TWIN FALLS — The three candidates in this year’s only competitive race for Twin Falls County commissioner showed more similarities on issues than differences in a debate Thursday evening.
Democrat Jill Skeem, Republican Jack Johnson and independent candidate Tony Bohrn all said they would try to make county government more transparent if elected.
One of the reasons Skeem got into the race was when she found out the Greater Twin Falls Area Transportation Committee had been planning a truck route that would go in front of her house. After she contacted the Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, it turned out the committee had likely been breaking the law for 25 years by not posting public notices of its meetings.
“Transparency is a big issue for me,” she said, suggesting the commissioners should look into broadcasting their meetings live online like the Twin Falls City Council does.
Johnson said he would hold town hall-style meetings throughout the county and try to update the commission minutes online more often and hold commission meetings on hot-button topics in the evenings rather than during the work day, so more people can attend.
“A county’s got to let people know what’s going on,” said Bohrn, agreeing with Johnson on the issue.
Johnson, a longtime Jerome County sheriff’s deputy who beat incumbent Commissioner George Urie in the Republican primary in May, told the crowd at the Magic Valley Arts Council he would be prudent with their tax dollars and touted his endorsements from law enforcement and firefighting groups.
“I stand on my conservative values and my service record,” Johnson said in his closing statement.
Democratic candidate Jill Skeem talked about her range of work experience and community involvement and said she would offer a different perspective — she’s the only woman running and also the only person who would be able to speak Spanish and communicate directly with the county’s growing Spanish-speaking population.
“I’ve worked very hard in my life and I’ve done so many different things,” she said. “And I’ve been a citizen where when I see problems I will take the initiative to fix it.”
Bohrn, a Hansen city councilman, said he would work hard and pointed out that he is the only candidate with experience in elected office.
“I’ll work my hind end for you guys,” Bohrn said. “I really will. I’ve been doing it all my life.”
The candidates agreed the county needs to make sure to protect agricultural land as Twin Falls County continues to develop, that the time has come for another bridge across the Snake River and that the county will have to play a role in making sure the mental health crisis center expected to open in December has the money to stay open after its state funding runs out in about two years.
“I think this is a very important resource not only for Twin Falls County but the Magic Valley,” Johnson said of the crisis center.
Twin Falls spends more than $3 million a year on indigent medical care, much of it on people who fall into the “Medicaid gap.” Skeem and Bohrn both said they favor Medicaid expansion. Bohrn said they should organize with commissioners in other counties to lobby the state to act.
“There’s millions of dollars to be had before our state, and we’re just sitting on it,” Bohrn said. “We should put some pressure on them.”
Johnson said it would be hard for the county to fix that issue, because it comes from the federal government and goes through the states but that the county should make sure it is scrutinizing indigent medical applications closely and that people who can afford to pay a bit back are paying.
The Times-News organized the forum, and Editor Matt Christensen moderated, asking a mix of questions submitted by the audience and written by the paper’s staff. County commissioners are elected at-large but required to live in the districts they represent. Johnson, Skeem and Bohrn are running to represent District 3, which covers the eastern part of the county.
There will be at least two new faces on the commission come January — whoever wins the District 3 race plus Don Hall, a Twin Falls city councilman who beat incumbent Leon Mills in the District 2 Republican primary and is unopposed on the November ballot.