ISJ EDITORIAL: Pocatello mayor, council need to rethink raises

Pocatello resident Claudia Ortega is on a mission to reform our city’s government.

Her candidacy for City Council Seat 2 in the Nov. 5 election poses a question to all of us about whether the city’s leadership is competent or incompetent. Are Mayor Brian Blad and the City Council leading us in the right direction or are we as a community regressing? And is Ortega the answer to remedying our city’s woes?

If you agree with her that City Hall is broken, you’ll next have to ask yourself if Ortega is the right person to fix it.

She’s competing against financial consultant Lance Kolbet and resin artist Colton Peterson for the council post being vacated by Beena Mannan, who decided against running for re-election.

In previous years, Ortega’s view of the city’s government as a glass half empty — or perhaps completely empty — might not get much traction.

But in recent months local government here in the Pocatello area has had no problem shedding negative light on itself and that’s why Pocatellans are willing to listen to Ortega.

We’re as dismayed as anyone with some of the misguided decisions plaguing our leadership on the city and county levels, but if elected Ortega will need to prove she’s capable of doing more than pulling the pin and throwing the grenade so to speak when it comes to solving the problems she so easily points out.

Because we, like most folks, want to fix what’s wrong at City Hall rather than blow it up.

The latest news from our city government — that the city is going to spend tens of thousands of tax dollars on a new logo — seems as much of a waste of money as the big raises the City Council approved for itself this past summer.

Such bad moves by city officials are the proverbial low-hanging fruit for Ortega who can rattle off the recent missteps by our local government on the city and county levels like a machine gun.

She has of late taken issue with the decisions being made at Pocatello City Hall, but she became well-known locally for leading the unsuccessful effort to recall Bannock County’s assessor and commissioners over this year’s badly botched countywide property reassessment.

Her complaints often ring true, but the rub for many of us is whether she’s capable of anything other than complaining.

Regarding Pocatello, she says among other things that the City Council needs to replace the city’s outdated website, better help the Pocatello Police Department combat the alarming amount of crime in the community, and more wisely spend our tax dollars. That all sounds about right to us.

The challenge for Ortega if elected will be working out solutions to those problems. Replacing the city’s outdated website might be easy. Cutting the city’s budget to save tax dollars without cutting the city services that Pocatellans rely on or hurting the morale of city employees via layoffs will obviously be a significant challenge.

If any of this were easy, our City Council would have such a stellar track record that Ortega and the others in this race probably wouldn’t be running.

It’s one thing to sit on the sidelines and point out City Hall’s mistakes but quite another to develop and implement solutions as a member of a team — in this case the City Council.

We hope Ortega can make the necessary changes to her style if elected to show that she’s more than a complainer.

If you believe she’ll fail miserably at finding solutions to the problems at City Hall, there are Kolbet and Peterson waiting in the wings for your vote.

Kolbet is a salary and benefits expert who wants to bring those expertise to work for the City Council. He correctly points out that salaries and benefits are the largest portions of the city’s budget. He feels like he has the expertise to develop creative ways to save tax dollars on salaries and benefits because otherwise those expenses will continue to spiral out of control.

Our problem with Kolbet is that we believe he’s obviously a bit one dimensional in terms of what he’d bring to the City Council. We’re certain salaries and benefits are an issue for our city government but unfortunately there are many other problems that need to be addressed.

We believe without a doubt that Kolbet has the intellect and temperament to serve on the City Council and he and Peterson definitely have strengths and perspectives that would be helpful to the council.

But we believe Ortega could prove to be much more effective, especially if she can raise her game from being what her critics would call an agitator to someone who’s as good at achieving solutions as she is at pointing out problems.

That being said, we’re willing to roll the dice on her on Nov. 5.