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Q&A with Gerald Bowden who is retiring after 23 years as Twin Falls County Assessor

TWIN FALLS — Gerald Bowden is giving himself a well-deserved break.

Earlier this month, the longtime county assessor and self-proclaimed workaholic announced he will retire effective Dec. 1. Bowden has worked for Twin Falls County for more than 40 years and has served as the county’s assessor for 23 years.

His retirement comes a year before his term is set to expire — and it wasn’t something he’d planned on while running in the last election. But he now wants to fulfill his dreams of traveling to Australia and Alaska, spending time with his grandchildren and visiting Yankee Stadium.

“I’m thinking, I’m not getting any younger,” Bowden said. “I’m starting to look at the grandkids growing and some of the bucket list things I need to accomplish.”

Bowden will turn 69 the day he retires.

“Dec. 1 is actually my birthday also, so I’m kind of giving myself a birthday present,” he said.

The Times-News recently looked back with Bowden on his career and life in Idaho.

Q: What brought you to Idaho?

A: Bowden came to Idaho in the early ‘70s because he had family in the Burley area. But now, he thinks there was another reason: to meet his wife of 42 years, Debbie.

“That’s why the gods brought me to Idaho — to meet her,” he said.

Originally from Indiana, Bowden was drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. He served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1973, stationed in Germany.

“That was the only lottery I ever won,” Bowden said.

He came to Idaho right after his military service and attended the College of Southern Idaho. He later went to Boise State University and graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Q: When did you start working for the county?

A: He was hired with Twin Falls County on July 1, 1977, as an appraiser. After doing that for 17 years, Bowden saw an opportunity to take the former assessor’s position when that person retired. Bowden has been the Twin Falls County assessor for almost six terms.

Q: What does the county assessor do?

A: The county assessor’s job is to place a market on every property in the county, Bowden said. There are about 40,000 parcels altogether. While the value changes every year, each property is physically inspected every five years. This includes a walk-through of buildings, noting room counts, plumbing and construction quality. Bowden will also measure the building and take note of driveways, patios, decks and garages.

“We want to be as accurate as we can,” he said. “We take ‘em pretty serious.”

The market value also takes into account sales on the Multiple Listing Service. Then, each taxing district establishes how much it needs to operate. The assessor determines a tax rate based on those needs and the total valuation of properties in that taxing district.

Q: How has the assessor’s office changed?

A: When Bowden first started with the office, it had only about 15 or 20 staff members. It now has about 40.

Values have also increased significantly — in part driven by laws that changed how things were assessed. The state began requiring a full market value on properties in the mid-80s, Bowden said.

“When I first started, we weren’t even at market value,” he said.

Bowden was able to pull data for a 34-year span. In 1983, the assessed valuation for Twin Falls County properties was about $1.3 billion. For the 2017 tax year, it is about $7.4 billion.

In the past year alone, Bowden estimates an average increase of 15 percent in value for residential properties.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about the job?

A: “Probably working with the public,” Bowden said.

He’s also enjoyed seeing the growth, which makes him feel like a part of the community.

Q: What are you the most proud of?

A: Bowden said he’s proud of getting together the crew he has and helping bring in digital mapping technology for the mapping department.

Q: Will you miss it?

A: “Absolutely,” Bowden said. “I’m really a workaholic, and I take my life serious.”

But he hopes that the trips, time spent with grandchildren and working on projects for “the boss at home” will keep him busy.

“It was a tough decision,” he said.

Bowden considers his staff as family, and will miss seeing them everyday.

Q: Will you stay in Twin Falls?

A: Bowden’s two children and four grandchildren live in the Boise area, and he plans on visiting them often. He and his wife are happy living in the Magic Valley, but “We’ll find out what the future brings,” he said.

Accepting applications: How the TF County assessor vacancy gets filled

TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls County Republican Central Committee is now tasked with helping decide who will be the next county assessor — at least until a new one is elected.

Chairman Steve Millington said the committee received notice of Gerald Bowden’s retirement at its Oct. 11 meeting. It shortly thereafter posted a notice that it will be interviewing candidates next month.

Because Bowden ran for office as a Republican, the committee gets to select the top three candidates for the job, and submit those in order of preference to the Twin Falls County Commission for a final selection.

“We will accept applications from interested parties up to, and including, the night that we make the choice,” Millington said.

The Twin Falls Republican Central Committee will interview candidates and make its selection beginning at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 in the Twin Falls County Planning and Zoning Conference Room at 630 Addison Ave. W.

To be eligible, by statute applicants must be at least 25 years old and a resident of the county. They also have to be registered with the Republican Party.

Furthermore, interested applicants have to be present at the selection meeting, or they will be ineligible.

Millington said applicants should submit a resume and letter of interest as soon as possible to the Twin Falls County Republican Central Committee at P.O. Box 1732, Twin Falls, Idaho 83303.

The Twin Falls County Republican Central Committee will send applications to its 44 precinct committee chairs for consideration before the meeting. All will be present to vote for their top three picks Nov. 8.

The Twin Falls County Commission will make the final selection around mid-November. The next assessor will have the option of running in the primary election next May.

Commissioner Terry Kramer said this has been an interesting time for the central Republican committee because earlier this year, the Twin Falls County treasurer also retired mid-term. Becky Petersen was selected to replace Debbie Kauffman.

“The central committee hardly ever has anything like this,” Kramer said.

He added that it shows the importance of needing an active committee.

Puerto Rico says it's scrapping $300M Whitefish contract

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The head of Puerto Rico's power company said Sunday the agency will cancel its $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid increased scrutiny of the tiny Montana company's role in restoring the island's power system following Hurricane Maria.

The announcement by Ricardo Ramos came hours after Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged the utility to scrap the deal for Whitefish's help in rebuilding the electrical system.

"It's an enormous distraction," Ramos said of the controversy over the contract. "This was negatively impacting the work we're already doing."

The current work by Whitefish teams will not be affected by the cancellation and that work will be completed in November, Ramos said. He said the cancellation will delay work by a couple of months because the government will have to find new companies to help restore power to the island.

Ramos said he had not talked with Whitefish executives about his announcement. "A lawsuit could be forthcoming," he warned.

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames told The Associated Press that the company was "very disappointed" in the governor's decision, and said it would only delay efforts to restore power.

He said Whitefish brought 350 workers to Puerto Rico in less than a month and it expected to have a total of 500 this week. Chiames said the company completed critical work, including a project that will soon lead to a half million people in San Juan getting power.

"We will certainly finish any work that (the power company) wants us to complete and stand by our commitments," he said.

Roughly 70 percent of the U.S. territory remains without power more than a month after Maria struck on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 154 mph. Ramos said Sunday the total of cost of restoring the system would come to $1.2 billion.

The cancellation is not official until approved by the utility's board. Ramos said it would take effect 30 days after that.

Ramos said the company already has paid Whitefish $10.9 million to bring its workers and heavy equipment to Puerto Rico and has a $9.8 million payment pending for work done so far

Ramos said cancellation of the contract will not lead to a penalty, but it's likely the government will pay at least $11 million for the company to go home early, including all costs incurred in the month after the cancellation.

Federal investigators have been looking into the contract awarded to the small company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown and the deal is being audited at the local and federal level.

Ramos said the company contacted Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority two days before the storm hit, at a time when it was becoming clear the hurricane could cause massive damage.

Ramos earlier said he had spoken with at least five other companies that demanded rates similar to those of Whitefish, but also wanted a down payment the agency did not have.

He said Sunday he hadn't consulted with anyone else about signing the deal and didn't notify the governor's office for a week. He again praised Whitefish's work.

"They're doing an excellent job," he said.

"There's nothing illegal here ... Of that, we're sure," he said, adding that he welcomes a federal investigation. "The process was done according to the law."

Ramos also has said the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the deal, something the agency has denied.

FEMA said it has not approved any reimbursement requests from the power company for money to cover repairs to the island's electrical system. The contract said the utility would not pay costs unallowable under FEMA grants, but it also said, "The federal government is not a party to this contract."

FEMA has raised concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices were reasonable. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when the storm hit, but it has since hired more than 300 workers.

The White House had no comment Sunday. Last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the federal government had no role in the process that led to awarding the contract.

"This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government," she said Friday.

A Whitefish contract obtained by The Associated Press found that the deal included $20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter, $650 an hour for a large crane truck, $322 an hour for a foreman of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $286 an hour for a mechanic. Each worker also gets a daily allowance of $80 for food, $332 for a hotel room and $1,000 for each flight to or from the mainland.

The company is based in Whitefish, Montana. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski, and Zinke's son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico," Zinke recently said in a statement linked to a tweet. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless."

This week, Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, sent the power company director a letter demanding documents, including those related to the contract with Whitefish and others that show what authority the agency has to deviate from normal contracting processes.

"Transparent accountability at (the power company) is necessary for an effective and sustained recovery in Puerto Rico," his office said in a statement.

A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico's finances announced this week that retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot will be in charge of power reconstruction efforts. Rossello and other officials have rejected the appointment, saying the local government is in charge of a power company that is $9 billion in debt and had struggled with outages before hurricanes Irma and Maria last month.

Elaine Thompson  

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes under pressure from Houston’s outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (90) Sunday in Seattle.

City considers odor control study for sewer pipeline in northwest Twin Falls

TWIN FALLS — There should be a lot of sniffing around in Twin Falls after Monday’s City Council meeting.

The city is being asked to hire an engineering firm to study odors along a 5-mile sewer pipeline corridor in northwest Twin Falls. The city has large diameter sewer lines along Canyon Rim Road, up Grandview Drive, past the County West building and down into Rock Creek.

After receiving complaints from the public about odors, the engineering department plans to sign a contract with Murray, Smith and Associates for the Grandview Odor Reduction Study. If Council approves, the city will pay the firm $39,908.

The study will be funded by a bond that voters previously passed, in which more than $1 million was set aside for Grandview odor control study, design and construction.

Also at the meeting, the City Council may get a chance to meet a narcotics-detection dog being donated to the Twin Falls Police Department. The Blue Lakes Rotary Club agreed to pay $6,500 for the dog, plus $1,500 for miscellaneous costs, after it asked how the club could assist law enforcement.

“It’s something that can really help us to enhance our ability to enforce drug laws,” Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said.

The dog’s handler will be officer Matt Guzman, who will receive a 4 percent salary increase. Twin Falls Police Department will also have to pay $2,250 for a 160-hour training and $4,000 for police vehicle equipment.

“I want to thank the members of the Blue Lakes Rotary Club and Ken Pavlick of Pacific Coast K9 for helping us to keep our community safe,” Kingsbury said.

As part of the arrangement, Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office will also receive a single-purpose K-9 donated by Pacific Coast K9. The narcotics dog will arrive at the same time the sheriff’s office receives a dual-purpose (narcotics and patrol) K-9 it bought from the trainer.

“It’s a great donation — it’s absolutely fantastic,” Sherriff Tom Carter said. “There’s no downside to this.”

The sheriff’s office sent one officer to receive training to become a single-purpose K-9 instructor, he said. Cpl. Charles Hoop will help Pavlick train city and county dog handlers.

When all is said and done, the county will be back up to having three K-9 units, and the city will have four.

A presentation of the dog donation will take place at Monday’s meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 305 Third Ave. E. Also at the meeting, the Council will:

Present Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Council certificates.

Receive an update on Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.

Consider adopting an ordinance to rezone 2016 Addison Ave. E. for professional offices for the Janice Seagraves Family Foundation.

Adjourn into executive session to consider hiring a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent.

Trump lashes out with fresh criticism of Russia inquiry

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump expressed renewed frustration Sunday over the investigations into alleged ties between his campaign associates and Russian government officials, saying on Twitter that the “facts are pouring out” about links to Russia by his former presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“DO SOMETHING!” Trump urged in one of five morning tweets.

Trump’s tweets followed a CNN report late Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington has approved the first charges in a criminal investigation into Russia ties led by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Associated Press has not confirmed the CNN report.

Ty Cobb, a member of Trump’s legal team, said the president was not referring to CNN’s reporting.

“Contrary to what many have suggested, the president’s comments today are unrelated to the activities of the special counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” Cobb said in a statement.

Trump and the White House insist there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia. Both have pointed a finger at Clinton and have suggested that the real story of collusion with Russia is the sale of uranium to Moscow when Clinton was secretary of state.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered with the election to benefit Trump, a finding that Trump has not accepted.

In the tweets, Trump referenced the fact that Clinton’s presidential campaign helped fund political research into Trump that ultimately produced a dossier of allegations about his ties to Russia. He also pointed to the uranium sale, the tens of thousands of emails from Clinton’s time at the State Department that she later deleted from a private email server, and the decision by then-FBI Director Jim Comey to not bring criminal charges against Clinton for possible mishandling of classified information.

“Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia ‘collusion,’ which doesn’t exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R’s are now fighting back like never before,” Trump says across several tweets. “There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!”

In a final tweet on the subject, Trump suggests that Russia’s re-emergence into the conversation is no accident.

“All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”

On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers are scheduled to release a tax cut bill being pushed by the GOP lawmakers and Trump.