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Boise Mayor Visits Morning Edition To Talk Policy, Politics And Pandemic

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Lauren McLean
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Boise Mayor Lauren McLean says the rising numbers of infections and hospitalizations due to the pandemic are not good... not good in Idaho, not good in Ada County and not good in Boise.

"The positivity rate within our community is high," said McLean. "And that also tells us that we're heading in the wrong direction."

Making matters worse, McLean said Boise is directly impacted by outbreaks in communities outside of the Treasure Valley.

"While the numbers in other parts of the state look worse than Boise, hospitals are sending people to Boise, which limits beds for our own residents," she added.

In a wide ranging conversation with Morning Edition host George Prentice, McLean talked about the pandemic, the unique selection process of the city's new fire chief, and the local implications of the race for the White House.

"I believe that I do have a partner in President-elect Biden."

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. We are fortunate in that we can spend a few minutes this morning with Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. Mayor McLean, good morning.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. It's great to hear your voice again.

PRENTICE: Let's start with the pandemic. The rates of infection… the numbers of hospitalizations… are not getting any better. Do you have a sense of what we can be doing that we're not doing? What is missing?

MCLEAN: That's a great question, George. And as listeners might have heard on Tuesday night at our City Council meeting, we had a presentation from Central District Health. The numbers are not good and the positivity rate within our community is high.. And that also tells us that we're heading in the wrong direction. And, you know, I asked Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist, “What more can the city can be doing?” I'm very concerned right now. It really is the basics. We need to continue to remind the public that masking and distancing is so incredibly important. And Christine pointed out that the city itself has done a lot. Really, it's the region and the state and the nation that, together, need to address this. Of course, I'm looking to what the governor of Utah announced on Sunday night, and I hope to see some changes here within the state. I’ve asked that our city and police department and the health district and, ideally, the governor's office sit down and talk about what can be done to curb this; because while the numbers in other parts of the state look worse than Boise, hospitals are sending people to Boise, which limits beds for our own residents. And that's the part we're most concerned about: the folks that are going to need to be hospitalized as this virus spreads, as we head into winter and the holiday season.

PRENTICE: It's interesting that you mentioned the police. I read just the other day that police in Coeur d’Alene are sending cases of face mask violators, and businesses that deliberately are not following safety protocols, to the prosecutor. Should Boise be doing that?

MCLEAN: You know, that's a tough call. So right now, we have an order in place by Central District Health; and I really believe that given their order and the protocols that they have regarding businesses, that we need to partner with them to hold individual businesses accountable.

There's also a lot of research out there that says if police start showing up and ticketing individuals for not wearing masks, we become even more entrenched. And that does not help with increasing the amount of people wearing masks. So, I get very concerned about creating more entrenched individuals, and a sense of identity around masking versus not masking, when what we're really trying to do is get as high a compliance as possible.

And in the city itself, we have around 70 percent compliance, which is not 100 percent. I recognize that. But I don't want to shift it the other way where we see more and more conflict between those who are and aren't. And again, I look to the need of having a statewide action to make it clear, community by community, that we're all doing the same thing.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about the new Fire Chief, Mark Niemeyer, who has now been officially confirmed, but not before some conversation about the selection process. I want to make sure I understand this. He did not initially apply for the job?

MCLEAN: He did not.

PRENTICE: So, if he was not one of the initial finalists, should the public have been given some more time for their own process of vetting, to get to know him better, before confirmation?

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Credit City of Boise
Boise Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer

  

MCLEAN: You know, that's a great question and one that I grappled with myself. And this is what I came down to: It's my job and responsibility as the mayor of the City of Boise to create a team of directors and, in this case, to hire a fire chief. I had been so excited about replicating the process we used for the police chief. If you'll remember, the police chief was scheduled to have community panels, but they were the week of the state’s shut-down orders. So, we scrapped that. So,I even added community panels to the fire chief process, because I wanted to have that opportunity to really to watch the applicants interact with the public and answer questions from the public. And what I learned through the process was my sense of what our community really needed. And that was someone that understood where we were, that had a demonstrated track record of collaborating across agencies and departments, that demonstrated care for their employees. And they could also partner, in these tough budget times, with our other department heads to serve the city in the most effective and efficient way possible and to keep our community safe. And I didn't find that in the two finalists that the process that we thought would bring them to us. And after watching the community panels and talking with the finalists myself, I decided I needed to look for the person that embodied what I'd learned our community needed. And so, I reached out to Mark at the recommendation of several different individuals. And now that he's been confirmed, we will have that opportunity for him to connect with the community. In fact, later today in my press huddle, Mark will be joining me to talk with the media, and then we'll set up some community events as well.

PRENTICE: Let's talk politics for a moment. I have to assume that you were pleased with the outcome of the presidential election.

MCLEAN: I was pleased. I really was. I expected going into this that the race would be tight. And just as we've done in the past, we would continue to work with whichever administration ended up being the administration in January of 2021. But I did support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris; and it meant a ton to me to see a woman on that stage… more so than I had any idea it would mean until I saw it happening.

PRENTICE: I think about the relationship between Boise City Hall and the White House…especially in the last few years: In 2018, when you were Council President, the council condemned President Trump's immigration policy. And last year, the council condemned some of the incendiary language that was coming out of the White House. Can I assume that you have a partner in President-elect Biden?

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Credit Matt Rourke / AP Images
President-elect Joe Biden

  

MCLEAN: I believe that I do have a partner in President-elect Biden. A couple of things: First, a leader sets the tone and tenor of his or her community, state or nation. And as the council took action to condemn language and ther actions by the past administration, it was because we recognize that in our community, national issues hit home. And also, as we've seen around the country, the tone and tenor set by a leader really has impacts on the way conversations take place in local communities. So, there's that, of course. But then from a policy perspective, we are seeking to combat the virus, seeking to rebuild our economy, to address a transition to clean energy, to combat the challenges of climate change, and, of course, having to have conversations about a racial justice and equity perspective, I see partnership and leadership that will matter at the top.

PRENTICE: She is Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. Mayor McLean, stay warm. All the best to you and your family. And thanks for giving us a few minutes this morning.

MCLEAN: You too, George. Thanks so much. Take care.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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