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Jim Francis and Robert Thompson face off for Idaho Falls City Council seat 4

East Idaho Elects

IDAHO FALLS — Robert Mark Thompson and incumbent Jim Francis are facing off for Idaho Falls City Council seat 4 in the 2021 Municipal Election.

EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each candidate. Their responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less.

Tell us about yourself. Include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.

Thompson: Robert has deep roots in the Idaho Falls community. He was raised on a farm south of Idaho Falls. Growing up in a farming community gave Rob his strong work ethic and personal sense of optimism.

Rob graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1992, where he also gained a love for the sport of wrestling, He earned an Eagle Scout Award. Rob attended both Ricks College and Idaho State University receiving a bachelor’s in business administration with an emphasis in Finance and Accounting. Additionally, he served a 2-year mission for his church in Copenhagen, Denmark where he learned to view the world from a different perspective.

As a gifted problem solver and helper by nature, Rob has found success in his career as a Financial Advisor and Investment advisor helping people, and organizations prepare for and reach their financial goals. He also serves his community as: assistant wrestling coach for nine years at the Idaho Falls High school and Tiger wrestling club, scoutmaster, youth advisor and church leader for nearly 25 years.

Rob’s greatest joy is his family. Amanda and Rob Thompson have 1 son, 4 daughters and a daughter-in-law. The youngest two children are still at home and attend school in the Idaho Falls School District.

Rob enjoys supporting his children’s sporting activities. He is also an avid adventurer who stays active outdoors mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. As a competitive cyclist, he races both road and mountain bikes.

Francis: I am running for re-election to the Idaho Falls Council. The citizens of Idaho Falls
entrusted me with this office four years ago.

I came to Idaho Falls in 1953 as a four-year-old when my father took a job working on the early test reactors at INL. I fell in love with skiing, hiking and camping as well as with the local possibilities of the area including riding my bike to the city swimming pool, the sand dunes south of town and Tautphaus Park.

I graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1966. After earning my B.A. and M.A. degrees and beginning my teaching career in Cleveland, Ohio, I returned to Idaho Falls in 1977 to teach history, first at O.E. Bell Junior High and at Clair E. Gale Junior High for 10 years, then at Idaho Falls High School for 23 years, and finally, until 2018, at Idaho State University.

My wife and I have been married for 48 years and have a daughter who started backpacking at the age of one. She is now an attorney providing free legal support to women who are victims of domestic violence.

I volunteer as a member of the Behavioral Health Crisis Center Advisory Board and as a Master Naturalist doing citizen science such as stream monitoring. I serve on the Mae Neuber Foundation’s Board of Directors. The Foundation’s funds support special programs and acquisitions at the Idaho Falls Library.

What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?

Francis: In my 43 years as an educator I have earned many awards and certifications. Four of them are of particular significance to me.

In 1997, the State of Idaho selected me as the Idaho Teacher of the Year. This honor represented an outside, positive, and supportive evaluation of my view of my roles and commitment as a teacher. Students, parents, principals, and legislators all supported me in this recognition.

In 1988, I received the Idaho Seventh Judicial District’s Law Day Liberty Bell Award for Dedication to the Teaching of Democracy. This award represented the essence of my purpose as a teacher of history, to teach the responsibility of citizens to understand our democracy and its complexity and fragility

For the last 20 years of my career, I was nationally certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To achieve this certification, I had to demonstrate that I understood child development, had a thorough knowledge of my field, and was committed to thinking in complex and reflective terms.

In 2017, the Idaho Falls City Club honored me with the John Hansen Award for Civility and Public Service. It is particularly special not only for its recognition of what I tried to model and give my students but also for John Hansen’s model of public service, civility, and sacrifice for the community.

Thompson: My proudest moments have been dropping my children off at college and watching them
struggle and succeed in life.

What are the greatest challenges facing your community?

Thompson: The greatest migration of people since the great depression is happening now. Like-minded families from across the country are moving here because of the values we hold dear. Unplanned growth is our biggest challenge.

Francis: The greatest challenge facing Idaho Falls is growth. It affects every element of the city
government’s planning and budgeting. Growth offers increased opportunities and planning makes growth a positive. As more people come to the city, our infrastructure has to be expanded. Improvement to streets, water lines, waste water treatment, fiber connectivity, law enforcement facilities, fire stations, carbon-free power generation, and pathways and public transit for alternate methods of transportation will all be necessary.

Additionally, the city has to find ways to encourage developers to create a variety of housing options within the city. The city will have to continue to provide irrigation and maintenance of existing parks as well as to extend the park network and recreation opportunities. The Public Library will have to expand either through pocket libraries or additions to the central facility or both.

Constructive responses to growth will require more revenue to fund city departments, but this revenue for the general fund cannot come solely from property taxes. Going forward, the city will have to work with the legislature to modify the taxing system in a way that shifts a portion of the funding of local government from property tax to another tax source.

There is no doubt that growth can bring stress to communities, but we have to commit to being a welcoming, safe community for all. It is principle of the nation. We can make it real in this community.

How is your experience better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than you competitor?

Thompson: I would bring a new skill set to the Idaho Falls Council. As a financial professional, I have a working knowledge of Economics, Business, and accounting principles.

My opponent is a history teacher.

Francis: My four years of experience on the Council have been unique in terms of the broad nature of my liaison assignments to city departments and organizations. It has given me an understanding of the procedures and challenges associated with each of the following city operations.

  • Parks and Recreation
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Human Resources
  • Library
  • Community Development Services
  • Public Works
  • The Bonneville Metropolitan Planning Organization for Transportation Planning
    and Prioritizing

In addition, the Council serves as the Idaho Falls Power Board of Directors with oversight of budget, policies and long-term planning. I have worked regularly with Municipal Services on budget issues and with the Legal Department in the development and revisions of many of the city’s ordinances and resolutions.

My willingness to commit time to Council work gives me an edge on my opponent. Because of my desire to try to solve problems, I have engaged with every department in the city, and I have voluntarily attended meetings of the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation to try to keep informed of the issues businesses face. My work on the Council will continue to be a full-time job if I am re-elected.

I also bring from my teaching experience a philosophy that identifies middle ground in decision-making. This middle ground of moderation requires decisions that balance 1) protecting individual rights, 2) providing for the safety and happiness of the community, and 3) depending on citizens’ willingness to make sacrifices for the community. Seeking this middle ground is an obligation of government officials.

How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?

Francis: As James Madison, one of our founders, suggested, elected officials in our representative democracy are obligated to make community-based decisions. Each decision should represent the perceived interest of the whole not of one interest group or of one individual’s desires. This approach comes closest to reality when candidates commit to the city ordinance referring to elections being “non-partisan in nature.”

Equally important, the Idaho Falls City Council operates in a non-partisan manner. People bring issues to my attention through emails, telephone calls, and/or public comment. It is my obligation to take comments seriously and to factor them into my decisions; this defines listening, but listening does not mean that every point of view will be satisfied in the final decision. It does mean that many points of view might be reflected in my comments before a vote, in my struggle for accommodation of concerns, and/or in my background work on the wording of an ordinance.

I can best represent the community by seeking collaborative solutions and by holding, as closely as I can, to the constitutional principle of providing “equal protection of the law” to all. I can hold to this principle by seeking consistency in my decisions and by being deliberative in thinking through the potential consequences of decisions.

Thompson: I feel the Idaho Falls City Council is insulating itself from the public. Whether it be the new police station they approved without a bond election, to the water tower issue, to the misdemeanor violation for not wearing a mask and gathering, to the issues surrounding South Boulevard. They don’t seem to want to listen to their constituents. The open meeting policies they have adopted have also added to the distancing of the council from the public.

What are your views regarding the role of the media in covering your city? How can you best work with local reporters to ensure coverage of the issues?

Thompson: I feel the media is invaluable in educating and informing the public.

Francis: Local news media is an essential element of good local governance. By news media in this sense I am differentiating between “news media” and “social media;” each serves a different purpose. News media refers to fact-checked reporting and writing – it involves investigative journalism with the seeking of truth as the basis all work. This type of reporting is a service to the residents of the city. Local news holds the potential to literally put the community on the same page with their understanding of issues. By no means does this mean that we all should have the same view of the solution(s) to problems; it does mean everyone should have reliable information for developing solutions.

I hope for the day that reporters regularly attend Council meetings. Reporters should interview Council members after meetings to explore the reasons behind stances taken in discussions and votes. The community also needs quality investigative reporting. Major issues confronting the community and Council decisions should become news stories. These types of issues and decisions can and should be the basis of a series of stories developing the complexity of the issues. Reporting that raises questions, that provides information, that encourages exploration of answers is a crucial aspect of preserving liberty of thought. I hope this approach to local news can become viable for the community.

What measures, if any, do you believe your city should implement amid continued COVID-19 concerns?

Francis: First, I believe the city government has a role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, but that role should be based on the guidelines and policies set by the Eastern Idaho Public Health Department. The city government should be committed to supporting their decisions.

Second, I am an advocate for the COVID-19 vaccines, and I encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated. Yet I also understand some people have, for a variety of reasons, decided against the vaccine. It is the liberty of employers to establish a vaccination policy of their choosing for their employees and to decide how unvaccinated people should/must adjust their assignments.

Third, the city government does have responsibility for policies inside its buildings. Elected officials owe the city employees and all those persons who come to city offices and/or Council meetings health protection to the most reasonable level possible. That said, I do not support a blanket, no option “vaccine mandate” for all city employees. A vaccine policy that applies to the city offices and employees should be labeled “COVID Health Policy.” The policy would include the offer of readily-available free vaccines; thorough explanations of reasons why vaccines are particularly important for public employees; free, reliable, regular testing of those who choose to say no; and, where possible, feasible alternatives for work assignments. Working out that policy within each department’s unique work structure will not be a simple one-size fits all policy, but it is possible.

Thompson: I would lift all restrictions to COVID due to public fatigue in the constant changing of COVID policy restrictions, and the lack of normalcy in our daily lives. The virus is still with the world, and I would caution people to take personal responsibility through our personal choices. We have many tools at our disposal including vaccines, and therapeutics just to name a few.

If you received a multimillion-dollar grant to use for the city in any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

Thompson: I would use it first and foremost to create an endowment that would generate an income to help offset the burden and costs associated with entertainment functions and business’s that the City of Idaho falls has adopted. For example, the Zoo of Idaho Falls costs the residents two million dollars per year, above and beyond ticketing and sales. The income from this endowment would help to take care of this expense. The Golf courses are another entity that could use some help in the form of periodic capital expenditures.

This endowment would help ease the pressure on our taxes and our citizens. Idaho Falls is one of the highest taxing cities in the State of Idaho. We have nice amenities here, but they are expensive. An endowment invested properly and prudently would ease the burden. My experience as a financial professional is a skillset not currently represented on the city council.

Francis: Grant money is one-time money; therefore, it should be used for infrastructure projects that advance Idaho Falls as an attractive, safe, well-planned city.

My priorities for projects:

  • Set aside monies to pay for the construction of the community law enforcement center; add a dedicated community area and an outdoor athletic facility that supports community policing practices; and design the complex to take advantage of the city’s carbon-free power generation.
  • Provide needed replacement and updating of deteriorating parks and recreational facilities and infrastructure such as irrigation systems in parks.
  • Build and equip fire stations on the north and south sides of the city to provide full and consistent fire protection and ambulance coverage into the future.
  • Advance the schedule for the replacement of aging water lines in the city.
  • Make street and pathway improvements and create safe crossings of arterials.
  • Develop a public transit system customized for our city’s needs and supportive of the downtown, the medical services, and the commercial interests of the city.
  • Build a self-sustaining community center to replace the current recreation center. The city already has a statistically valid survey that identifies the types of amenities that should be associated with such a center based on public input.
  • Establish budget funding lines building reserves for the ongoing costs of maintaining the proposed projects.
  • Each of the above projects has on-going costs associated with it. At the same time, each project takes pressure off the current budget and, thereby, opens doors for funding future staff and maintenance costs.
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