City Government

Is City Council Seat A Conflict With Legislature?

Guest Opinion

Unless you’re a first-time homebuyer in the “New Boise”, trying to scrape together a down payment for that $500,000 “starter home” in “America’s Most Livable City”, the notion of working two jobs to make ends meet probably doesn’t carry very much appeal.

That is, however, unless you’re an elected City of Boise official, when the prospect of simultaneously moonlighting as a state legislator may seem an opportunity too good to pass up … if not for the money, then simply for the publicity.

The curious practice of soliciting substitutes whenever a Idaho state legislator takes a break from his or her duties when the Idaho Legislature comes to town each winter arose again last March.

Boise City Council member Holli Woodings, President Pro Tempore of the Council and a former state legislator herself, was all-too-eager to juggle her city duties and take on the role of state legislator for three days for a fellow North End colleague on excused absence. Woodings cast 51 recorded votes, as an unelected substitute, in the hallowed halls of the Idaho Statehouse in the same week she was similarly casting votes over at City Hall as elected Council member from her newly-created East Boise/Bench district. The record shows that a significant number of bills passed though the Legislature’s hopper that might bear directly on local municipal business.

And while helping out a fellow public servant for an excused stint from his state legislating might appear to be an act of public-spirited personal generosity, Idaho’s longstanding local custom of dual office-holding raises troubling questions about conflicts-of-interest, and the avoidable blurring-of-the-lines between state and city government, when cities can eventually be called upon to implement legislation first passed at the state level.

It triggered an inquiry on March 28 to the Boise Ethics Commission, asking for a review of Woodings’ recent spring-break sojourn on Statehouse Hill, and a restatement of city policy on whether moonlighting at other levels of government remains appropriate and good policy, especially for those elected to public duties elsewhere. The commission is expected to rule in mid-July.

“Dual office holding” for elected or appointed positions in government varies by state. Some states prohibit it at all levels. Other states prohibit it at the state level, but allow state legislators to hold county or municipal offices. Still others permit multiple office-holding, but only if there is no risk of conflict between the responsibilities in those positions. In Idaho, eager bench warmers have to be deemed “suitable” candidates before being tapped to go up to bat as subs … seemingly begging the question of whether a person elected to city office is fully suitable because of those responsibilities to assume a second job — however temporary — without “coloring outside the lines” of appropriate public service.

Divided loyalties, it seems, remain in the eye of the beholder here in Idaho. But in a community where public sector appointments have traditionally been filled from a small, often related, group of individuals, linked and bound by business and family ties, is an “insider baseball” approach to decision-making really optimum governance for Boise?

“I’ve always believed that one-job-at-a-time is a very good rule-of-thumb, especially in a city government like Boise, where we’re hearing the office in-boxes are stacked with overdue work,” says Boise resident David Klinger, who requested the ethics commission review. “In this busy city, growing on steroids, where accountability to local neighborhoods is being further heightened by the City Council’s move to representation by district, perhaps we’d best ‘stick to our knitting’. That means focusing on the job you were first elected to do before freelancing elsewhere.”

EDITOR NOTE–The GUARDIAN made some random inquiries and found the practice of city elected officials serving as legislative substitutes is legal and common. Klinger’s question is, “Does that make it ethical?”

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Nancy J Van Allen
    May 20, 2022, 11:36 am


  2. The “ethical” question is obviously unanswered: does this create the appearance of a conflict of interest?
    You have to ask the right question to determine if something is “legal”. Does it violate any rule to vote on matters before the City Council without disclosing the fact that one is simultaneously voting on state legislation?

    Simply saying “it’s legal” is a predictable vapid response.

  3. Klinger Stinger
    May 20, 2022, 1:19 pm

    Wait. Klinger wrote this story and quoted himself? Feels like a conflict of interest. Can I appeal to the BWT ethics commission?


  5. In my opinion, this situation makes Chris Mathias look worse than it does Woodings herself. Mathias could have selected someone else from his district that doesn’t hold another elective office. I don’t know why Mathias was absent from the legislature; perhaps it was for an operation or some other emergency medical procedure. In any case, every legislator ought to have a short list of possible substitutes without conflicts of interest in case of an emergency.

  6. For what it’s worth – and I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned – former council member Maryanne Jordan served on both the council and legislature. And she was elected to the post after being appointed by Gov. Otter. This would appear to indicate approval from the overlapping BCC/Idaho Leg. electorate.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t know if the electorate knows or cares. Jordan was also on the CCDC board as was Woodings’ husband. Idaho is good at concentrating authority (power) among a limited circle.

  7. western guy
    May 22, 2022, 9:26 pm

    Yes, Boise City Coiunsel, like Boise Independent School District (can you name A SINGLE member of the latter) likes to consolidate power, to continue their elitist mindset.

    Voters, be warned!

  8. E.B. Schofield
    May 23, 2022, 9:00 am

    Just because the law says this is ok, or does not explicitly restrict this, does not make it right, as concentrating power rarely leads to better outcomes. In addition, Boise has more than enough pressing issues on its plate to warrant full attention by its City Council members rather than diverting attention elsewhere.

  9. Doubt it mattered
    May 23, 2022, 8:57 pm

    Don’t you think the substitute took instruction from the real legislator? And did not cower under the pressure from the Nazis. And asked some relevant questions. Did the councilor miss their own assignments?

    EDITOR NOTE–Good question. Along the same lines do you think Woodings’ husband cowered or took instruction from her while he sat on the CCDC board?

  10. Editor, to your note of “Idaho is good at concentrating authority (power) among a limited circle.”

    That’s kinda how politics works.
    Kennedy. Bush. Clinton. Etc.

    I just finished reading a recap of early American politics- it was also done then. That is exactly what a republic does. The regular citizen is not capable of representing their peers. So what’s the need to point out “Idaho”?

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