Three candidates challenging incumbent Marc Carroll for Blackfoot Mayor
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BLACKFOOT – Four candidates are running for Mayor in Blackfoot.
Incumbent Marc Carroll is being challenged by Craig Stuart, James Thomas and Ron Ramirez.
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.
Carroll: My wife Marilynn and I moved to Blackfoot 45 years ago. We have been happily married for 53 years and have three daughters who also live in Blackfoot. Tiffany (Kevin) Leavitt, Tawni (Jeff) Lewis, and Tara (Derek) Cottrell. We have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I retired from the Idaho National Laboratory in 2011 during my 35th year, with a management background.
My volunteer “career” includes three years as PTA President at Stoddard Elementary, several ad hoc committees for Blackfoot School District 55, United Way of Southeast Idaho Executive Board, which I served on for six years. I was also a Regional Commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization for 39 years, as well as a coach, referee and section coach trainer. I coached varsity soccer for Blackfoot High School for eight years and served 12 years on Blackfoot’s Transportation Commission, serving as Chairman for seven of those years. I have had the privilege to serve as Mayor for the City of Blackfoot for the last four years.
Stuart: I was born in Blackfoot and it has been the center of my life. Though I have lived other places, it always draws me back! My wife Rae Jean and I love it here!
We have 10 children, 7 living. We have 17 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. We enjoy the outdoors and love camping, biking, boating, and staying healthy through exercise and diet.
I started my career in the farming and trucking industry in the area. From there, I went to the INL and worked in bus operations for 15 years. I had a business in Utah as a wholesaler to the Home Depots in that state. I have also managed petroleum distribution in Idaho and Utah for Moyle Petroleum/Exxon Mobil for 15 years.
I volunteer at church and have held positions in our congregation through many years and enjoy the associations and leadership that I have developed. Giving service is the best feeling.
I started up an excavation business for me and my son several years ago. He passed in 2017, so I sold it.
I have a commitment for action in my life which is: “Do the right thing for the right reason.” For this reason, I am running for Mayor of Blackfoot.
Thomas: I’ve lived in Blackfoot since 1969. I went to and graduated from Blackfoot High School. I’m also a 1973 graduate of Snow College. I have lived in Blackfoot for approximately 49 years. I have a wife, three children, and four grandchildren. I have been in the drywall business for 47 years, as the owner of Jim Thomas Drywall. I have also owned and managed rental properties for 38 years, and have also owned and operated a couple of farms for the last 27 years. This is my second time running for Mayor of Blackfoot.
Ramirez: I was born in Aberdeen. I graduated from American Falls High School and went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force for 24 years, which included flying 48 missions as a navigator/bombardier on a B-52 during the Vietnam War. I moved back to Idaho in 1996 and have lived in Blackfoot since 2005.
I have been married to Nadine Varney Ramirez for more than 56 years. We have 3 children, 16 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. I have been active in community service as a Boy Scout leader and through my church, the American Legion Post 75, the Driggs Chamber of Commerce, a member of Colorado LULAC, a member of the Teton Valley Hospital Board and currently a District 6 CASA volunteer. I also serve as the Chairman of the Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commission.
- Master’s Degree in Public Administration, Adjunct Professor of Government and Politics, Laramie County Community College
- Six years as Cheyenne city councilman, Four years as a Teton County, Idaho county commissioner
- Four Years as lobbyist at state legislature for city and county governments
- Four Years as member of the Finance, Administration, and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) subcommittee of the National League of Cities, 4 years as Congressional Liaison for the United States Air Force Academy
- Six years as Blackfoot Planning and Zoning Commissioner.
Have written and/or amended over 120 pages of Blackfoot city code, initiated rewrite of Blackfoot Comprehensive Plan, have sought cooperation with county officials on rewrite of Impact Area Agreement.
Four Years as a Board Member of East-Central Idaho Planning and Development Association.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?
Ramirez: My greatest accomplishment is choosing the right wife. The thing I am most proud of in my life is my family. I have three wonderful children who have married three wonderful spouses. All are honest, caring, productive members of their communities. I wish I could take credit for that, but the real credit must go to my beloved wife of over 56 years, Nadine Varney Ramirez. She is the one who has instilled into our family the truism that it really is better to give than receive and that is our real purpose in life. What a blessing she has been to my whole family.
Thomas: No question, my proudest accomplishment is my family. My son and two daughters and my four grandchildren make me so proud!
I am also a proud business owner. I am proud to have worked on thousands of homes, businesses, churches, schools and hospitals up and down the Snake River Valley. I get a feeling of pride when I drive past projects I’ve worked on and completed.
Stuart: I am most proud of my children and family and their accomplishments.
I’m also proud of a 15-acre subdivision I started in Blackfoot in 1993-94.
Starting a business and selling products in the Home Depots in Utah was a huge accomplishment. (Getting my foot in the door and wholesaling products there.) I learned how to operate my business in a big box store, which isn’t an easy task.
I also started another construction business.
Carroll: By far, my proudest accomplishments are wrapped around the pride I have in my wife Marilynn, our three daughters and their husbands, and our grand and great-grandchildren. Their combined successes, but more importantly, their reputations as good and kind people are significant satisfactions in my life.
There are many accomplishments that I could talk about in my career, but few of them would have happened without the relationships of mutual trust and commitment that I established with co-workers.
Something I think about a lot, especially as I get older, is that one’s headstone almost always reflects references to family or friends and almost never to work/career titles or accomplishments. It is the familial and friend relationships that are a person’s real and longest-lived accomplishments.
What are the greatest challenges facing your community?
Stuart: Here are seven items I believe are some of the challenges facing our community:
- Our relationship with the county. We live in Bingham County. Why would we not work with the county? The city and the county need to work together. The transparency between planning and zoning, the city and county residents is not what it should be. Why not? Let’s help those relations to happen.
- Why is the city not making money? I believe it should be. The city is a business and should be able to sustain itself and its residents. It is broke.
- A huge challenge would be to get our tax base down so that we are not the third highest in the state.
- Downtown parking is a problem and challenge.
- Our Water and Sewer Treatment plant needs updating to support the growth in the community.
- There’s been talk about the blocking of railroad tracks for emergency vehicle access for decades. Evaluating a study for the crossings is welcome by me.
- Another challenge is education and recreation. We should start thinking about this for the community. Many residents go to Pocatello and Idaho Falls for education and recreation activities. Our goal should be to keep money in our own community. What can we do to create and make our community pro-recreation?
Carroll: The city of Blackfoot is currently working on many different projects, mostly to update and modernize infrastructure. Projects such as replacing old sewer pipes, updating water meters to radio transmitted data units, rehabilitating streets, modernizing the police and fire department, implementing more cost-efficient practices in parks and recreation and doing these things with an eye toward keeping the budget as flat as possible. But I think a bigger challenge to any municipality is finding ways to combat apathy in the community.
Many people talk about the need for transparency but few people come to city council meetings, planning and zoning meetings, Blackfoot Urban Renewal meetings, Library Board, Transportation Commission meetings, etc., unless they have an interest in a specific topic. The city went to some expense 18 months ago to install state-of-the-art equipment to provide virtual meeting capability for those who could not attend city meetings in person. I think we average 3-5 non-city personnel attending city council meetings and 2-3 people who attend virtually. There are about 5,000 people in city limits who are registered to vote. Local elections (city council, school board, mayor) will see a turnout of 20-25% or 1,000-1,200 voters. I don’t understand this.
Ramirez: The greatest challenge that Blackfoot has right now is how to continue providing the current level of services and improving services while living within the budget. Blackfoot already has one of the highest tax rates in the state. The city is providing services to those who live outside the city limits and the fees they charge are not sufficient to cover the total costs. We need to level the costs between all those receiving services.
Thomas: I believe that high property taxes are a major issue facing our community. The property taxes for a city of our size are too high. We rank 19th in population at 11,899 but we are taxed at a rate of 2.238%. That is four times the rate of the rest of Bingham County, which is a rate of 0.69%. It is even higher than the city of Boise, which is taxed at a rate of 1.327%. We are near the top of the highest property tax in the state. So my question is, are we spending tax dollars wisely in Blackfoot?
How is your experience better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than your competitors?
Thomas: I am a business owner. I believe that a city is a business and should be run as a business. You can’t keep going to the taxpayers and asking for more money. Our current city officials spend like the largest cities in Idaho, but we have nothing to show for it except for poor streets, poor infrastructure, and water and sewer lines in poor conditions. High property taxes chase business owners and home builders away from our area.
City leaders are also showing no transparency. They don’t like to tell us what they are spending our tax dollars on. One example of this is them trying to buy an office building in the county that most of the taxpayers don’t believe there is a need for. I don’t believe they are lacking in space where they are right now. They haven’t shown taxpayers they know how to run a business, yet they run a city. They believe there is no limit to what taxpayers can and will pay for. I don’t agree.
Carroll: I have served as mayor for almost four years. The position of Mayor has a minor component of ceremonial duties, such as ribbon cutting and reading of proclamations. But 95% of the time is spent managing and handling the administrative functions of the city. According to Code, the Mayor is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the city and is in charge of day-to-day operations. This includes the overall planning and preparation of formal plans for future operation of the city. These plans are formal documents and include water, wastewater (sewage), stormwater, transportation, sanitation, and wastewater capacity. These areas are all part of the infrastructure of the city. My experience of nearly 40 years as a professional manager has prepared me for being able to instigate this level of planning and provide supervisory oversight to execute the plans in a cost-effective manner.
Ramirez: I was at a candidates’ forum where Mayor Marc Carroll stated that it took him over two years to learn the intricacies of the job of mayor. I hate to tell Mayor Carroll, but he still has a lot to learn. Not only do I have a master’s degree in Public Administration (with emphasis on state and local government) but I have been a public elected official for 10 years – six years as a city councilman and four years as a county commissioner. I have experience in working with governments at the local, state and national levels. I won’t have to go through any on-the-job training program. I will be able to make a positive contribution from day one.
Stuart: I have the personality to work with people because I talk with everyone and ask a lot of questions. My honesty, good character, and integrity are at the forefront. Bringing people together are the most important skills a mayor can have. I believe this city needs someone that can relate with everyone, and I know that I’m that person. I have an entrepreneurial drive and always have. Meetings are necessary, but I like action and not just talking about things.
Also, surrounding yourself with educated people is key to making wise decisions. I was in business for a number of years and was involved in sewer and water line construction, reading engineering plans. I understand the complexities of this. Through my many diverse life experiences, I have hands-on knowledge that would serve this community as mayor.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?
Stuart: Being a Mayor is not a political office. However, I know that politics are involved in everything. I believe that we all bring good things to the table, no matter our views, and feel that I can marry or join those views, to find solutions.
Regardless of your political stand, I will represent you in a professional and courteous way. I view you (the voters) as who you are, and not what party you belong to. Together, we make up the wonderful culture of Blackfoot.
Thomas: Communication is the most important. I believe that you have to talk to all the constituents and get their views on what is best for the city. How do they want their tax dollars spent? I feel the current mayor is out of touch with the taxpayer in Blackfoot. It is nice to have nice things, like the golf course, Jensen’s Grove Greenbelt, and other parks, but you have to take care of the things we have and be efficient in doing so.
Carroll: Referring back to my response to the third question, apathy can make this difficult. Citizens do not show up very often at public meetings. I receive few phone or email complaints on any major topic. I average 2-3 complaints a month regarding a pothole, missed garbage can pick-up, greenbelt dog poo, and things of this nature. I have experimented with open microphone sessions in Council Chambers, man/woman on the street discussions, city website opportunity for citizen input, and limited Facebook interaction. I watch for Letters to the Editor in the local newspaper hoping to see expressions of opinion that would lead to interactions but there is not much there either. For whatever reason, folks are either reticent to express their thoughts about problem areas or they are completely satisfied with the outcomes of city actions. I sincerely doubt that is the case, but we remain open to any feedback on any topic.
There are a number of people who do make contact to express congratulations on various projects. Since we get very few expressions of concern on city activities, do we infer we are doing everything to everybody’s satisfaction? No, I am sure that is not the case either. Bottom line, I encourage all citizens to choose the method with which they are most comfortable and provide input to the city by email, phone, or in person. The city’s phone number is (208) 785-8600. My office line is 785-2756 and the city website is cityofblackfoot.org. The address for City Hall is 157 North Broadway, upstairs of the City Library.
Ramirez: The most important part of this question is knowing the views of your constituents. I am already one of the few candidates who likes to go door-to-door to talk with constituents. I also have an online presence which I will maintain after being elected so that my constituents can tell me how they feel. I will establish an open-door program where constituents can come to me personally to tell me of their concerns. I will not be looking for those who agree with me. I want to know how the community feels. As chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, I have already established these programs. Citizens can come to the first P&Z meeting each month to express their views. When people testify before the commission, I try to write down each concern so it can be addressed before any decision is made. We also have contracted with a computer company to develop an online questionnaire so that our constituents can tell us what needs to be included in the comprehensive plan.
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?
Ramirez: I very much try to maintain a good working relationship with the media because I feel that transparency in government is necessary. I currently prepare an “Informational Helps” sheet for each item on the P&Z agenda. I post it online, send a copy to the local newspaper reporter and a copy to each commissioner so that everyone will have a knowledge of the issues and where they can go to get additional information. I never indicate my feelings as to how an issue should be voted on. As has been demonstrated, some media reporters are better than others. I will supply the media with the information needed to accurately report city issues.
Carroll: The role of media in our society should be to provide unbiased reporting and background of issues to the public. I have always appreciated any contact from the media. We will always provide any requested information or interviews with myself or any department head.
Stuart: I value and treasure the media and think they should always be involved. They help keep the transparency that is so needed. In many cases, they are the public’s eyes and ears for important stories. What is there to hide? My door (or my clerk’s door) will always be open to the media, and if I cannot answer the question, I’ll direct you to someone that can. And again, why would we not?
Thomas: With the loss of our local newspaper publishing daily papers, we do have to rely more on social media and other online sources of news. I rely a lot on East Idaho News on my phone as a reliable source of news. I might be biased, but they do a good job. I plan to rely on them, as well as other newspapers and media sources to help cover issues in Blackfoot, along with city council meetings. I do think that streaming the city council meetings and planning and zoning meetings is important to help the community stay up to date on what is going on in the city.
What measures, if any, do you believe your city should implement amid continued COVID-19 concerns?
Thomas: I believe it is a personal choice! I have friends and relatives that made choices, and because of those choices, they are not alive. My choice is to be vaccinated and wear a mask when appropriate, and to social distance where possible. But I do believe everyone has the agency to make their own choices too.
Carroll: COVID concerns are a significant topic in today’s society. I have regular conversations regarding COVID with Department Staff and City Council members. I don’t think I have ever seen an issue that has polarized people more than this. State Code 50-304 provides authority for a city mayor to have jurisdiction within five miles of city limits to declare and enforce any health or quarantine ordinance or regulation. I did inform the Board of Directors of the Eastern Idaho State Fair that I would implement this authority if they did not cancel the Fair in 2020, due to area-wide concerns about the Fair potentially being a super-spreader. With City Council and Public Health Department concurrence, the Fair Board did subsequently offer only 4-H competition and a significantly modified rodeo competition. We did have a proposal in front of the City Council to issue a mask mandate within the city, but it ended up with me signing a Resolution that encouraged, but did not mandate, all citizens to wear masks to protect themselves and others. I do not see anything more stringent on the horizon.
Ramirez: First, let me say that I believe in masks and in vaccination. I was fully vaccinated in February and am just waiting until official CDC approval to get my Moderna booster. I wear a mask and will continue to do so as long as there is a good chance that I could get a breakthrough case and pass COVID on to someone else. It would be devastating if I found that someone died because I failed to do my part.
On the other hand, I know that a government cannot legislate kindness or consideration for others. I would not ever issue an executive order to mandate masks or vaccination. If the City Council voted a mask mandate, I would, as the chief executive of the city, try to enforce it. I would also support any businesses that required masks or proof of vaccination to enter their business.
Stuart: I believe that we should follow the guidelines of the Eastern Idaho Health Department, and work with the community to come up with plans if needed. (Although residents always have their choice to do as they believe.)
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?
Stuart: With the information that I have currently, I believe our infrastructure is the number one item that needs help, since we are expanding at a faster rate than ever. (This includes streets, water and sewer, etc.) Another project I would consider would be to find a plan to address recreation and community adult education for all. Here are some ideas: indoor tennis/pickleball courts, an indoor track, basketball courts? The possibilities are endless.
Thomas: I would get an underpass built. The loss of business to the city is unmeasurable because of waiting for trains, not to mention it is a safety factor. There are two high schools, a junior high, a middle school, and an elementary school, plus a soon-to-be-built elementary school and new technical school. Many of the students in the Blackfoot School district, and their families have to cross the tracks twice a day.
I would also do something for the youth? Maybe a new or updated swimming pool?
Carroll: First off, almost all grants have a match requirement for the grantee. These match amounts can range from 7.5% to 50% (of the total grant amount) for the grantee and can result in a significant cost. We would, therefore, need to be sure we could cover the match.
In that case, I would meet with the Public Works Department Heads and reach a consensus on the priority needs of the City. At this point, with other plans currently in effect for water and sewer infrastructure, the money would most likely be spent on street rehabilitation, which involves a complete removal of asphalt and road base and completely re-building that street.
For information, we are currently working on a project to rebuild Fisher Street from Walker Street to Alice Street. Right now, we have set priorities on Pendlebury, Riverton, and Shilling as main thoroughfares needing significant rehabilitation work.
For reference, rehabbing Pendlebury from Christensen to Alice Street is an approximate $2 Million project. Pendlebury Lane and Riverton Road are in dire need of this work because of their current conditions, but also due to the development growth going on in those areas of the city.
Shilling Street needs the work due to the amount of traffic and the fact that we cannot do another asphalt overlay on that street. There are individuals who would argue that there are other more deserving projects for the city, but I think it is time to focus on our streets.
Ramirez: Knowing the many needs of the city, I would meet with the city council and staff to establish a priority of needs. I would then recommend that the multimillion-dollar grant be used as seed money to meet normal grant match requirements and apply for as many grants as possible to meet as many of the needs of the city as possible.