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Local
Falling rock: Canyon Springs Road remains unsafe for pedestrians

TWIN FALLS — Rock falling from the canyon wall has prompted the city to close Canyon Springs Road twice in a week — and city staff say the grade is still unsafe for non-motorized traffic.

A sign beside the roadway has closed the road to pedestrians for some time, Street Superintendent Dean Littler said. The city began to discourage foot and bicycle traffic in February 2017 after the crumbling rock began to pose a real threat to safety.

What happens if you walk the grade anyway? The city isn’t enforcing the closure, but warns that you enter at your own risk.

“Right now, it’s a pretty dangerous place to be,” Littler said. “It’s pretty unstable.”

But even throughout the year, the city discourages people from walking the road. Canyon Springs Road was on the schedule for a rebuild last year, with a pedestrian pathway, but plans fell through after Twin Falls reported major road damage throughout the city. Cycles of freezing and thawing caused at least $9 million in estimated damages.

Littler last heard the city would rebuild Canyon Springs Road — without the pricey pathway — sometime this year. That project will include work to protect the roadway from falling rock in the future.

The city had closed the grade on Friday, and again on Sunday, to vehicles, city spokesman Joshua Palmer said. Crews cleared away fallen rock, which did not substantially damage the road.

But despite warnings, Palmer still saw more pedestrians walking along the grade this weekend.

“The only way we could strictly prohibit or enforce it would be to have somebody there 24-7,” he said.

Although there haven’t been any accidents yet, the canyon wall could crumble at any time.


Washington
AP
Trump: Would 'love to' face Mueller questions — under oath

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared late Wednesday he’s “looking forward” to being questioned — under oath — in the special counsel’s probe of Russian election interference and possible Trump obstruction in the firing of the FBI director.

Trump said he would be willing to answer questions under oath in the interview, which special counsel Robert Mueller has been seeking but which White House officials had not previously said the president would grant.

“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said when asked by reporters at the White House. As for timing, he said, “I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks, but I’d love to do it.”

He said, as he has repeatedly, that “there’s no collusion whatsoever” with the Russians, and he added, “There’s no obstruction whatsoever.”

The full scope of Mueller’s investigation, which involves hundreds of thousands of documents and dozens of witness interviews, is unknown. And there have been no signs that agents aren’t continuing to work on ties between Trump’s campaign and a Russian effort to tip the 2016 election.

But now that Mueller’s team has all but concluded its interviews with current and former Trump officials, and expressed interest in speaking with the president himself, the focus seems to be on the post-inauguration White House. That includes the firing of FBI Director James Comey and discussions preceding the ouster of White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

The timing and circumstances of a Trump interview are still being ironed out. But soon it will probably be the president himself who will have to explain to Mueller how his actions don’t add up to obstruction of justice. And that conversation will be dominated by questions tied whether he took steps to thwart an FBI investigation.

So far, witness interviews and the special counsel’s document requests make clear Mueller has a keen interest in Comey’s May 9 firing and the contents of Comey’s private conversations with the president, as well as the ouster months earlier of Flynn and the weeks of conversations leading up to it.

A focus on potential obstruction has been evident almost since Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. And recent interviews with administration officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have shown that Trump is dealing with prosecutors who already have amassed a wealth of knowledge about the events he’ll be questioned about.

Prosecutors have interviewed numerous White House aides including Trump’s closest confidants such as Counsel Don McGahn, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Sessions, who had urged Comey’s firing, was interviewed for hours, becoming the highest-ranking Trump administration official known to have submitted to questioning. Mueller also wants to interview former adviser Steve Bannon, who has called Comey’s firing perhaps the biggest mistake in “modern political history.”

The White House initially said the firing was based on the Justice Department’s recommendation and cited as justification a memo that faulted Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump himself said later he was thinking of this “Russia thing” and had intended to fire Comey anyway.

Sessions, the target of the president’s ire since he stepped aside last March from the Russia investigation, would have been able to offer close-up insight into the president’s thinking ahead of the termination. He also could have been able to speak to the president’s relationship with Comey, which Comey documented in a series of memos about conversations with Trump that bothered him.

In one memo, Comey described a January 2017 meeting over dinner at which he said the president asked him to pledge his loyalty. Separately, a person familiar with the conversation said this week that Trump in a meeting last year with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe brought up McCabe’s wife’s political background following the revelation that she had accepted campaign contributions during a state Senate run from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday night that Trump had also asked McCabe whom he voted for in the presidential race. McCabe replied that he did not vote. Trump said Wednesday he did not recall asking that question.

Another of Comey’s memos centered on a February conversation at the White House in which he said Trump told him he believed Flynn, the fired national security adviser, was a “good guy” and encouraged Comey to drop an investigation into him. The FBI had interviewed Flynn weeks earlier about whether he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition period between the election and the inauguration. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI during that interview.

Mueller has been investigating the events leading up to Flynn’s dismissal from the White House, including how officials responded to information from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn had misled them by saying that he had not discussed sanctions. Despite that warning, and despite an FBI interview days after Trump’s inauguration, Flynn was not forced to resign until Feb. 13 — the night of media reports about Yates’ conversation with McGahn.

Mueller will likely want to know what Trump understood, before asking Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, about Flynn’s interview with the FBI — and whether he had made false statements — and about his conversation with the Russian ambassador.


Education
10 school districts seek more than $67M during the March election

TWIN FALLS — Voters will decide on more than $67 million in school ballot measures during a busy March election.

Monday was the deadline for school districts to supply a ballot resolution to their county clerk. Voters will weigh in March 13.

Ten school districts are pursuing a measure. That’s about half of south-central Idaho’s school districts — significantly more than an average election. School districts have four election dates to choose from each year.

The Twin Falls and Jerome school districts are seeking renewal of 10-year plant facilities levies used for school building maintenance and renovation projects. The Shoshone School District is trying for a third time with a $6 million bond for building projects.

Eight school districts are seeking a supplemental levy. Of those, six are a renewal, but Blaine County and Kimberly‘s measures are brand new requests.

Supplemental levies are used to pay for basic operating expenses and require a simple majority vote to pass.

Here’s a look at how money will be used, if approved:

Shoshone

The Shoshone School District is pursuing two ballot measures: trying for a third time with a $6 million bond and seeking renewal of a two-year, $300,000 annual supplemental levy.

Superintendent Rob Waite wasn’t available to comment Wednesday.

In August and November 2017, Shoshone voters rejected a $6 million bond measure. The majority of voters said “yes” each time, but the tally fell short of the required two-thirds supermajority.

The bond is slated to pay for remodeling the existing school, constructing a new multipurpose building — including a stage and gymnasium — and a new vocational building and small building with a couple of alternative-school classrooms.

The measure would likely cost taxpayers $6.67 each month per $100,000 of taxable value.

Twin Falls

The Twin Falls School District is seeking a 10-year, $4.75 million annual plant facilities levy. It requires 60 percent voter approval to pass.

The district has used a plant facilities levy since 1958. The current 10-year, $3.3 annual plant facilities levy, which voters approved in 2008, expires soon.

Despite a proposed increase to the levy amount, the tax rate is set to decrease slightly because of an increase in property valuation.

The school district has half a million more square feet of building space to maintain than it did 10 years ago.

And excluding its four newest campuses, Twin Falls schools are an average of 53 years old.

Want more information about the levy? A community meeting is slated for 7 p.m. March 1 at the Vera C. O’Leary Middle School auditorium, 2350 Elizabeth Blvd.

Jerome

The Jerome School District is seeking a 10-year plant facilities levy: $650,000 annually for the first five years and $700,000 annually for the next five years.

The measure requires 60 percent approval. If voters give it a thumbs up, the tax rate is expected to remain steady.

A plant facilities levy isn’t anything new. It has been in place for about 40 years, but the dollar amount has fluctuated.

Money would be used for projects such as replacing roofs, upgrading high school plumbing, security updates such as adding a vestibule at school front entrances, energy efficiency upgrades, replacing windows and HVAC systems, and resealing parking lots.

Plus, the Jerome district is looking for land to purchase. It would be used in the future for a new school — with no timeline set at this point — to accommodate growth in student numbers.

Kimberly

The Kimberly School District is seeking a two-year, $250,000 annual supplemental levy. The school district hasn’t had a supplemental levy in two years.

If approved by voters, money would be used to keep operations at their current level.

“We’re mainly looking at preserving what we have,” Superintendent Luke Schroeder said Tuesday.

The last couple of years, the school district has dipped into its contingency funds, between $135,000 and $150,000 per year, to cover operational expenses.

Kimberly’s supplemental levy request is small in comparison with other school districts, Schroeder said, and with an increase in market values, “we’ll keep our overall tax levy virtually the same.”

Blaine County

The Blaine County School District will bring a request for a new supplemental levy to voters, but will ask for less plant facilities money.

It will “reallocate property taxes collected for schools so that more money will go into student instruction and less into buildings,” the district said in a statement last week.

If approved, the measure would reduce the existing plant facilities levy from nearly $6 million annually to $2.99 million annually for the next two years. It would also add a two-year supplemental levy for $2.99 million annually.

In total, property taxes collected by the district will remain the same.

The supplemental levy will be used specifically to help maintain class sizes and specialty classes such as art, drama, music and world languages, provide a small salary increase for employees, and fund strategic plan objectives such as outdoor education for middle schoolers.

Cassia County

The Cassia County School District is seeking a renewal of its supplemental levy, but is asking for more than double the current amount.

Voters will decide on a two-year, $1.595 million annual levy — an increase $821,000 per year.

If approved, taxpayers would pay an additional $4.50 per month per $100,000 in property valuation.

The school district plans to the use the bulk of the money for safety and curriculum. That includes hiring a school resource officer and additional school nurse, adding cameras to school buses, making sure playgrounds meet safety codes, updating furniture, new math and English curriculum, and more library books.

Buhl, Valley, Castleford and Richfield

Elsewhere across the Magic Valley, a handful of other school districts are seeking a supplemental levy renewal:

Buhl School District:

  • Two-year, $350,000 annual levy

Valley School District (Hazelton):

  • Two-year, $300,000 annual levy

Castleford School District:

  • Two year, $350,000 annual levy

Richfield School District:

  • Two-year, $275,000 annual levy

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: The College of Southern Idaho Stage Door Series will present “Soiled Doves” at 7:30 p.m. in the CSI Fine Arts Auditorium, 315 Falls Ave., Twin Falls. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students.


Govt-and-politics
Idaho Statehouse page says lawmakers, lobbyist harassed her

BOISE — A teenage page who worked in the Idaho Statehouse during the 2017 legislative session said two lawmakers and a lobbyist made sexually harassing comments and jokes to her that on at least one occasion left her feeling “creeped out,” a newspaper reported.

The encounters are described in documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman from the Idaho attorney general’s office and an interview the newspaper did with the page whose name was withheld by the newspaper.

She told the newspaper in a story on Wednesday that none of the behavior was physical, outside of a representative’s lingering touch on her arm.

Named in the documents are Republican Rep. James Holtzclaw of Meridian and former Republican Rep. Brandon Hixon of Caldwell. Hixon was facing a sexual abuse investigation in a different matter and committed suicide earlier this month.

Lobbyist Colby Cameron is also named by the page in the documents.

Holtzclaw and Cameron each told the newspaper they did not mean to say anything inappropriate and apologized if that’s how their remarks were received.

After legislative leaders learned of the complaints last year, the page was moved to a different set of committees, and Holtzclaw and Cameron were reprimanded and returned to work. It’s not clear if any action was taken concerning the lobbyist.

In a typed complaint, the page, 18 at the time, said Hixon made strange comments to her such as, “’Why do you sit right behind me? I know you’re there.’”

The page told the newspaper that she didn’t think much about the inappropriate comments at first, “but it gradually kept happening as the session went on. I think he was aware of what he was doing.”

In the documents, the page said Holtzclaw made “mildly flirty” comments such as, “’Hello, have we met?’”

Holtzclaw told the newspaper he was not attempting to harass or offend anyone.

“It was a huge misunderstanding and at no one time was it my intent to make anyone think I was anything but a gentleman,” Holtzclaw said. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’m sorry for my conversation to be misconstrued.”

The page in the complaint said Cameron approached her after a committee meeting and said, “’We were watching you on the floor, and we said, ‘Look at that tall skinny girl with the dark brown hair.’”

“I remember being really creeped out because I’m such an insignificant person,” the page told the newspaper. “I found it weird that they wouldn’t be listening to the representatives and would be watching me.”

Cameron, in a written statement to the newspaper, said he did introduce himself to a House page and later was asked by the speaker’s office if he’d had any conversations with any House pages. He said he confirmed he had a conversation with a page and hadn’t heard anything else until being contacted by the newspaper.

“I recognize that my attempt to be friendly and welcoming was not taken that way, and for that I apologize,” he said in the statement.

The newspaper said in most cases it doesn’t name victims of sexual harassment. It reported that it confirmed the page’s identity through committee records and interviews with lawmakers and the House sergeant-at-arms.

The page told the newspaper it was her first experience with harassment.

“It was my first professional job, and I heard about it, but I thought they wouldn’t bother me,” she said. “It did shock me.”


Holtzclaw


Local
Idaho Youth Ranch closing Twin Falls, Buhl stores next month

TWIN FALLS — When Idaho Youth Ranch closes its doors next month, it’ll be at least a year before it opens a new store in Twin Falls.

That’s what Vice President of Social Enterprise Jeff Myers told the Times-News on Wednesday in a phone interview. The store’s last day will be Feb. 3.

“We will be closing shop for a while,” Myers said. “Twin’s a market that we definitely want to be back in. Good retail locations are a little hard to come by.”

The Idaho Youth Ranch has sold its building at 162 Main Ave. E. for $470,000 to the Urban Renewal Agency, which is considering turning the building into housing. The building is directly across from the downtown commons plaza that’s under construction.

The nonprofit had initially planned to lease a larger space, Myers said, but they were unable to get a deal on another building.

So instead, they decided to shut down entirely while they seek out another space. It was a good time to sell the Main Avenue building, Myers said.

“It’s not just size — it’s location,” he said about the decision to move.

The Twin Falls store didn’t perform well with the amount of traffic, available parking and the building configuration, he said. It employs five people.

In the right location, he believes the store could be getting three to four times more sales and donations.

The Twin Falls Idaho Youth Ranch hours until closing are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Discounts continue this week with 50 percent off, then bump up to 75 percent off Monday through Feb. 3.

The Idaho Youth Ranch has also announced it will close its Buhl thrift store at 1118 Main St., “simply because the economics of maintaining the store there just no longer worked,” Myers said. The organization will not reopen the Buhl store.

Discounts at that location jump up to 50 percent on Monday, and 75 percent Feb. 2 through Feb. 10. Its hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The Idaho Youth Ranch will be completely out of its Twin Falls store by Feb. 9. It will continue to operate stores in Jerome, Rupert and Burley with no changes.