Questions raised after former council member accepts $74K city job 2 weeks after leaving office
IDAHO FALLS — Some current and former members of the Idaho Falls City Council are expressing concerns after former Councilman David Smith accepted a well-paying job with the city 18 days after leaving office.
Some public officials question how the hire was communicated to the city council and if managers can be objective when hiring a former council member.
David Smith lost his bid for reelection to Shelly Smede in November. He officially left office on Jan. 11, and started a full-time position as a city power utility accountant working alongside Idaho Falls Power on Jan. 29.
Smith was appointed to the city council by Mayor Rebecca Casper in 2015 and was paid $12,000 a year. His new position pays $74,274 a year, according to a public records request filed by EastIdahoNews.com. His salary is mid-range of what was listed on the job posting.
Councilwoman Michelle Ziel-Dingman says she has no evidence Smith was favored over other candidates. She is confident standard hiring protocols were followed and the best candidate was chosen but is concerned with how council members found out.
“Council members have been given very limited official information on his hiring,” Ziel-Dingman told EastIdahoNews.com. “I was told in a passing manner by Mayor Casper (in person) that if I wanted more information, a ‘timeline could be provided’ to us by contacting Idaho Falls Power Director Jackie Flowers.”
Councilman John Radford said he was surprised to learn the city does not have policies preventing former council members from being hired by the city immediately after leaving office. He worries hiring managers might not be able to be objective when interviewing a council member they had worked with in the past.
“The problem I see is that we really get close to these folks we work with,” Radford said. “We put the hiring people in a bit of bind when we apply after we’ve worked closely with them as elected officials.”
Both Radford and Ziel-Dingman stated it would be worth looking into creating a new city ordinance prohibiting former councilmembers from being hired by the city for up to a year after they leave office.
The city announced Smith’s hiring in a news release less than 24 hours after EastIdahoNews.com filed a public records request about the position and the process followed in his hiring.
The job opened in November and was advertised regionally until Dec. 15. Smith was one of six people who applied and he, along with two others, were then selected as finalists before he was chosen to fill the vacancy.
According to the records request, the position was originally created around five years ago. It’s job description and responsibilities were revamped last year to better suit the needs of the power station, Idaho Falls Power Director Jackie Flowers said.
“Mr. Smith’s accounting expertise, experience and depth of knowledge stood well above the other applicants,” Bear Prairie, Idaho Falls Power assistant general manager, said in a news release. “We were fortunate to have someone with his credentials apply. We interviewed other qualified CPAs, but no one had his level of experience.”
Prairie represented Idaho Falls Power on the interview panel. Smith worked closely with Idaho Falls Power while on the council as he served as a member of the American Public Power Association.
Radford agrees that Smith has the expertise needed for the job and says the city could not have found a more qualified person for the role.
Ziel-Dingman said it’s common practice for council members not to be informed on new city hires, but that they probably should have been better informed about Smith being hired.
“I would think that leaders who aim for full transparency would be more thoughtful with their communication with council members and recognize that we are likely to be asked questions about his hiring by our constituents and the media,” she explained. “Combined with the potential cries of cronyism that could surface, one could argue that the Mayor and staff did little to prepare us for these likely scenarios. The only official communication that we have received was the press release sent by the City Feb. 7.”
Smith did not immediately respond to EastIdahoNews.com’s request for comment.