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Outgoing Rigby mayor reflects on 8 years of service and focuses on future plans

Politics

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IDAHO FALLS – As Rigby Mayor Jason Richardson finishes his last few weeks in public office, he recalls some advice he was given when he decided to run eight years ago.

“The gentleman who talked me into running said, ‘Promise me you won’t become one of those politicians that stays there forever,'” Richardson says in a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com.

Richardson is keeping that promise, stepping down after two terms. Richard Datwyler, who has served on the city council for the last six years, was elected Mayor in the November election and will take over in January. Though Richardson did run for a seat on the city council, he lost to incumbent Becky Harrison and newcomers Michael Wilder and Val Orme.

RELATED | Rigby elects new mayor, one incumbent and two newcomers elected to city council

Richardson says serving as the Chief Executive for nearly a decade in a community he is “head-over-heels” for has been an “incredible” experience. But he also has no misgivings about handing over the reins to someone else. In fact, he feels a degree of relief to free up some of his time.

He’s excited at the prospect of being able to devote more attention to his career as the headteacher and founder of a private academy in Ammon. Above all, he’s thrilled about spending more time with his family.

“You hear about people stepping down from things to spend more time with family and you always go, ‘Oh, something’s going on.’ But my youngest daughter doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t mayor. That’s not comforting to me,” says Richardson. “I am happy that I get to (have more experiences with my family) and in this new job, (my daughter) gets to come with me on everything.”

During the pandemic, he and his students have taken multiple trips to Europe as part of his school’s study abroad program. He’s taking a group of students to the UK in March to meet with Nathan Gill, a leader of the Brexit movement in Wales.

When asked about his proudest accomplishment during his political tenure, Richardson was reluctant initially to cite one specific thing because “there’s no project that you do alone.” He eventually mentioned the city’s acquisition of “lost funds” from a major development that happened years before he ever took office as the biggest achievement.

“There was some stuff that just didn’t get done (on the new courthouse),” Richardson explains. “Sidewalks, roads, curb and gutter, lighting — it didn’t get done. (The project began) … with a handshake and the best of intentions. The work that was completed was developed well, but there were no bonds so the developer was on the hook (for the cost of the project).”

The city kept extending the deadline for a long time, but the work remained unfinished. City employees eventually gave up and deemed it a financial loss.

“I was called a Pollyanna over and over again for thinking we’d be able to get the money back,” Richardson recalls. “But earlier this year, we settled it with the developer and they wrote us a $450,000 check. We recovered all of it. Not one penny was (paid) by the taxpayers.”

richardson fam
Jason Richardson and family in 2013. | Facebook

‘Committed to this little town’

Richardson is a transplant to eastern Idaho, moving here with his family in 2001. He grew up in Ukiah, California about 100 miles north of San Francisco, but his dad is originally from Inkom.

“We spent all of our summers out here. My dad was an educator also so we would spend two months out of the summer up here in Idaho. I married a lady who graduated from Madison, so I have two strikes against me right there,” Richardson jokes.

Though he has fond memories of his childhood in Ukiah, he says the politics and management of the state made it an unbearable place to live. He took a teaching position in eastern Idaho 20 years ago, where he ultimately ended up teaching at the now-defunct Jefferson Montessori School for 13 years.

He then spent five years teaching at Rigby Middle School while traveling with students enrolled in the Deseret Study Abroad Academy in Ammon for two of those years. He got more deeply involved in the private academy in 2019.

During his time as mayor, Richardson says keeping up with growth has been an ongoing struggle. Concerns about the city’s ability to sustain long-term growth is what prompted him to run in the first place.

“I have a map I’ve kept in the city chambers that shows the boundaries of Rigby and it shows the developments just outside of Rigby. When you look at that, you can see that developments in the county had nearly surrounded the entirety of Rigby,” Richardson says. “If those get built all the way out, the city cannot grow.”

Annexation of county property is a challenge that comes along with growth, Richardson says, and will continue to be a need going forward.

Richardson says a $20 million upgrade to the city’s sewer system is another necessity for growth. A plan is already in the works to bring it up to EPA standards. Once it’s complete, Richardson says it will double the city’s capacity to be able to sustain a population of 16,000 people.

Rigby Sign
A sign posted outside Rigby Middle School days after the shooting on May 6. | EastIdahoNews.com file photo

A shooting at Rigby Middle School in May and a second gun-related incident at the same school in September have become the most talked about issues in the community. As concerns about bullying and school safety continue to circulate in some circles, Richardson offers his perspective.

RELATED | Superintendent and teachers discuss response to recent shooting and their thoughts on bullying

“A community that pulls together, that builds each other up is the solution. There’s nothing that government can do to fix it … but neighbors can have an incredible healing effect. It’s going to take time,” he says.

Richardson says the clerk and city administrators are incredibly “committed to this little town” and work hard to ensure there’s as little government intervention in people’s lives as possible.

As he prepares to leave office, Richardson says his association with dedicated people who serve their community is what he’s going to miss most.

“The people who work in Rigby engender this ethic of ‘It’s about this town.’ They take pride in it, they beautify it and they enhance it. It’s super awesome to watch what they’re doing. It’s inspiring,” he says.

He’s encouraging people to be more civically involved and when the time is right, he says he’d like to serve again in some capacity.

“I’ve got eight years of (experience learning how a city operates). Traveling around the world with my girls and my wife seems awfully selfish. It’s not wrong but I can’t stay like that. Once (my kids) are grown, I’d like to start volunteering and giving back to my community again,” says Richardson.

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