State of the City

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper addresses the City Council and audience members during the State of the City address on Jan. 10.

Idaho Falls city officials are planning to create a citizens’ committee to make recommendations on ways to make Idaho Falls a community people want to move to.

The City Council plans to vote Thursday to agree in principle to launch the Connecting Us — Sustaining Progress, or CUSP initiative. According to a proposed timeline, the Council would establish a steering committee and name a chairman soon, and the group would decide on the topics it will study from now through the early fall and name subcommittees. The kickoff meeting would be held in October or November, and the group would spend much of 2020 studying and report its findings in fall 2020.

“We want to be so special that people will say, ‘What’s it going to take to get me to Idaho Falls?’” said Mayor Rebecca Casper. “That’s where I want to live and work.”

Casper said CUSP would give policymakers data on which to base their decisions.

“We’ll be able to frame issues intelligently rather than emotionally or just with anecdotal thoughts we’ve had because we’ve lived here for a while. ... If we do this right, our community will be better,” Casper said.

According to a slideshow presented at Monday’s Council work session, the group will study education and workforce issues; health care and public health; housing, transportation and accessible infrastructure; diversity and inclusion; demographics and intergenerational linkages; public and personal safety, including crime and suicide; community enrichment, such as arts, culture and recreation; and the economic and business climate. A draft copy of the resolution the Council will take up Thursday says the committee will “research and recommend to the Council and community leaders ways the City can act, encourage, model, and partner to effect an atmosphere conducive to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce and meeting the needs of the greatest number of citizens.”

Juan Alvarez, Idaho National Laboratory’s deputy director for management and operations who was involved in coming up with the idea for CUSP, said INL’s latest class of interns, 23 percent of whom are women and 40 percent of whom are ethnic minorities, are a reflection of the city’s future. He talked about the challenges of finding short-term housing for 450 people in the current market, and said he views CUSP as a way to understand what the community’s needs are today.

“Our community has to be able to reflect those values that make that person feel welcome,” he said.

Lisa Sherick, a longtime educator who recently retired as superintendent of Jefferson School District 251, talked about how technology is changing education. Students today, Sherick said, “live in a far different world than we did when we were students.” She also talked about the high teacher turnover in many Idaho school districts, and said inclusive and diverse communities will attract the best workers.

“It’s very important that we’re creating the kinds of communities that people want to live in,” she said.

Some City Council members suggested some minor changes, but they mostly seemed to like the concept. Councilman John Radford talked about the sense of community he felt growing up in Idaho Falls in the 1980s, where he knew all his neighbors, and wondered if people living here today feel the same connection.

“The more we’re disconnected from other human beings, the worse we’re doing, mentally and as a community,” he said. “And we’re lucky in Idaho Falls because we have a lot of people that are in this room who care and work hard, and we create great communities, but we also have a lot of challenges.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.