BOISE, ID – Next Tuesday is Election Day. Communities across Idaho will hold everything from mayoral races to city council elections. In Meridian - one of the fastest growing cities in Idaho - five candidates want that city's top job. This particular race for mayor is about growth and how to manage it.
It’s a quiet fall morning in downtown Meridian. A large dog guards the first floor of an old saddle shop. A local grocery store is slowly going into the first floor of a historic building next door. Its second floor remains windowless and empty. Across the street, workers build the brand new headquarters for public transportation. This is where Valley Regional Transit and the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho will share work space.
Tammy de Weerd: “Isn’t it nice that you hear construction noise in our downtown?”
That’s Tammy de Weerd. She’s been the Mayor of Meridian for seven years. Now, she’s up for re-election. As Mayor, De Weerd has led the charge to bring more businesses to the city. It’s part of her vision to create a self-sufficient Meridian where families can live, work, and play within city limits.
Tammy de Weerd: “We are the center of the Treasure Valley. And our vision for our community is to be a destination. For a long time, we’ve been a “through city” - people drove through us back and forth to work.”
De Weerd wants to change this. And Greg Fastabend couldn’t agree more. He’s lived in Meridian since 1998. Fastabend remembers cow pastures and farms next to his house when he first moved in. Now, Meridian is the third largest city in Idaho. Its population more than doubled in the last ten years.
Greg Fastabend: “There was very little to do in Meridian and that’s been one of our favorite things that we’ve seen change because there’s so much convenience and opportunity here in town to get the things we need rather than to have to drive to Boise and other communities.”
Fastabend and a friend wrap up a late lunch in a downtown restaurant. It’s next to a plaza where a Farmer’s Market is held every Thursday in summer. This “urban” market started a few months ago. Gerry Sweet has noticed these and other changes in Meridian over the years. He lives down the road from Settler’s Park which opened in 2003. Sweet’s lived in the city for the past thirty-five years. He, like de Weerd, wants to be Meridian’s next mayor. He says he’d take a different approach to redevelopment.
Gerry Sweet: “I will use free market, private enterprise principles downtown to attract and to encourage businesses to grow there. As opposed to taking taxpayer moneys and subsidize one business over the other.”
Sweet is a former state Senator. He now runs a custom firearms business from a building behind his house. Sweet says he’s a fiscally conservative Republican. He thinks the city has mismanaged and wasted millions of dollars. Michael Smith has agrees with that assessment. He sits in Settler’s Park with his wife talking about how he’s watched Meridian change in the last 12 years.
Michael Smith: “The times we’re in right now we need to take a more conservative, fiscal approach to what’s going on. I know there’s a major overrun on the new city hall.”
Construction of the new city hall has been an issue in this mayoral campaign. The city of Meridian sued Petra, Inc, its construction manager, for leaks and other defects in the building. The judge ruled in Petra’s favor and ordered the city to pay millions in legal fees. Jason Monks’s, another candidate for Mayor. He’s heard a lot of complaints about this case. That’s one reason he decided to make his first bid for public office.
Jason Monks: “I look at things from a business standpoint. What makes economic sense and what is going to be the best thing for my customers? And that’s how I look at politics as well.”
De Weerd sees the city hall issue as an example of Meridian leaders trying to do the right thing for the community.
Tammy de Weerd: “We moved into a building that had serious issues. And we all looked at it with our taxpayer hat on and thought, 'We should not have to pay twice for work that should have been done correctly to begin with.'”
She says the city wants to evaluate its options for city hall and then move forward. Meanwhile, who will guide those next steps will be decided next Tuesday. De Weerd faces not only Sweet and Monks but two other political newcomers: Lisa Paternoster and Randy Pew. All of them want a shot at shaping Meridian’s future for the next four years.
Copyright 2011 Boise State Public Radio