Eagle, ID - This election year, political watcher Jim Weatherby has had his eyes turned on Eagle, Idaho.
Jim Weatherby “Oh Eagle is a hotspot. It has been over the past couple of election cycles. It appears to be still a quite a divided community. The Eagle mayor’s race will be one of the ones to really watch.”
The race to lead one of Idaho’s fastest growing communities has definitely become one to watch. Next Tuesday’s election in Eagle comes down to a familiar issue:
There’s one word that’s hard to avoid when you talk about Eagle, Idaho… Growth. Over the last decade, Eagle’s population went from 11 thousand to 20 thousand. By the 2007 election that rapid growth had created some bitter splits.
Phil Bandy “When I was running for mayor, there was certainly a faction that ran on essentially a no growth platform.”
Phil Bandy is Eagle’s last elected mayor. He won after a contentious multi candidate race that ended with a run off. Bandy says Eagle had become fractured. There were old timers. There were people who moved in from out of state and wanted more services. Others moved to this small town and wanted it to stay the way they found it. Bandy says all those factions got quiet not long after the election. That’s when the recession hit.
Phil Bandy “The irony of this whole pendulum that’s swung since I was running for office, now the pendulum is, well jeez, we need jobs. How are we going to get the economic development going so that we can bring people into the area?”
Bandy surprised his constituents when he stepped down in the spring of 2010. He quit to take a job at Boise State University. He says during his two years as mayor the debate changed from how to control growth to how to create business opportunities. But, he says below the surface the community remains divided.
Phil Bandy “The city really struggles with kind of an identity crisis.”
Mike Huffaker “I don’t know if I agree with that.”
That’s Mike Huffaker, Eagle’s city council president. He stepped in as acting mayor when Bandy resigned. Huffaker says there are differences of opinion about what Eagle is.
Mike Huffaker “I guess maybe there’s a question of whether we want to remain completely a bedroom community or have enough services of our own so people don’t have to travel.”
Jim Reynolds says it’s not an identity crisis.
Jim Reynolds “But we are in the midst of trying to determine who we are.”
Reynolds was appointed mayor of Eagle a year ago. He wants to keep his job.
Jim Reynolds “We know some things about ourselves. We know we have an amazing piece of real estate. We know that we are kind of a sophisticated country here. What we need to determine is how we want to apply that.”
Reynolds translates sophisticated as educated. Affluent works too. That’s a big difference in Eagle’s growth compared to communities like Meridian and Kuna. Those cities have grown even faster than Eagle but on average incomes aren’t as high. Eagle’s median household income is twice that of the rest of the state. Home values are also twice the state average. But houses are so last election. There’s a different issue driving both candidates for Eagles mayor.
Jim Reynolds “Do we want to identify ourselves as a city that is going to be business oriented? Because we have to change some things if that’s the case. We haven’t been as business friendly as we might.”
Reynolds’ challenger Norm Semanko is also running on a pro-business platform. Semanko echoes his predecessors that the economy has turned the conversation from controlling growth to encouraging business.
Norm Semanko “But in some ways it is the same issue. It’s the issue about what is the appropriate level of economic development.”
Semanko says it’s still important to manage residential growth in the city.
Norm Semanko “You want to make sure that you plan responsibly, but you also want to make sure that you’re not doing things that distract people from wanting to do business in Eagle, wanting build houses in Eagle. We’re going to see growth in Eagle again.”
Eagle may be polishing its identity, but from the perspective of the mayoral candidates at least some answers are clear. Eagle has to grow business and move away from being a bedroom community to Boise.