The Progressives who were the intellectual authors of Idaho’s system of government — from the state level down to the school districts — took one look at the ward-heeling corruption of America’s big cities and decided they wanted something better here.
So while there are congressional and legislative districts and county commission zones, on the city level they encouraged a system under which council members didn’t have just a single constituency but the whole community.
The tradition of at-large representation — most Idaho city council members don’t answer only to constituents in specific geographic districts — has served the state pretty well, although it’s concentrated the governing class in many cases.
Financially secure people — the kind of folks most likely to run for city council — tend to live in similar neighborhoods. And sometimes, the same neighborhoods.
A majority of the Twin Falls City Council, for example, lives within about one-third of a square mile in the northeastern part of town.
And seven council members reside east of Blue Lakes Boulevard and north of Elizabeth Boulevard.
But that’s usual, even by Idaho standards.
Take the two Idaho cities — Coeur d’Alene (44,137) and Caldwell (46,237) — whose populations come closest to Twin Falls’ (44,125).
In Coeur d’Alene, the more affluent neighborhoods are located north of Interstate 90, and three of the seven City Council members live there.
But four councilmen reside in the city’s core, and three live north of East Sherman Avenue and east of North Government Way — the part of Coeur d’Alene where property values are lowest.
Caldwell’s council members are likewise spread out geographically. Four live in generally more prosperous areas east of Interstate 84. But of the three who reside west of I-84, none lives east Kimball Avenue in the crime-prone downtown area.
Yet in Twin Falls, many longtime city council members — Howard Allen, Chris Talkington and Gale Kleinkopf , for example — have mostly resided in the same northeast neighborhood for decades.
So what does that mean if you live in say, South Park, and can’t get to work on time because Blue Lakes Boulevard or Washington Street — or both — are always torn up?
It won’t do you much good to complain to your alderman — they’re city council members of represent specific districts — because you don’t have one. So are your complaints taken as seriously by the council as those of someone who lives, for example, on Eastland Drive in the city’s northeast corner?
Council members say yes, and that they get an earful from constituents all over the city.
But if you’re not inclined to believe them, there’s one surefire remedy:
Run for City Council yourself: The filing deadline is Sept. 9.