Cheers and jeers: Changing the culture

CHEERS to Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper. A week ago today, the Post Register reported that Casper named Duane Nelson interim fire chief to replace the retiring Dean Ellis. Nelson’s appointment was unanimously supported by the City Council.

This was a risky call by Idaho Falls’ rookie mayor. In appointing Nelson, Casper bypassed several higher-ranking officers, including the battalion chiefs.

The fallout already has begun. As reported Thursday by the Post Register’s Bryan Clark, two of Idaho Falls’ top fire officers, both of whom are retiring, expressed concern about the appointment on their way out the door.

“To me, it’s like a coup,” Division Chief Dorin Howard said.

Added Division Chief Brad Pettingill: “I totally expect there will be some other individuals retiring soon.”

Well, if this was a coup, it’s about time.

And if others want to leave, so be it.

That’s not to say we don’t appreciate the job Howard, Pettingill and other veterans have done. We do. But to say Casper is putting too much emphasis on book smarts sounds like sour grapes from people who have done pretty well for themselves on the public dime.

The fire chief oversees a budget of nearly $14 million and 200 people. That Nelson earned a degree in fire service administration and has experiences outside the Idaho Falls Fire Department is a good thing.

Nowhere in the private sector will you find companies hiring upper level managers without a college education. Not having taken statistics, economics and management classes doesn’t mean you can’t be a good firefighter. It does, however, mean you’re probably not qualified to run a multimillion-dollar entity.

And it’s not as though things were perfect under the old guard. A department that radically exceeded its overtime budget and had to reduce man hours at a key station is obviously in need of some new ideas.

Nelson has a chance to prove himself. Whether he sticks as the permanent chief, his appointment shows that the new mayor has guts and understands the importance of continuing to change the culture at City Hall.

JEERS to Jefferson County Commissioner Tad Hegsted. Tuesday, Hegsted blindsided fellow Commissioner Brian Farnsworth, who was just re-elected to a four-year term by voters interested in cleaning messes Hegsted had a hand in making.

Hegsted demanded an accounting about troubles Farnsworth referred to in a Post Register guest column published May 4.

Does Hegsted really want to relive a litany of misdeeds that has resulted in an Attorney General’s investigation, the resignation of the public works director, a federal lawsuit filed against the sheriff, the elected prosecutor owing his own county $18,000 and two lawsuits filed by the local newspaper?

Apparently he does.

CHEERS to Hegsted. Street-smart politicians understand when to keep their heads down and mouths shut. Not Hegsted. By challenging Farnsworth, he has given Jefferson County’s reform-minded commissioner a platform.

Farnsworth gets to answer Hegsted, in great detail, at upcoming commission meetings. Get ready to hear a whole lot about county trucks being illegally crushed in the landfill, a “short-skirt” policy, the cellphone used by the sheriff’s wife and placed in the name of another county employee, and so much more.

This long list will be kept in the public eye and on the front page as July1 approaches. That’s when a new law comes on the books that allows the Attorney General’s office more latitude in investigating county officials accused of wrongdoing.

Thanks, Tad.

CHEERS to Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson. Both were named “fiscal heroes” by the nonprofit Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Crapo served on President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Unlike some members of that group, however, Crapo had the guts to endorse its findings, which included both spending cuts and tax increases to address the nation’s ballooning debt. Simpson helped found the bipartisan “Go Big” coalition, which is pushing for a comprehensive debt deal.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and bask in the adulation of those rigid ideologues that see their way as the only way. It’s more difficult to leave your comfort zone and try to work with your ideological opposites to craft workable solutions. Crapo and Simpson did just that and are deserving of this honor.

JEERS to failed Republican attorney general candidate Chris Troupis. In the May 20 primary, Troupis lost to incumbent Lawrence Wasden 59 percent to 40 percent.

At a GOP “unity rally” on the steps of the state capitol, Troupis endorsed Wasden. But Troupis pulled that endorsement after Wasden’s Democratic opponent said he won’t be actively campaigning.

All that proves is Troupis didn’t really mean it when he professed support for Wasden. So, why say something that isn’t true? Oh yeah, he’s a lawyer and a politician. Hide the women and children.

CHEERS to the top-ranking Democrat in the Idaho House of Representatives, John Rusche of Lewiston. On health care-related matters, Rusche is an expert from all angles.

He’s a doctor and former hospital and insurance company administrator who sits on the board of the Catastrophic Fund, which pays medical bills for Idaho’s medically indigent.

So it matters when Rusche reminds us about how damaging the decision not to expand Medicaid coverage to Idaho’s working poor really is. In his latest newsletter, Rusche updated two very sad tallies. So far this year, the decision not to expand has cost Idahoans $42 million in reduced costs and an estimated 50 lives. That’s based on a New England Journal of Medicine formula proving true in Massachusetts, which has accumulated eight years of data.

More on that next week.

CHEERS to Crooked Fence Brewing of Garden City. It will donate 10 percent of proceeds from its latest creation, “Little Bitch Otter” beer to “organizations working toward equality in Idaho.”

Before you get indignant, understand our governor has an excellent sense of humor and also has been known to enjoy a cold one. We doubt he’s all that worked up about this.

On the other hand, he’s also the guy filing the appeal against a court ruling invalidating Idaho’s gay marriage ban and someone who, despite his libertarian leanings, wouldn’t support adding the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to Idaho’s Human Rights Act.

So, this “honor,” while admittedly a dubious one, is deserved.

CHEERS to Pinecrest Golf Course head professional Tim Reinke, who recently was inducted into the Idaho Falls Men’s Golf Association Hall of Fame.

A man who always has a smile on his face and kind word for everyone — no matter how ugly their swing or putting stroke — Reinke obviously enjoys the job he’s held for more than three decades. It’s difficult to imagine anyone more deserving of this honor. Here’s to teaching the hackers to hit ’em straight for another 30 years, Tim.

Corey Taule

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