Casper discusses state of the city

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper poses for a portrait in City Hall on Friday. During her state of the city address on Thursday, Casper listed many of the new businesses that opened in Idaho Falls in 2017. “Things are vibrant in Idaho Falls, economically,” she said. John Roark/

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper poses for a portrait in City Hall on Friday. “Idaho Falls’ future is bright, and I could not be more proud to serve you and be a part of all the great things this city has to offer,” Casper said during Thursday’s state of the city address. John Roark/

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Read this article online at to see the state of the city video featuring city of Idaho Falls division directors discussing the progress made in 2017.

After a contentious local election cycle full of shallow advertisements and misleading, often false claims, Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper reaffirmed during her state of the city speech Thursday night the duty to thoughtfully and collectively address complex city issues.

“How do we best tackle all these challenges? It takes citizen involvement,” Casper said.

“We know most public problems aren’t simple ones. Most of them are nuanced — they have lots of layers. … We cannot afford to be tempted into thinking public solutions are a matter of applying the right ideology or having enough will to get them done. There are knots to untangle.”

The second-term mayor made her speech to a packed city council chambers after three new council members were sworn in.

Local residents watched Casper speak, as did members of the city staff. The crew is a fine one, Casper said.

From cemetery groundskeeping to managing the skies over Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Casper praised the often specialized work of city employees.

“They work to ensure the lights go on and the water comes out of the faucet, and then goes down the drain when we’re done with it… And it goes on and on and on,” she said. “City employees strive to anticipate problems and solve them before they become issues. When the unanticipated happens, they roll up their sleeves and figure it out.”

Earlier, the audience had watched a video featuring department directors detailing accomplishments made during the previous year, which was full of infrastructure projects and special events.

Idaho Falls Fire Department Chief Dave Hanneman mentioned the malleability of his department and other first responders to the Fourth of July, Extreme Blue Thunder Air Show and total solar eclipse, all of which generally occurred without great incident.

A new fire station also was built on E Street.

“It has been 85 years since we’ve had one of those — it’s an amazing building,” Hanneman said.

Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson, whose department is waiting for its own new station, said last year was full of “change.”

Before Johnson arrived in the summer, the department was mired in controversy over a civil service-related lawsuit and promotion injunction. The council squelched efforts to unionize the department in December, but a handful of captain, lieutenant and sergeant positions were filled in the last four months.

“There’s a lot of movement, a lot of exciting things happening,” Johnson said. “And it’s really nice to have those leadership positions filled so we can move forward together to accomplish great work in a more organized way.”

Human Resources Director Ryan Tew, meanwhile, discussed general hiring among the thousands of applications the city received. New vacation and sick pay policies were instituted as well.

Parks and Recreation Director Greg Weitzel referenced his staff’s involvement with summer events, including the annual War Bonnet Roundup rodeo, which broke attendance records last year.

Parks and Rec officials also opened a second fishing pond at Ryder Park and a new Idaho Falls Raceway off-road trail. The River Gardens rock park at Taylor’s Crossing, which has won statewide awards, was expanded.

City employees also worked with Ammon representatives to improve the intersection of 17th Street and Hitt Road.

The College of Eastern Idaho was established, and downtown Broadway Street and Bonneville Hotel multimillion-dollar mixed-used projects passed significant milestones too.

Casper took time during her speech to “set the record straight” and refute mayoral campaign claims that Idaho Falls was swept by a mass business exodus under her watch. At least 25 businesses have moved into Idaho Falls or expanded since spring 2017, she said.

Casper cited Idaho Falls-based Idahoan Foods’ $30 million factory renovation, the announcement of a $15 million cardio renal medical center, expansion to Northwest Cosmetic Labs and the introduction of Sakae Casting, a Japanese manufacturing company working with local researchers to develop a new spent fuel handling cask.

“It feels good to be the kind of city that can foster an international company doing meaningful, cutting-edge research,” Casper said. “… Things are vibrant in Idaho Falls, economically.”

There is work yet to be done, however.

Chief among them: a new police station, which is “next on a list of big ticket items.”

City officials also likely will look at adding a second ice sheet at Tautphaus Park and renovating or replacing the municipal pool, which has been plagued for years with technological difficulties, as well as the city’s 81-year-old recreation center.

The council will institute zero-based budgeting, where all city expenses are analyzed each budget cycle. Inefficient golf course watering systems will be scrutinized and water usage as a whole will be a focal point at the local and state levels.

Reflecting her continued emphasis on civic engagement, Casper will create a new set of departmental citizen review committees.

“To my more political friends, I will say citizen involvement, I believe, is the very essence of local control. Local residents working together to achieve local goals and make a local difference,” she said. “In 2018 and beyond we have every reason to expect more citywide accomplishments with more citizen involvement.”

Near the end of her speech, Casper recited a note the city received after the eclipse.

It described a Canadian family that, unaware of the eclipse, stopped in Idaho Falls last summer and was given glasses and viewing instructions by a gas station attendant.

“That’s who we are and it’s why I love living here,” Casper said with tears in her eyes. “… The state of our city is strong. Idaho Falls’ future is bright, and I could not be more proud to serve you and be a part of all the great things this city has to offer.”

Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 208-542-6762.