CHUBBUCK — Annette Baumeister might be stepping down from Chubbuck City Council, but she’s stepping up to help her community in other ways.
One of the big things she wishes she had accomplished in her four years on the council is creating neighborhood action committees. Because being on City Council takes up a lot of time, Baumeister decided not to run for re-election so that she could take up that project and be the citizen liaison between those committees and the city.
She’s not done being a public servant yet, though, and plans to run for a city office in the next election.
The Idaho State Journal recently chatted with Baumeister at Chubbuck City Hall about her time on City Council and her plans for the next couple years, including her aspirations of running for mayor in 2021.
Idaho State Journal: You’ve been on City Council for four years. What have you liked most about the experience, and what have you liked least?
Annette Baumeister: I think that what I liked most is you see your community different when you’re in service to it, and it’s really opened by eyes to a lot of the beauty and the great things that we have going in Chubbuck, and also made me aware of areas where we need to improve that I didn’t even know existed before.
I think the only thing that is negative that I’ve experienced is it’s hard to have people criticize what you’re doing or your decisions when they don’t have all the facts. They haven’t been in the six council meetings that you’ve been discussing and exploring this one issue and how to address it, and then they show up at the end and have their complaints and think they know how you should be handling it. But I don’t fault people for that. It’s really kind of the nature of the beast, and I’ve always been a proponent of “our government system was set up to be challenged” and so I kind of embrace and welcome that, but sometimes it does take a toll on you.
ISJ: What are some of those great things you think Chubbuck has going for it?
AB: I think that we still have a very small-town feel. It’s amazing how connected I feel to our citizens in comparison to someone who is on a council in a bigger community — just easier access. People reach out to me on Facebook all the time. People feel comfortable walking up to me in a grocery store and we have conversations that way. That is really good. I think Chubbuck is poised for good growth, but I think that we have done a really good job of creating close-knit communities within our neighborhoods and that will continue to keep a small-town feel even as we grow.
ISJ: While you’ve been on the council, what do you think some of your big wins have been for the community?
AB: We have accomplished a lot. Obviously getting the new interchange is going to be a game changer, not only for the north end of Chubbuck, but it’s also going to take so much pressure off the diverging diamond and make that area’s traffic flow so much better over there.
I would say the very biggest win is I feel like Chubbuck now has an identity and it has a direction. When I came onto the council, I was surprised to find out that we didn’t have a strategic plan — what you use as the guiding document for creating the kind of community that you want. Our council has worked hard over the past four years to create a strategic plan that we actually adopted in 2018, and it now gives Chubbuck an identity, and it gives us a direction. We want to be a community that’s focused on unity and is a great place to work, live and raise a family. So now when we make decisions, we really are taking into consideration “Does this help us accomplish our goals?” And we’ve broken that down in the strategic plan to include objectives for every one of our departments in the city, so that everybody is working toward the same goal and knows what the vision is.
ISJ: There’s a rumor going around that you are going to run for mayor. Is that true?
AB: It’s not a rumor. It is true. A lot can happen in two years. Mayor (Kevin) England and I had a great conversation. He intends to run again in two years. We’ve talked about what that looks like. He may change his mind. I may change my mind. We may run against each other, but I think we have a great working relationship. It certainly wouldn’t be personal. I just have my own ideas and my own ambitions for the community and I’d like an opportunity to explore some of those. I have very little criticism for how Mayor England has run the city. It’s a hard job. It’s a thankless job. There’s no real training for it, and I think that we all just need a little bit of grace as we figure things out.
ISJ: What are some of those ideas and ambitions you'd like to see come to fruition if you’re elected mayor?
AB: I think one area where we’ve lacked is really studying how other communities are operating and see if we can’t glean some best practices from them. Why do we have some of the highest building costs in the state? If we adopt another community’s way of doing something, can we realize some tax efficiencies that way? How do they engage their citizens? Which leads me to my other reason for wanting to run for mayor: Some of the citizen committees I want to form are committees that were formed by city hall in other communities. It just hasn’t happened for us here. There is one citizen in particular who has expressed an interest in serving. He's never been picked up for a board or committee. There should be volunteer committees that anyone who is willing can serve on. Citizens should be empowered to create the community they want by volunteering and contributing, and this takes some of the financial burden off the tax payer. This isn’t intended as criticism towards anyone- it just takes the right mindset and core belief to make this happen and I like to think I possess it.
ISJ: What is one, maybe two, things you wish you or the council would have accomplished while you were in office?
AB: I will be back in two years in some capacity, whether I run for mayor or whether I run for City Council again because I do love serving the community, but there’s only so much time. It really was a goal of mine to not only communicate better with the community, which I feel like we’ve done a really good job of doing through social media and just better relationships with the press, but I also wanted to engage the community. I wanted to create neighborhood action committees and some focus groups, maybe a committee to work on an art council to create public art and things like that. And that takes a lot of leg work, and when you’re working on the logistics and the day-to-day business that we deal with with the council, I just haven’t had time to do that. I want to, from a citizen standpoint, as a citizen, create some of those committees and work with the city. The city is very open to it. Our staff, our mayor, the council is very open to embracing those types of things, but they’re all as busy as I am. So I feel like if I free up that time, I can create some of those committees and kind of be the liaison between the city staff and the citizens who want to help out with those. You really do need a citizen to spearhead that and be dedicated to it.
ISJ: Is there anything you think the city has done or should be doing to draw more businesses or people in general to the city?
AB: I think that those things are already in the works. We hired an employee a couple of years ago whose sole objective was to create an environment within our community that could be welcoming to businesses. We have been told by Bannock Development Corp. for years that we don’t have the right zoning or land for some of the businesses that they are trying to attract. So we have worked hard to create new zones, rezoning and make it so that we are more appealing for those types of businesses.
Getting the interchange will be key to that because businesses that move a lot of freight don’t have to have to go through the diverging diamond through the center of town. So for them to be able to get off at the Northgate Interchange and then be able to get back on over where the sewer plant is, that opens up a huge industrial area or business corridor for light industrial that is just going to be critical. Plus, we’ve got rail right that goes through there. So it truly is going to be a game changer for us.
The world of retail is changing. We’ve worked really hard with our partners, the new owners of the Pine Ridge Mall, to help revitalize that area, and most people will notice it’s not reviving the mall in the traditional sense of malls. But the reality is as we’ve seen across the nation that when a mall starts to die, it’s really hard to revive it because of the way retail has changed. I think they’ve done an incredible job repurposing that area and making more of a multi-use area that serves the whole community.
ISJ: It seems like Chubbuck and a lot of the businesses here are pretty adaptable to doing things that are maybe a little bit out of the ordinary.
AB: I think that the community at large — Pocatello and Chubbuck — sometimes tends to get down on itself because kind of went through some dark days. But if you look at our overall history, that was in our very near past, but it’s not something that I think should define us as a community. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, we were a shining star. If you look at the literature and some of the advertisements from back then, we were the place to be. My mom remembers when she was a little kid, people from Boise came to Pocatello to shop. So crazy. We shouldn’t let a couple of decades in our near past define us. We have always been an adaptable, innovative community. I think it’s one of the things that makes us unique and I think that we have some pretty bright days in our future.
ISJ: What are your thoughts on the city’s leadership?
AB: I think that we are lucky right now in Chubbuck in the sense that everybody is very motivated and has a positive attitude. You see certain players in other communities that are complainers, naysayers, feel like they have to clean up city hall, and it really creates a very negative narrative for the community. But right now our council feels very positive about the direction that we’re going. Our mayor feels very positive. Our staff feels very positive. Our staff is phenomenal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, nobody is perfect, and in the world of government, that is exactly why we have checks and balances. But by and large, operating as a whole, we have some amazing individuals on our staff. From the bottom up, truly, everybody seems to be super motivated, wanting to serve, wanting to be innovative, wanting to take our community to the next level, and that’s why we are going to the next level because everybody is on board — everybody’s rowing.
ISJ: It seems like Chubbuck is very good about being transparent about what’s going on, and in general your citizens seem more happy with your city government than in other places.
AB: That’s something that I’m pretty proud of for myself. One thing I heard repeatedly when I was running for City Council was that people didn’t feel that the city was very transparent. They didn’t feel like they were engaged or aware of what was going on. So I came in with my marketing background and really encouraged the mayor specifically and the city staff to be more up front and more forward. Come to find out, it wasn’t like people were trying to hide stuff, and they weren’t trying to keep things secret or do things behind closed doors. They just didn’t think people cared and I heard that several times. “The reality is people don’t care,” is what they would say to me. And I would say, “I disagree. I think a lot of people don’t care, but I think that you need to be up front and be communicating with the people who do care.” They bought in, and it has been amazing. The mayor’s blog has done well. We’ve really tried hard to use what resources we have to get stuff out on social media, and people are responsive. I think you’re exactly right. I think that is has changed the way people feel about our government leaders and about how the city is running and operating.
ISJ: What has the process of being more transparent entailed?
AB: I remember when I first got on the council, I had more followers of my campaign page than the city had on their Facebook page. But you have to be intentional about that stuff. You have to have a designated person to run the social media. That was something that we explored several different ideas of how to handle that, and we felt that the most cost-effective way was to have our deputy clerk, who was a new hire, take over that. It’s Joey Bowers and he has done a great job and he doesn’t even really have a background in social media. He just had kind of a natural way of doing it and has really embraced it and enjoys it, which I think matters, too, because that comes across.
ISJ: What do you think of the proposed merger of Pocatello and Chubbuck?
AB: I’m following the topic and so far all I’ve heard are a lot of assumptions and blatant misinformation being put out. It’s not in my nature to suppress ideas or conversations, but people need to be cautious about their approach, and I don’t think it’s been handled well so far. If studies are done, my guess is any small efficiencies realized would be severely overridden by the cost of combining, because there is a cost to that. In addition, our communities have their own unique identities and I think that’s good. From the feedback I’ve heard, citizens from both communities seem unwilling to give up those identities. I would like to abolish any ideas that there is a civil war between Pocatello and Chubbuck. Our big brother/little brother relationship isn’t perfect, but we make it work.
ISJ: Chubbuck has big plans for a new City Hall, police and fire stations, and the aquatic center. How do you feel about all those things in general and also from a financial standpoint?
AB: The aquatic complex is not happening any time soon. We did do a feasibility study and truly that’s what it was for — it was responsibly approaching how we utilize taxpayer dollars, how we fund these types of things, and we came to the conclusion that for us to provide the type of facility that we wanted to provide, it just wasn’t feasible right now with putting a large burden on our taxpayers. But it’s not something that we have shelved entirely; it’s something that we have now laid the groundwork for, we know what we need for it, and future councils will readdress that when we have a larger tax base so that it’s not so burdensome on a small community. I do believe in providing services like that, especially if you can get private partners on board so that it’s very feasible for the community because our top priority is to make sure that people can afford to live here.
As far as the other facilities, I am just blown away that we are able to do this within our current budget and not have to bond for it. And the way that we’ve been able to do that is by the department heads coming together, looking at the budget as a whole instead of department by department, looking at where they can adjust, where they can help each other out. Things as simple as we used to hire out servicing our police fleet, but a lot of it is now serviced within our own mechanic shop, and that was a way that we saved money so we could free up money to realize some of these other goals. It’s being more efficient with the funds that we have and being smart. We are turning the old City Hall into a police department and moving the City Hall because to build a new police department from scratch would have required a bond. Fire station is four years down the road. We actually have an urban renewal district that is sunsetting out in 2022, and when that sunsets out, the city itself will begin receiving the funds that were going into that urban renewal district, and those are the funds that hopefully we will be able to use for the new fire station.
ISJ: What’s the benefit of a new police station and a new City Hall?
AB: I think that everybody in the community would agree that we want quality people running the city. If you look at your own work environment, you have to have space and equipment to do the job that you do. If you had to do your job out of your home or in an office squished in with four other people, that doesn’t really create a conducive environment that makes you want to go above and beyond. I’m a firm believer in taking good care of the employees because when you take good care of the employees, the employees will take good care of the constituents. The reality is we just need space. These city jobs, people can’t work them from their home. You can’t go to somebody’s house and pay your utility bill. Police officers or firemen can’t sit at their house and wait for a call to come in.
ISJ: What’s the timeline of those two projects?
AB: We break ground for City Hall in March of 2020, and just as soon as we can get that done, then they’ll vacate and the police department will be able to start their remodel for this building.
ISJ: What other plans do you have now that you’re not going to be on City Council?
AB: I work full time as an escrow officer. I do love my job. I am on the Chubbuck Development Authority. I plan on staying on that commission. I love the work that we do on that commission. I believe it’s really important to contribute to the community. That is my passion, and so I have no intention of backing off of that. I just am changing the approach.