By DAVID KLINGER
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?”
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