POCATELLO — At recent Revive @ 5 concerts in Old Town Pocatello, a canopy featured a banner stating “Recall them all.”
The banner was set up by Pocatello resident Claudia Ortega, the leader of the Pocatello/Bannock County Homeowners’ Alliance, the citizens group that formed to gather the signatures of registered county voters to recall the Bannock County commissioners and assessor over this year’s badly botched countywide property reassessment.
Ortega said she has around 5,000 signatures to recall each of the following Bannock County officials: Assessor Sheri Davies and county commissioners Terrel “Ned” Tovey, Steve Brown and Ernie Moser.
Anyone interested in signing the recall petitions can do so at the Homeowners’ Alliance booth in the Pocatello WinCo Foods parking lot from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. this Tuesday.
A schedule of future petition locations and other recall updates can be found on the Pocatello/Bannock County Homeowners’ Alliance Facebook page.
Ortega said county residents are supporting the recall effort in droves because they feel like Bannock County officials haven’t listened to their concerns regarding the countywide reassessment that many residents feel increased property assessments to far greater than their actual market value.
“It matters to me that we get this done,” Ortega said about recalling the county commissioners and assessor. “That’s what matters to me, that we are able to use our voices and make sure people hear us because (local elected officials) are not listening to us at all. Not in the county, not in the city (of Pocatello).”
Brown said he knows there’s “a lot of frustration and anger” about the reassessments but there’s also been a lot of misinformation spread about the subject.
Brown said many of the people signing the recall petitions believe that recalling the current county commissioners will result in lower property taxes.
“That’s absolutely untrue,” Brown said. “The process is already in place. If you get rid of the commissioners, the next set of commissioners, who don’t know anything about county government probably, still have to follow the rules from the state and the state statutes. Nothing changes. Another very personal issue is that I should be recalled because I wanted the (assessed) valuations to go up, so that as an insurance agent my premiums would go up and I would make money on the back end. That’s extremely concerning to me that people No. 1 would believe that and No. 2 that’s not even true."
Brown continued, "The only true part is that I was an insurance agent, but I sold my agency. I don't even have an insurance agency right now.”
Ortega said she is confident that the Homeowners’ Alliance will reach the 9,101 signatures each for the commissioners and Davies from Bannock County registered voters by Sept. 16 to add the recall initiatives for those officials onto the November election ballot.
If that deadline is not met, the required signatures would need to be turned in to the county clerk by Oct. 2 for Davies and by Oct. 9 for the commissioners to put the recall initiatives on the presidential primary election ballot in March 2020.
The signatures collected by the Homeowners’ Alliance have not yet been verified as being from registered county voters, something that county election officials will have to do before any recall initiatives can be placed on the election ballot.
Retiree Ken Putnam, who’s lived in Pocatello for the past 60 years, signed the recall petitions at a recent Revive @ 5 concert.
He said, “(The commissioners) are perpetuating this tax increase and it’s wrong. I think they should be held accountable because they’ve been putting out misinformation, especially the assessor saying that the holdup (with the new property assessment notices) was because of the state Tax Commission and then (Tax Commission officials) come out and said, ‘No it wasn’t.’”
Statements by county officials attributing some of the blame for the county sending out the new assessment notices 18 days late on things out of their control and then statements by the Idaho Tax Commission seemingly contradicting those excuses have definitely been noticed by county residents.
Pocatello resident Tresia Pierson said, “(Davies is) blaming the Tax Commission (but) the Tax Commission is saying, ‘Oh no. We didn’t do that. We didn’t have them shut down for so many days.’ There was no reason for (county officials) to get the notices out two weeks late. And then (Davies) moved around her furniture for two weeks before anybody got notified. That’s a crock of crap. That’s a waste of my taxpayer money.”
Davies was not available for comment for this story.
County residents also say that it seems every week county officials are adding another excuse for the botched countywide reassessment and don’t want to accept responsibility for the debacle.
“We hired them. We voted them into office. They should be responsible for their actions,” Pierson said. “If they messed up, they should just stand up and say, ‘We screwed up. Let’s make this right.’ But they won’t. They want to play the blame game back and forth.”
The countywide reassessment conducted earlier this year resulted in thousands of county property owners filing appeals of their new assessments. Over 100 of the new assessments were determined to be so flawed that the county commissioners reverted those properties back to their 2018 assessed values.
Mark Freeman has a property in Pocatello’s Highland area that rose by 50 percent in assessed value as a result of the reassessment. He said Davies is to blame and needs to be removed from office.
“She doesn’t know what she’s doing. That’s what it comes down to,” Freeman said about Davies, who took office in January. “The commissioners are supposed to oversee that and they basically told the public, ‘Vote her out next time.’ They didn’t do anything to help us. So as far as I’m concerned they can just all go.”
Ortega said she felt a groundswell of frustration among county residents immediately after the new assessment notices were finally sent out earlier this summer. She hosted a 150-person block party in late June at her east bench home and the countywide reassessment was what everyone was talking about.
Ortega said the feedback she was hearing from people about the reassessment caused her to start the Homeowners’ Alliance and initiate the effort to recall Davies and the county commissioners.
A former San Diego resident who’s lived in the Gate City for three years, Ortega said she has never before organized an effort to recall elected officials.
“People haven’t been holding their local politicians accountable and those people are just running amok, but I think the people who live in Pocatello and Bannock County are awesome,” Ortega said. “We didn’t know anybody (when we moved here). We live in a community that’s mostly LDS and everybody makes us feel at home and welcome and it’s been awesome. So we love the community, but the leadership needs to change.”