You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Larger building will offer enhanced safety for Rupert police

RUPERT — The Rupert Police Department is weeks away from moving to a new building nearly double the size of its current one.

The building, 633 Fremont Ave, is on the corner and across the street from the department’s current location, and it will increase the function of the office and provide enhanced security.

The building was the former Minidoka County School District’s central office.

The structure has been vacant since 2012 when the school district relocated its central office to the old Memorial Elementary School building in Rupert.

Enhanced features include cameras throughout the building, a reception window at the public entrance located inside an enclosed area and a suspect interview area separate from the patrol room, detective and sheriff’s offices.

“The building will be totally secure,” James Wardle, Rupert police chief, said.

The public access area will have chairs and contain the department’s drug drop off box.

The biggest improvement, Detective Jeff McEwen said, will come from having the secure interview area.

When a suspect is brought into the office for questioning they are led through areas at the station where sensitive documents or information may be visible on officer’s desks or on bulletin boards.

“We have to make sure all the desks are cleared off and we can’t put anything like officer safety publications on the wall,” Wardle said.

The new interview room is easily accessible from the outside and it is behind a locked door leading to the rest of the building.

“Now if someone is yelling and screaming you won’t be able to hear them throughout the entire building,” McEwen said.

Rupert Administrator Kelly Anthon wrote in an email to the Times-News that the purchase price for the building was $40,000 with some intangibles for the school district that include credits and waiver of fees if the district builds a new elementary school in the city.

“The money was donated to allow the purchase,” Anthon wrote, so no taxpayer cash is involved.

“The donor wanted the Wilson Theatre to get possession of the old police station to be an annex to the theater. So we have contemporaneously leased our old station to the Renaissance Arts-Wilson Theatre group,” Anthon said.

The project has been in the works for the past two years.

Renovations have been ongoing for the past 10 weeks including building walls, installing sheet rock, hanging ceiling tiles and painting.

The police department has put $28,000 into renovations that came from the police budget but much of the work has been done by Wardle, his officers and administration staff.

The department has a staff of 12 including officers, detectives and administration.

The office has handicap accessible restrooms, which were lacking in the other building and the evidence room will also have an alarm.

Eventually the department would like to install evidence lockers in the wall that adjoin the evidence room for added security, Wardle said, but the lockers are pretty costly.

DL Evans Bank has donated used desks and chairs to the department.

There will also be a large training room that can be used for community training like concealed weapons and Citizen Academy classes. The training room capacity will increase from 20 to 50 people.

“This room will be our crown jewel,” Wardle said. “We hope we will be able to hold regional trainings.”

The training room can also be used for victim interviews and the patrol room will be behind locked doors.

Wardle plans to put a picnic table and an umbrella outside at the front of the building to make the office more community friendly.

“It will make it easier for the officers to interact with people,” Wardle said.

When the department completes the renovations and moves into the building an open house will be planned.

“The future looks so promising with everything that we want to do here,” he said.

It costs more than $100 per ton to recycle out of Twin Falls. The City Council will consider the future of recycling on Monday.

TWIN FALLS — The City Council may need to decide whether it will raise rates for residents to continue the city’s recycling program.

The city has had recycling in some form since 2005, beginning with blue plastic totes for paper and metal cans. Since 2010, PSI Environmental Services has placed 95-gallon carts with orange lids at residents’ homes for biweekly collection.

The program has diverted 14,499 tons from the landfill since it began. But on Monday, the City Council may decide whether the city will continue that program and whether it will be willing to share the costs.

“When we started out, the deal was the revenue would be split,” said Bill Baxter, utilities billing supervisor for Twin Falls.

But in 2013, the program ceased to gain revenue, and costs to recycle have increased. The cost in January was $116 per ton — with February estimated at $136 per ton.

China, which once imported most of the West Coast’s recycling, has ceased doing so due to contamination. Meanwhile, U.S. recycling mills had closed because they couldn’t compete with China, Baxter explained.

PSI Environmental Services, the city’s garbage and recycling contractor, stopped accepting most plastics at the end of 2017 because there is now no market for them. Last year, it spent more than $109,000 on recycling. By comparison, it would have cost about $69,000 to divert those 1,800 tons to the landfill, Baxter said.

On Monday, city staff and the company will present their data to the City Council in hopes of getting some direction.

“At the very least, this is going to be a fascinating conversation,” Baxter said.

He does not expect the high recycling costs to be a long-term problem.

The Council could opt to cancel the city’s recycling, but this would come at the cost of collecting and storing those recycling carts. The city could also decide to pay the costs of recycling, and pass those down to residents. For a cost of $110,000 a year, residents in Twin Falls would pay an additional 62 cents per month — or $7.44 per year.

“We don’t have the ability to fund any kind of cost-sharing without adjusting the rates,” Baxter said.

PSI factors a cost for recycling into its contract with the city, but it’s been picking up the extra costs, he said. Its contract allows it to negotiate a cost sharing agreement as market conditions may require.

The City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers at 203 Main Ave. E.

Earlier in the meeting, the Council will consider staff recommendations for filling four vacancies on the nine-member Planning and Zoning Commission. There were 14 applicants.

Terms for Tom Frank, Kevin Grey and Steve Woods expire on Wednesday, and none of them were eligible for reappointment because commissioners cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. Additionally, Darren Hall resigned his spot on the commission in September, and the city needs to fill the rest of his term, ending Feb. 28, 2020.

The city’s Zoning and Development Manager is recommending Craig Kelley and Jonathon Austin of Twin Falls serve three-year terms. Kelley is the commodities division manager for Rangen Inc., and Austin is an associate pastor at Twin Falls Reformed Church.

David Detweiler is recommended to fill another three-year term. He lives in the area of impact and has farmed in the area for 40 years.

Carolyn Bolton is recommended to take over the rest of Hall’s term. Bolton is the administrator for Twin Falls First Presbyterian Church and is semi-retired.

Also on the agenda:

  • Discuss the annual update with CH2M Hill.
  • A request to reject all bids for the on-site sodium hypochlorite generator project.
  • A request to amend the city’s code regarding the Traffic Safety Commission.
  • A request to purchase a new HP Designjet T1530 with one set of ink cartridges and with a warranty.

Editor's Note: This story was updated Feb. 26 with changes to the description of recycling carts, and to the number of positions on the Planning and Zoning Commission.


A worker with PSI Environmental Systems collects curbside recycling in Twin Falls in 2010.

Aaron Favila, Associated Press 

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2018, file photo, Russian curler Alexander Krushelnitsky practices ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea. Krushelnitsky was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal after admitting to a doping violation at the Pyeongchang Games. Krushelnitsky tested positive for meldonium, which is believed to help blood circulation, after winning bronze in mixed doubles with his wife, Anastasia Bryzgalova. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)

Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press 

Dana Loesch, spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, speaks Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md.

Congress and guns: Ideas, but no consensus

WASHINGTON — After a 10-day break, members of Congress are returning to work under hefty pressure to respond to the outcry over gun violence. But no plan appears ready to take off despite a long list of proposals, including many from President Donald Trump.

Republican leaders have kept quiet for days as Trump tossed out ideas, including raising the minimum age to purchase assault-style weapons and arming teachers, though on Saturday the president tweeted that the latter was “up to states.”

Their silence has left little indication whether they are ready to rally their ranks behind any one of the president’s ideas, dust off another proposal or do nothing. The most likely legislative option is bolstering the federal background check system for gun purchases, but it’s bogged down after being linked with a less popular measure to expand gun rights.

The halting start reflects firm GOP opposition to any bill that would curb access to guns and risk antagonizing gun advocates in their party. Before the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, Republicans had no intention of reviving the polarizing and politically risky gun debate during an already difficult election year that could endanger their congressional majority.

“There’s no magic bill that’s going to stop the next thing from happening when so many laws are already on the books that weren’t being enforced, that were broken,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the third-ranking House GOP leader, when asked about solutions. “The breakdowns that happen, this is what drives people nuts,” said Scalise, who suffered life-threatening injuries when a gunman opened fire on lawmakers’ baseball team practice last year.

Under tough public questioning from shooting survivors, Trump has set high expectations for action.

“I think we’re going to have a great bill put forward very soon having to do with background checks, having to do with getting rid of certain things and keeping other things, and perhaps we’ll do something on age,” Trump said in a Fox News Channel interview Saturday night. He added: “We are drawing up strong legislation right now having to do with background checks, mental illness. I think you will have tremendous support. It’s time. It’s time.”

Trump said Sunday that the Florida school shooting is the top issue he wants to discuss with the nation’s governors. Under pressure to act to stem gun violence on school grounds, Trump planned to solicit input from the state chief executives during meetings today at the White House. The governors are in Washington for their annual winter meeting.

Trump’s early ideas were met with mixed reactions from his party. His talk of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons into classrooms was rejected by at least one Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both spoke to Trump on Friday. Their offices declined comment on the conversations or legislative strategy.

Some Republicans backed up Trump’s apparent endorsement of raising the age minimum for buying some weapons.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he would support raising the age limit to buy a semi-automatic weapon like the one used in Florida. Rubio also supports lifting the age for rifle purchases. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., a longtime NRA member, wrote in The New York Times that he now supports an assault-weapons ban.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he expects to talk soon with Trump, who has said he wants tougher background checks, as Toomey revives the bill he proposed earlier with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to expand presale checks for firearms purchases online and at gun shows.

First introduced after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 in Connecticut, the measure has twice been rejected by the Senate. Some Democrats in GOP-leaning states joined with Republicans to defeat the measure. Toomey’s office said he is seeking to build bipartisan support after the latest shooting.

“Our president can play a huge and, in fact, probably decisive role in this. So I intend to give this another shot,” Toomey said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Senate more likely will turn to a bipartisan bill from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen FBI background checks — a response to a shooting last November in which a gunman killed more than two dozen people at a Texas church.

That bill would penalize federal agencies that don’t properly report required records and reward states that comply by providing them with federal grant preferences. It was drafted after the Air Force acknowledged that it failed to report the Texas gunman’s domestic violence conviction to the National Criminal Information Center database.

The House passed it last year, but only after GOP leaders added an unrelated measure pushed by the National Rifle Association. That measure expands gun rights by making it easier for gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

The package also included a provision directing the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review “bump-stock” devices like the one used during the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival that left 58 people dead and hundreds injured.

Senate Democrats say any attempt to combine the background checks and concealed-carry measures is doomed to fail.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was skeptical Trump would follow through on proposals such as comprehensive background checks that the NRA opposes.

“The real test of President Trump and the Republican Congress is not words and empathy, but action,” Schumer said in a statement.

“Will President Trump and the Republicans finally buck the NRA and get something done?” Schumer asked. “I hope this time will be different.”

Governors fear for election security amid Russian cyberattacks

WASHINGTON — Will your vote be safe this year from foreign adversaries working to undermine U.S. democracy? Some of the nation’s governors aren’t so sure.

State leaders of both parties worried aloud Sunday about the security of America’s election systems against possible cyberattacks ahead of this fall’s midterm elections, aware that Russian agents targeted more than 20 states little more than a year ago, and the Trump administration has taken a mostly hands-off approach to the continued interference.

U.S. intelligence leaders report Russian hackers are already working to undermine this November’s elections, which will decide the balance of power in Congress and in statehouses across the nation.

“In my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s scary,” Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, said. “The biggest concern is when you have a president and an administration that denies the problem and doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the problem, it’s hard to believe that they’re going to be offering any real solutions or funding to make our system more secure.”

Election security has been overshadowed by a near-constant string of chaos and controversy out of the White House over the last year. As most of the nation’s governors gathered in Washington for a weekend conference, issues like gun violence, Trump’s leadership and the economy dominated most hallway conversations. Yet non-partisan experts and both Democratic and Republican elected officials suggest there is no issue more critical to American democracy than the integrity of the nation’s elections, which are facing unprecedented cyberattacks.

The Trump administration so far has done little to help secure the mishmash of 10,000 local voting jurisdictions across the nation that mostly run on obsolete and imperfectly secured technology. Russian agents targeted election systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 general election, the Department of Homeland Security said, and separately launched a social media blitz aimed at inflaming social tensions and sowing confusion.

The search for a solution has been shaped by partisan politics.

While Democratic governors lashed out at the Trump administration for ignoring the threat, some Republicans, such as Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin insisted the media are overstating the problem. Several other Republicans, however, were openly concerned about outside interference but declined to criticize the Trump administration’s inaction.

“There’s obviously nothing more important than protecting the mechanism of democracy, and they’ve shown that they can at least meddle if not directly influence,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who leads the Republican Governors Association, said of Russian hackers. “We’re paying attention to it.”

Earlier in the month, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security participated in a series of “coordination meetings” with state and local election officials and private companies to discuss cybersecurity for the nation’s election infrastructure, the White House said last week. A Trump spokesman, however, declined to respond to the governors’ concerns when asked to comment Sunday.

Trump rarely mentions the Russian threat. The president has instead repeatedly condemned special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling as “a witch hunt.”

Mueller’s team has charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“I do think hackers are a threat for the nation,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican. “We’ve seen a lot of foreign influence trying to break into our election cycle.”

But Fallin, like several governors, downplayed the threat in her state. She noted that Oklahoma participated in the recent meetings with the Department of Homeland Security.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, said his state, which allows some voters to return ballots electronically, recently earned the top grade for election security — a B — in a national report released by the Center for American Progress.

“We’re Number 1 in the nation and we’re closest to Russia,” he said. “Our elections are in good shape.”

Few governors could detail what specific steps are being taken to strengthen election security when asked. Democrats in particular suggested that the Trump administration has done almost nothing.

“It’s one of the most, if not the most, immediate threats,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “So now we’ve been able to prove that Russia hacked. What’s our response? Does our country have a response?”

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, another Democrat, likened Russia’s cyberattacks to Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Because of some infatuation with Vladimir Putin, the president of the United States refuses to recognize that we’re under attack. It’s like December 8, 1941, and Franklin Roosevelt getting up there and saying, ‘yesterday nothing happened.’” Inslee said. “That’s the situation we have right now, and it’s disturbing.”