Charlie Howell has been chairman of the Jerome County commissioners for nine of his 12 years on the board. If Howell is the “voice of reason” for Jerome County, as some residents call him, then his challenger, Mike Dahmer, is the voice of suspicion.
Dahmer has a laundry list of misdeeds and malfeasance committed by the board, but he can’t produce any hard evidence to bolster his accusations. We’re not saying his claims aren’t true – but if you’re running for public office, you’d better be prepared to show proof.
Dahmer rightly points out that Jerome County is the second-highest taxed county in Idaho with the second-lowest income. While Dahmer raises serious concerns, his solutions hinge on winning the election first and establishing a governing platform later.
Howell, on the other hand, already has a list of goals he wants to tackle in his next term. At the top of that list is finally making progress on a long-talked-about north-side canyon rim park. The county has set aside $20,000 in its budget – much less than what it will take to establish a recreation area but enough to let stakeholders know the county is serious about the project.
Howell’s biggest accomplishment in his most recent term is the new county jail and continuing economic development projects, namely the Hilex Poly expansion.
Challenges for either candidate will include trying to balance agriculture interests with growing urban development, and helping to foster the assimilation of a Latino community that shows no signs of slowing. The county’s first question in job interviews now, Howell says, is whether the candidate is bilingual.
“You do wear out your welcome, sooner or later,” Howell told our editorial board. But neither he nor we think that time has come for Howell. His even-handedness is a tremendous boon to the county, and we believe Howell deserves another term.
Same goes for Roger Morley. The incumbent faces a much tougher challenge from B. Roy Prescott, a former county commissioner seeking to rejoin the board.
Prescott’s top issue is economic development. He says there’s still too much competition between communities and economic development groups. And Twin Falls, he says, is clearly outcompeting Jerome.
We’re impressed with Prescott’s regional outlook, especially on finding ways for cities and counties to collaborate. Those relationships now are in dire straits, he says.
“I’ll wager that you have county commissioners who can’t tell you the name of the mayor of Hazelton,” he said.
Morley, too, is focused on economic development. But he worries the county’s business sector may be outpacing the workforce. Jerome County doesn’t necessarily need more businesses, he says – it needs more people.
He ran on a progressive platform in the last election, but this time, he’s more focused on fine-tuning the progress the county has already made.
For this election, his platform centers on plans to recruit more residents to Jerome County, especially millennials. The unemployment rate in Jerome, he points out, dropped to 2.9 percent during his term. He anticipates growth in Jerome County to trend toward high-tech, higher-paying jobs, and the county will need young, highly trained professionals to fill those jobs.
To balance a growing workforce, the county has completed a massive zoning overhaul to reduce conflicts between suburbanites and agriculture operations, which he calls the foundation of Jerome County.
Morley is an optimist. “Jerome’s a good old girl,” he said. “She just needs a new dress.”
While Prescott is certainly a qualified candidate with good ideas, we see nothing to warrant booting Morley from office. The county is headed in the right direction; Morley deserves another term to keep that progress rolling.