Casper responds to criticism about city employees communicating with city council


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Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper | file photo

IDAHO FALLS — An internal email Mayor Rebecca Casper sent to several city department administrators in March seems to contradict statements she recently made during a mayoral debate.

A March 20 email was sent out after some employees had invited City Council members to special events. Specifically, a Parks and Recreation employee had invited council members to attend “Peter Pan On Ice.”

In response, Casper sent the following message to Parks and Recreation Director Greg Weitzel and Recreation Superintendent PJ Holm:

“This is yet another reminder that communications from the city’s administration that are intended for the City Council as a whole are to go through the Mayor’s office. At this point, perhaps you should send out a department-wide notice regarding this practice. I regularly meet with the council and can offer them insight into upcoming activities.”

Three days later, on March 23, Holm sent a department-wide notice about the mayor’s email.

“Although these emails have been sent with the best of intentions, this is against the policy. Mayor Casper has asked that ALL correspondence with city council go through her office,” Holm said.

But during a political debate hosted by the Bonneville County Republican Party Oct. 5, Casper appears to contradict her earlier statements to staff.

“I simply want to say that I have never told any employee group not to talk to council members,” Casper said during the debate. “In fact, I encourage them to talk to council members. So, if there is a miscommunication somewhere where someone thought that I said, ‘Don’t talk’ — that was clearly a misunderstanding.”

Last week, City Councilwoman Barbara Ehardt called out the mayor on the discrepancy in a news release. Ehardt is running against Casper in the mayoral race.

“Unfortunately, Mayor Casper’s claims simply are not true, and I openly dispute her assertion to the contrary. Mayor Casper’s policy is that ALL information goes through her before it is disseminated. Her policy has been so clearly communicated that department directors have visited with city attorney Randy Fife for clarification and direction,” Ehardt said in the release.

Ehardt pointed to a email conversation between Casper and Bonneville County Commission Chairman Roger Christiansen, as further evidence of the policy.

“…it would be best to bring the Council into the discussion after we have something concrete to propose or recommend. In fact, ideally, I would just bring them agreements to approve,” Casper said in the email.

When asked to clarify the discrepancy, Casper explained she was referring to scheduling and not general communications with the City Council.

Casper told there is a requirement that announcements and scheduling requests should be sent to her administrative assistant because the assistant handles all of the city council members’ schedules as well as her own.

“Some have confused that with information flows, but that was simply in error,” Casper said. “At no time have communications between directors and individual members of the City Council been proscribed.”

She said members of the City Council have a “golden ticket” to ask any city employee any question they may have.

When asked if the opposite is true, if any city employee has the same access to speak with council members, Casper said the following:

“They talk to council members all the time,” Casper said. “Do I encourage them? Not directly. I leave employee management up to the directors. I would only hope that they communicate with their department directors and keep them in the loop as they interact with council members.”