Printed on: November 19, 2013

Contentious race to end in runoff

By CHRISTINA LORDS
clords@postregister.com

In what arguably is the most contentious Idaho Falls City Council race, Councilwoman Karen Cornwell and three-time challenger Barbara Ehardt are gearing up for the Dec. 3 runoff election.

Both candidates said they want to set the record straight on several issues.

Cornwell reiterated that she is well enough health-wise to serve a third term. Some residents questioned her performance at the League of Women Voters debate last month.

"I'm fine. I have the ability to continue on the council," Cornwell said. "That's what I want to do. There's going to be at least some changes on the council, and I think we need people who have been there."

Cornwell said she stands by her record of the past eight years and promised continued support for some of the city's favorite amenities.

"I would hope I would be a help for our new mayor and would work very hard with her for more growth in our economy," she said. "I will continue to support the (Tautphaus Park) zoo, greenbelt and the arts. Nothing has changed there."

Ehardt said she also supports those amenities.

She said her comments at the League of Women Voters debate surrounding zoo funding, including her comment that animals shouldn't be replaced at the zoo if they die, were taken out of context.

Ehardt said she has stayed true to one of her main points throughout this and past campaigns: prioritized spending on essential city services by the City Council moving forward.

"I know (the zoo) is an asset," she said. "My focus is on how to bridge that funding gap between costs with revenues brought in. ... I was put on the spot, and I know there are many, many other options available."

Both candidates agreed that a plan moving forward to replace or repair Idaho Falls' Fire Station No. 1 should be a priority for the council, but differed on how the city should fund its business.

Cornwell said the city needs to grow its tax base through new business development as a way to avoid dipping into general reserve funds and raising taxes.

"We have to look at it very closely," she said. "It's certainly not something we wanted to do, and it would be nice if we could generate more money (through business development)."

Dipping into reserve funds is not economically sustainable, Ehardt said, and she would not support that practice in future budgetary cycles.

Ehardt was critical of the city's decision to buy 40 acres of farmland for $650,000 off West Broadway near the Idaho Falls Soccer Complex without first consulting the public.

"It goes back to what I've been talking about for a long time: transparency," she said. "We must be more transparent for the citizens. I have a plan to do that."

Cornwell said the acreage will offer access to recreation opportunities for years to come.

"We needed to do that at the time, and the time was right," she said. "If we would have waited, we possibly would have lost those acres ... (residents) have been shortchanged on the west side."

Ehardt said the city should use technology to get the word out on those kinds of decisions. The city's outreach should include webinars, social media, newsletters and email databases, as well as regular columns by council members in the Post Register, she said, to get necessary information to the public in a timely manner.

The candidates also differed on a hot-button issue: the anti-discrimination ordinance.

Cornwell said she supports expanding the ordinance to include protections for gays and lesbians in the area of public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels and other public businesses.

While Ehardt said she would not seek to roll back the ordinance that currently protects a person's right to housing and employment, she said she does not, and would not, support adding protections for public accommodations.

Reporter Christina Lords can be reached 542-6762.

Candidate debate

All of the six runoff election candidates are invited to the The City Club of Idaho Falls' runoff debate from 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the University Place Auditorium, 1776 Science Center Drive.

The public is invited to attend and can submit questions in advance at info@ifcityclub.com.