Pair of Lincoln County commissioners up for recall election – Twin Falls Times-News

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pair of Lincoln County commissioners up for recall election</a>  <font color="#6f6f6f">Twin Falls Times-News</font>

Pair of Lincoln County commissioners up for recall election


SHOSHONE — A dispute over a historic courthouse in Lincoln County could lead to the removal of a pair of county commissioners who say the effort is led by those wanting more control over the office.

Lincoln County commissioners Roy Hubert and Rick Ellis each face a recall election on Tuesday.

Two reasons for the recall are listed on the ballot: “Willful disregard for the wishes and desires of the public which the Commissioner represents” and “Deliberately ignoring the results of two public surveys and the recommendation of an advisory committee regarding the renovation of our Historic Courthouse and becoming ADA compliant.”

The measure is on the ballot after a petition to oust the commissioners received more than the 442 required signatures. The petition was backed by an independent citizens committee and circulated by former Lincoln County Commissioner Terry Zech.

Failed bond

The county’s historic courthouse was built in 1904 and is the oldest continuously operating courthouse in the state. The space is overcrowded and faces serious structural deficits, including mold, asbestos and a collapsing roof. The building is also inaccessible to those who cannot climb stairs and fails to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The county has made a series of temporary fixes to the building (Hubert calls them “bandaids”) but officials are looking for a permanent solution.

A survey taken in 2019 showed the majority of voters favored renovating the courthouse rather than building a new one. Commissioners developed a $6.84 million plan to renovate the building and add a judicial annex for more space. They dedicated about $1 million from the county budget to the project and asked voters in November for a $5.84 million bond, though they issued a last-minute promise to cut an additional $840,000 off the bond price if approved.

The measure received 51% of the vote but failed to reach the two-thirds supermajority threshold required of bond issues in Idaho. A follow-up survey taken after the election showed the price of the bond to be an issue for most voters. The majority of voters still wished to renovate the courthouse.

Disputed decision

After the bond failed, Hubert and Ellis chose to pursue building a new courthouse rather than make further attempts at renovation. They said new construction would be less expensive and thus more palatable to voters. Hubert estimated the project would cost about $5.25 million and they could ask voters for a bond of less than $4 million by using money in the county budget.

Hubert pointed out that both he and Ellis approved the original plan to renovate the courthouse but voters rejected it.

“It was up for election and it missed by a long way,” Hubert said. “If the public says they do not want to renovate … why not let the public decide and see if they want to build a building at a new location?”

Zech said voters rejected the renovation proposal because it was unnecessarily expensive and poorly designed, not because they favor new construction. The judicial annex was excessive and looked like “a Motel 6 attached to a beautiful building,” he said.

“They were asking for more money than they needed,” Zech said.

The commissioners are ignoring residents who want to renovate the courthouse, he said, and that amounts to “willful disregard for the wishes and desires of the public.

“The courthouse is a historic building and it’s about the neatest structure we have in Lincoln County,” he said. “We just want to keep our history.”

Ellis said the structural additions required to renovate the courthouse would shrink the usable space inside, which is why the plan included a large and expensive judicial annex. The renovation route also adds significant logistical costs since all county workers would have to move into portables during construction.

“It’s a colossal waste of money,” he said.

The plan to build at a new location does not include demolishing the historic courthouse, Ellis said. The building could be sold to an organization with enough money to restore it, he said.

Local accusations

Both Hubert and Ellis say the recall effort is a play by several people involved in local politics, including the Lincoln County Republican Central Committee, who want to gain control of the office and local decision making.

They said the Central Committee has long tried to influence the commissioner’s office. They pointed to a Central Committee recommendation on the courthouse project written by former chairman Don Hudson, who lost to Ellis in the 2018 primary, that read: “Empower the committee to approve any expenditure on the new infrastructure project.”

“They wanted the checkbook,” Ellis said. “They’re a private organization that is running Lincoln County.”

Current Central Committee chairman Alex Sutter said the committee has no official stance on the recall vote or the courthouse project, but “individuals do whatever they want.”

“There are some on the committee who have individually participated,” Sutter said.

Zech, who signed the official paperwork for the recall petition, is a Central Committee member. He said an independent group of citizens helped gather signatures.

The Central Committee asked Hubert and Ellis to resign in April following submission of the petition.

If either or both of the commissioners are recalled in the election, the Central Committee would interview replacement candidates and send their recommendations to Gov. Brad Little, who would make the final appointment.

Ellis, who was elected in 2018, will be out of office at the end of the year after losing in the 2020 Republican primary to former Central Committee chairwoman Joann Rutler. Hubert has been in office since 2011 and has two years left on his term.

Lincoln County Clerk Brenda Farnworth has also pushed to remove Hubert and Ellis from office. Farnworth wrote a guest column in Wednesday’s edition of the Times-News that urged residents to vote in favor of the recall. Through a series of rhetorical questions, she accused the commissioners of a variety of ethics violations, including that they chose their friends as contractors to work on the courthouse project.

“I vote for recall for commissioners Hubert and Ellis in Lincoln County to send a message to elected officials that we expect integrity and ethical, unbiased behavior from all of them,” she wrote.

Both Hubert and Ellis denied the allegations, calling them baseless. They said they chose Laughlin Ricks Architecture to design the courthouse and Starr Corporation to build it because they were the only local companies that applied.

Hubert questioned Farnworth’s handling of the recall petition and said her office OK’d several invalid signatures.

The petition received 608 signatures and Farnworth’s office counted 563 as valid. A Twin Falls County election clerk who did an audit of the signatures at Hubert’s request found 29 invalid signatures that were still counted. The clerk said Farnworth’s office appeared to not follow the instructions for counting signatures as outlined by the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

Still, even without the 29 questionable signatures, the petition had more than the 442 valid signatures required to get the recall on the ballot.

Hubert said commissioners are elected to make decisions for their office, and they will not be influenced by other offices or the Republican Party.

“There are people that can’t stand failure and they still haven’t accepted that it failed,” Hubert said of the renovation proposal. “We’re not telling (voters) that they have to do this. We’re trying to get it up for an election so that people who pay the bill can vote on it.”


Related to this story

Most Popular