wanted to thank you and Deanna for taking time out of your evenings to listen in on the NENA Board meeting. It was important to have city representation to observe what happened.
The residents we have been working with are concerned with what happened at the meeting and the action taken to ensure the vote could not be ratified at the meeting. From their perspective, the overall tone of the meeting felt very one-sided in favor of the petitioners and the acting board. I understand that there is little the city can do to intervene. However, it might be appropriate for a representative from the city to observe the planned mediation between parties to continue to ensure there is transparency in the process of resolving this matter …”.

Full Court Press of Development Pressures Face the North End and other Boise Neighborhoods as NA Is Weakened

The NENA sliming and general chaos are taking place as a city-wide Housing Bonus Ordinance is being fast-tracked. The ordinance would cut out public process for new multi-unit developments, with an imminent Dec. 14 P&Z hearing date. A large city-wide Upzoning code change process is also underway. Right now, a 7-story high density apartment building is proposed for the 16th Street area, also with a Dec. 14th P&Z hearing. This is in addition to many other projects in the neighborhood. An Urban Renewal District expansion has also been floated for north of State Street into the North End by Boise High and the Y.

Questions Swirling Around the NENA Coup Effort and Agendas

What are the ethical issues with a recent city community relations employee, now the point person for consultant agitation surrounding a prominent NA, bombarding the city with e-mails undermining the NA’s integrity? The consultants hold lucrative city contracts yet their work for the coup faction is casting aspersion on local volunteer leaders who routinely interact with the city. Souring relations between the city and NENA could impact projects for the public good, affect grants provided to NAs for community projects, and reduce the perceived legitimacy of NA input on development and other issues.

What are the actual motives of the angry parties? Perhaps some are sincere, but others may have deeper financial or vindictive motives, and this needs to be investigated.

What does this mean for NENA’s effectiveness as a voice for everyone in the neighborhood, and its ability to act on many complex issues— in the midst of the Pandemic? The angry parties have minimal experience with the time and work it takes to do all that NENA does. Some never participated in the organization.

Will Boise be seeing similar moves in other NAs? If so, will consultants be involved in hostile takeover efforts? A dysfunctional NA and uncertainty make it easier for developers to swoop in and rapidly transform a neighborhood. Chaos also smooths the way for implementation of Upzoning plans that would profoundly alter neighborhoods.

Is this related to the disturbing national trend of Wall Street investment firms speculating on the urban real estate market, and rapid gentrification that drives people out of their homes as taxes and costs escalate? Strong NAs can be a local impediment to Wall Street designs.

The overarching concern is that NENA is broken. How do we fix it?

A mediation meeting on the election events is being held on December 13th.

Katie Fite
North End Resident

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Excellent recount of the many issues taking place in the neighborhood and what goes on behind the walls of City Hall. Thanks for your effort in compiling this info.

  2. Clancy Anderson
    Dec 9, 2020, 2:55 pm

    I would say there are 3 camps in the Northend regarding the neighborhood association elections. There are 2 as stated above and the third is an uninvolved group. Some might say this group is the definition of apathy even. But trying to follow the various post on Facebook or in blog post like above can be very confusing. I think what caught most off guard was that a broader audience can now participate in the meetings from the comfort of home. This has been seen over and over through this pandemic with some embracing the extra participation. Online meetings might actually shrink that 3rd group, who exist in all walks of life.

    I appreciate all the past boards have done to help make the North End a desirable place to live and work. This will eventually work itself out and whoever the board members are will figure out what they should be doing or be voted out.

  3. A Real Idahoan
    Dec 9, 2020, 4:24 pm

    meh, much ado about nothing. The north end has been a festering pocket, a veritable spreading, sickening blue tumor of hippy rot for years. Like an ill kept barnyard or any other stagnant malignancy, it has attracted out of state lefties, anarchists and neo lib socialists for decades.
    It is a place where the females exhibit more testosterone than their male counterparts/ Let the hairy legged, pink hatted, granola crunchers reap as many of them have sown lo these many years.
    Give’em Hell General!!

  4. Communist paradise right here in Boise? Yes! How ironic for the affluent Boise neighborhood which also dictates how the other half should live. What this means to me is they’re so busy backstabbing each other they will stop vomiting their liberalism on my neighborhood for awhaile. Love it!

  5. Equally impressed with the information here. Thank you.

  6. Funny to see the comments. The North End is 15th in average income out of the 36 Boise neighborhoods, 55% of its residents are women. The average home value is way down the list even though home prices continue to climb. What seems to baffle the detractors is the notion pragmatic progressives are able to create great institutions like schools, businesses and nonprofits while lifting up the lives of many who struggle. So enjoy anonymous commenting. Boise Brave to the Grave

  7. Steve Rinehart
    Dec 9, 2020, 7:04 pm

    If the so-called “real Idahoan” had a backbone he/she would put a real name behind his/her remarks. And if the “real Idahoan” was capable of civil discussion he/she would offer thoughtful comments instead of a childish diatribe. NENA has done a steady public service and deserves our respect, as well as our thanks.

  8. More To The Story
    Dec 9, 2020, 8:35 pm

    Some of us North End residents voted in the election in hopes of filling the vacant board seats with new board members who will work on outreach. NENA’s current board makes recommendations to Boise City Planning and Zoning with inadequate outreach to nearby residents affected by their decisions. Whatever comes from this, hopefully the NENA board of directors will not have so much hubris to ignore that many of us voted with that lack of outreach on our mind.

  9. M. S. Adams
    Dec 10, 2020, 8:51 am

    Katie Fite (author) and Brian Ertz (NENA attorney) sit on the board together for Wildlands Defense. Katie finishes her statement noting that NENA is broken, and asks “how do we fix it?” Certifying the election results and allowing the new board to represent the people who voted for them is the way to fix NENA. I usually appreciate what Katie stands for, however this is a divisive opinion piece with inaccurate information amounting to a smear campaign against the newly elected board members. This opinion piece further divides and breaks NENA even more.

  10. Neighborhood Association- a big Homeowners’ Association.
    Both are filled with a bunch of Ivankas.

    Weird the Idaho Press is reporting on minor NorthEnd matters.
    The Statesman has been replaced for local Boise news, or the Caldwell 2C’ers are just envious?

  11. Richard Llewellyn
    Dec 10, 2020, 10:14 am

    I may sometimes sound critical of the North End, but I have long been genuinely impressed with their energy and commitment to stand up for their neighborhood and shape their own futures. The North End wasn’t a powerful political entity when I was a kid, and I consider them an example of what can be achieved when neighbors get involved for the long haul. They recognized the strong points of their neighborhood early on and fought to protect and enhance those.
    My occasional criticism is not of the North End neighborhood per se, but of the resulting concentration of political power that resides there due to past success — they now live in a relatively protected bubble along with most of our local elected leaders, that also extends over the East End. It can be hard to see out of this bubble to what is happening to the rest of Boise. But the magnitude of change that is coming will challenge even that protection.
    With regards to the past NENA board led by Mark Baltes– they made substantial and significant efforts to help newer and less powerful neighborhoods across Boise. They have been a benefit to the entire city.

  12. It’s very concerning that the Idaho Press and Statesman (who seemed to just copy the Press) reporting on NENA events have failed to probe beneath the surface, which is why I felt compelled to write about this. We are increasingly seeing reporting in Boise that pretty much looks like a Press Release, or industry/developer happy talk, copied verbatim. If we have only expensive consultants feeding media carefully crafted story lines, all you get is slanted news that favors those who have the $$$ to buy the consultants to “sell” whatever story product they’re being paid to disseminate. Yes, I know there has always been bias – unwillingness to anger big news advertisers and the like. But now in the NENA situation we see a spin campaign at the neighborhood level.

  13. A Neighborhood Association or an HOA, which I am on both, can only do so much outreach volunteers. Creating and updating websites and social media pages, plus newsletters offer plenty of opportunity for people to be informed. In addition, the city has parameters for mailing out development notifications plus sign postings, and the Commission and Council Agenda packets are posted each week on the City’s website.

    Oftentimes, it seems that “outreach” problems arise when it is the assumption many make that “somebody” should do something (because they don’t have time to) then cry fowl when they have not been paying attention or have assumed somebody else would do the heavy lifting.

  14. Katie,
    I would not be too concerned with the biased reporting by the Press or Statesman. They are legacy media designed to sell advertising, and their readership is a tiny fraction of what it once was, say 20 years ago. Their ability to sway things one way or another is minimal. They routinely treat the Boise Regional Realtors and local developers as sources of unbiased opinions, LOL. In fact, I think this blog and other similar groups on social media have a far bigger impact than legacy media does. So don’t get discouraged. The truth eventually reveals itself.

  15. I read with great sadness the state of affairs of NENA. As a former board member, we used to have to beg and plead for any potential resident(s) to join our board. Meetings were always poorly attended (usually just the board) and 3 other people in the audience. Tireless volunteer hours were spent on issues surrounding the neighborhood, organizing the HPSF, distributing the Newsletter, and giving out grants to the local schools and community. Having worked with Mark for 4 years I can say he is a person of highest integrity who has donated a huge amount of his time to NENA all with the best intentions. Truly sad to see the acrimony of todays politics has literally and figuratively reached the lowest level.

  16. More To The Story
    Dec 10, 2020, 12:41 pm

    For input NENA is making to the city of Boise, they should be notifying affected residents prior to making recommendations. That is especially true when web-sites, social media pages, and newsletters may not reach affected residents or may not be updated about the issues at all. Before providing input to the city, NENA needs to ensure that it has reached out to affected residents for input. NENA could e-mail residents like other neighborhood associations do. NENA has enough money to hire a local printer to print post cards and send them to affected residents who may not be able to be reached electronically. NENA’s outreach is currently inadequate and needs improvement. People voted in the election, in part, because of this lack of outreach.

  17. Question for Katie
    Dec 10, 2020, 3:17 pm

    Are the newly elected board members – the coup group – are they new residents who have recently moved into the North End from out of state? Or are they long time North Enders? It sounds to me like this might be a case of new residents (aka Californians) wanting to take control of the NENA.

  18. RE: Questions’s question. I do not know if the people in the coup group are new or old residents. It’s my understanding that there are a couple residents in the Block 75 part of the neighborhood who go ballistic over anything to do with Block 75, and their deep resentment goes back to when the houses were demolished around 15 years ago. But that certainly doesn’t seem to have been NENA’s fault and not the fault of present-day Board folks. However, there may have been a core of nastiness that this blow up was built on, or that was played upon to give the blow up momentum. But again – I am not the person to ask about the individuals as I don’t know any of them and didn’t recognize any names from public meetings or events. The one hyperlink in the article is to the report that NENA commissioned trying to work through some of the long lingering anger. HERE is the report: https://www.northendboise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Block-75-Report.pdf and THIS next link has old news articles from the time of the Demolition: https://www.northendboise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Block-75-Report-Appendices.pdf . The Appendix is worth reading – as it has news articles from 2002-2003. Way back then ACHD was already saying the traffic capacity of Fort St was too high. “Fort Street already carries 8,360 trips a day, and Hays Street 6,140. Planners say the ideal maximum level for both streets is about 7,000 trips a day”. I wonder what it is these days! AND if you read the older news articles: It sounds like P&Z voted down giving the church Demo permits. Then Council voted 3-2 against Demo permits. Then the Church’s lawyer said Council had to reconsider because there was nothing to prevent anyone being given Demo permits. And then the houses were torn down …

  19. A new article at BoiseDev business news with an Update on the contentious Tavern and a city council hearing on Tuesday. Looks to me like here too the coup faction shot itself in the foot with the NENA chaos. The Council just ordered mediation that will likelyl lead to the opening of the closed tavern. “Normally, this process would go into mediation between the Franklin House and the North End Neighborhood Association. But, because NENA did not speak at the meeting, the owners will go into mediation with city staff to come up with a solution”. An NA is likely to drive a harder bargain than City Staff! Especially staff that has been conditioned by 16 years under the former Mayor.

  20. Leave Our Elections Alone
    Dec 11, 2020, 4:24 pm

    Nothing but hearsay and repeated unfounded accusations have tied the newly elected board members together as a group. All 6 victors in the NENA election acted together? The other 4 that did not prevail were not a part of this group? That is all highly unlikely. The hearsay, groupthink, and accusations against the winners of the election are amounting to more of an outlandish conspiracy than anything Rudy Giuliani could dream up with his hands down his own pants. Let’s be clear here: the real coup group is comprised of the people that signed a petition to hold a new election because they did not like the results of the yearly NENA election. These people’s efforts are similar to the Trump campaign, Rebecca Arnold’s ACHD campaign , and the GOP States that are all trying to overturn the result of an election ran with integrity. We cannot continue to have elections until they see the “correct” result. NENA’s money needs to be spent fighting the recent hate and bigotry we are seeing in our city, not potential litigation over a neighborhood association election. Nor should NENA spend money to placate the whims of coup petitioners, many who did not even show up to vote in the election in question. Let’s move on and let the election winners deal with real issues in our city.

  21. Jill Gustafson
    Dec 13, 2020, 11:35 am

    Are these comments being moderated? Why is bullying language being allowed? A Real Idahoan’s comment needs to be deleted with an apology posted.

    EDITOR NOTE–I thought about the comment, but since it didn’t go after anyone personally, I let it stand. It says a lot about the commenter and unfortunately may be representative of other. Conversely it is somewhat like comments against “old white men.” I don’t want to open a gender debate, only explain the decision to allow the comment.

  22. Perhaps the City Council puts too much reliance on associations- particularly trying to come up with a “neighborhood consensus” in making decisions.

    The NENA situation is representative of what can easily happen in many ‘systems’. HOAs included- just a few neighborhood nerds can easily take over!

    But more in the line of the Guardian content, the Idaho GOP has been under attack by many infiltrators on the far right for a long time- the Libertarians and the straight-up wackos of more concern.

    It starts at the SMALL local level of precincts. Get a hand full of people in symphony to vote for their fellowship and before the reasonable people have a chance to notice, the wheels start to fall off. Get control of enough precincts, then the district, and then the party chair shifts and then the grid-lock makes the party look like baffoons instead of reasonable politics.
    Look at the elected elephants directly opposing Governor Little on many issues. An L is not an R.
    Split Idaho into 3 parties of influence and let’s see what happens. Recall, Ada County voted Blue in many races. In 2020 Idaho went 1/3 for the Dem ticket. Take that R vote and split it in half (Republicans and the ‘whatever else crowd)…. Then who wins?
    This is probably why the real Republican leadership hasn’t booted the TeaBaggers OUT: Scared of losing their perceived control. And now their infighting. A Republican Governor saying, “Masks saves lives” and a Rep Ada County Commissioners saying “no masks- no way”- one of them soon to be on the Health District Board. Right along with a LtGov opposing our Republican elected Attorney General on a matter of law.
    That kind of bottom-of-the-pond gunk starts building from the bottom.


  23. NonEasterner
    Dec 18, 2020, 11:43 am

    Easterner is back again, and she/he hasn’t changed a bit. Nor’Easter storms are so similar to the Guardian’s bitter and cold “Easterner,” that a closer look is merited.
    Elements of a Nor’Easter are a type of massive cyclonic storm (cyclonic being counter clockwise), Easterner’s judgmental & biased commentaries are Counter to any good norm. Nor’easters also are described as the storms that are destructive with continuous gales.
    The Guardian’s Easterner offers destructive and never constructive opinions. Because of its instability, Nor’Easters disrupt communities.
    Yes, the Easterner is an unstable person who bitterly complains and never offers anything good or beneficial.People hate ’em.

  24. The Northend. I lived in 4 homes there from 1962 to 1973. I went to the Catholic school on Fort St. It used to be a really great place to grow up and live.

    Do you want to know what the future of the Northend (and maybe all of Boise) is if we keep electing who we are electing….watch this….


  25. Hello I live in the Northend and avoid local politics. One thing I’ve noticed is that the overly-moderated and slowly-dying Northend FB group lacks diversity; so if given the chance to affect the March 18th election I’d prefer to go against whatever the moderators there support (they probably all agree with each other, as usual). I’d also like my vote to support anyone who approves of the tavern. Trying to NIMBY that tavern out of business is the antithesis of the (phony) Northend spirit of being an open-minded, free thinking liberal person. Spoiled phony champagne liberals won’t allow a small friendly B&B a block away from the existing commercial district and among a busy street full of apartments? It’s a mockery. So please let me know who supports the tavern if possible by commenting here. Thank you!

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