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Boise Mayor talks about next steps for city council, police oversight, zoning and rail service

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean will interview a "short list" of City Council applicants in the coming weeks.
City of Boise, Boise State Public Radio
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean will interview a "short list" of City Council applicants in the coming weeks.

March promises to be a busier than usual month at Boise City Hall. Near the top of the to-do list is filling one empty and another soon-to-be empty seat of the City Council. Over 50 Boise residents submitted their names as possible replacements.

“As you dig into who they are and what parts of the community they come from, you'll see there's an incredible cross-section of folks that have engaged in different ways over their career or lives here in Boise,” said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. “We've received all the applications. I will be announcing the folks that I intend to. Interview, and then we'll start to set up those interviews looking intently at breadth of experience.”

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the process of selecting new members of the council, the city’s next steps in its huge zoning code rewrite, what it would take for Amtrak to return to southern Idaho, and unexpected changes at the Office of Police Accountability.

“I want the public to understand that we take accountability seriously. I take safety seriously. It's a high priority.”
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition. I'm George Prentice. Good morning. We always look forward to any time we can get with Boise Mayor Lauren McClean. And indeed, there's plenty to talk about. So, let's say good morning to the mayor, Lauren McLean. Good morning.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. It's great to be back here with you.

PRENTICE: We have to start with law enforcement. Earlier this month, we learned that two investigators with the city's Office of Police Accountability resigned, and that came in the wake of the firing of the director of OPA. So, you're looking for a new director, then, these two replacements, all while you're looking at police accountability through a new lens. So just as a layperson, I hope you can appreciate that this seems to be confusing, maybe even troubling. I understand the city can't comment on personnel matters, but what can you tell us? What's going on there?

MCLEAN: Thanks for the question. And first off, I want to just say that we look at all of this with the belief. I look at all this with belief that everyone in our community deserves to feel safe. And part of that feeling of safety is knowing that there's an accountability mechanism for when they have concerns. And right now, the Office of Police Accountability is being ably led by an interim director who is our city's prosecutor. She's got all the right skills to lead an office, to be there for the time being, to ensure that our investigations are conducted as they need to be conducted. And as has always been done, there are contract investigators that if the interim director needs to find one, she'll be able to find one. So, I want the public to understand that we take accountability seriously. I take safety seriously. It's a high priority. And with the interim director in there, she's working closely with members of council and my office to ensure that we're looking at how as we move forward, we have an office and a director that is independent of the council, independent of the mayor's office, independent of the police department, and accountable and reportable to the public. And when they have concerns and can be a director that looks for trends and helps the council better understand if there are policies and procedures that ought to be changed to keep everyone safe as our city continues to grow.

PRENTICE: And without getting into personnel matters, is it a matter of a better direction, a new direction? Were there disagreements over practice or procedure?

MCLEAN: Well, I think that you've seen the discussion that has been had; and there were concerns about practice and procedure. There is a deep belief, and I'd ask the council to speak for themselves, but a deep belief that accessibility to the public, an independent review of investigations that have taken place and following frankly, and the ordinance and policies and procedures as written is an absolute must to ensure that this office works well.

PRENTICE: And are you still looking at reconsidering Police Oversight, a possible reworking of that office?

MCLEAN: Well, the more we've looked at the code that designated and developed the office, the more we've come to believe. I've come to believe, as have council members that are part of the committee. And the code was right. And we've got to have a director that follows the policies and procedures and develops the operational guidelines necessary to carry out the intent of police accountability. And as you've likely seen, and I want the community to know, we put out a job opening just last week for the director. And so, we're currently accepting applications and then we'll be putting together the committees and process to hire that next director of the Office of Police Accountability.

PRENTICE: Well, speaking of applications, you have a couple of seats open on the council. Let me let me see if I get this right…we have one open seat on the council, another about to be vacant. Do I have that right?

MCLEAN: Yes, that's right.

PRENTICE: When is this going to happen? Where are you with the process of choosing?

MCLEAN: Well, I want to say first that I was so pleased to see that there are 53 Boiseans interested in serving our community. And as you dig into who they are and what parts of the community they come from, you'll see there's an incredible cross-section of folks that have engaged in different ways over their career or lives here in Boise. And this is a really unique opportunity for us as a city with the one opening that is current. And then, of course, with the revered council member Clegg stepping down to run VRC. And so, we've received all the applications. In the coming week I will be announcing the folks that I intend to. Interview, and then we'll start to set up those interviews looking intently at breadth of experience that individual members have…their commitment to community, which can be evidenced in all sorts of ways of active engagement within our community. And of course, the important part, and that is that they'll be confirmed by council. So, we'll be weighing those things as I start to have conversations with folks for both the At-Large seat and the District 3 seat in the coming weeks.

PRENTICE: And will that list be… what, more or less than ten? More or less than five?

MCLEAN: You know that’s something I'm working through.

PRENTICE: Does it favor someone…this question is not subtle.. does it favor someone with council experience to be chosen for one of those open seats?

MCLEAN: Well, what I say is this is: It favors folks that will be approved by council. And I will favor folks who have demonstrated a true commitment to this community. And that can come in all forms, as evidenced by the members of council today that people have voted on to council. We all have served our community in different ways before we found ourselves on council. So, we want to have conversations with the finalists that I interview about “why” they want to serve,  the “what” they feel has been the impact of their volunteer activity, engagement in the community, and what they believe they bring to the dais. If I were to select them, as well as a conversation about the truly pressing issues that we'll be dealing with and addressing in this coming year. And I think that's what you want to talk about, too, which is the development of a modern zoning code.

PRENTICE: Well, okay. So, let's just go there, and the big step with the huge zoning code rewrite for the city. Do I have this right? Is it heading… where? To planning and zoning next?

MCLEAN: I want to say a couple of things. First, yes, it will be heading to planning and zoning with hearings, I believe, in April. So, there is going to be ample time for the public to review it to end, to be prepared to be involved with at the Planning and Zoning Commission. But what's important here is that a modern zoning code makes possible homes for Boiseans at all different price points. And we all know it at this time in particular, how important affordability is and remains for Boiseans. And that's why we've got to do everything that we can do to address it, to make sure we've got homes. And there's a lot that's been said being said about it, but when you get right down to it, a modern zoning code makes possible the vibrant neighborhoods that we love makes possible better transportation options. It brings communities together more closely and connects us to each other and to schools and to work and parks and pathways. And that's what this sets us, sets us up to be able to do to implement the vision of Bluepoint Boise and to ensure that as we grow, that we're even able to protect natural spaces, nature, open spaces, the rivers and other things that we love about Boise. Growing while coming closer together and making possible better connections and transportation.

PRENTICE: I'm going to ask next for you to put your political hat on. We've been reading about possible opponents to run against you for the office of mayor. Where are you with that impending balance of all that's in your inbox and yet being candidate McLean and campaigning for reelection?

MCLEAN: You know, we are in the midst of great progress. On housing, knowing that there's so much more to do, great progress on parks and pathways, knowing that there's so much more to do. So of course, I look forward to what's next and to having those conversations not only about the impact that we're having together as a community, but how we do more together to set us up for the place where our kids and grandkids can live, can afford to live and build lives here just like we have.

PRENTICE: Do you have any expectations about what that campaign season might look like?

MCLEAN: Well, right now, I’ve got to tell you, I'm still very focused on selecting council members, getting prepared for modern zoning code, and that will allow us to do even more of what we want to do. And then very soon, the community will hear more about my campaign from my campaign.

PRENTICE: What works best for you? You've done this successfully, now a couple of times. Door to door? Debates? What works best?

MCLEAN: I would say what works best for Boise and what works best for me is intentional and meaningful connection with each other. And that can be found at the door. It can be found in community conversations and listening sessions and meetups. It can be found rolling up our sleeves and working on the challenges of the day with an optimism that is uniquely Boise. And in terms of our belief that we can get things done. And it's doing the hard work every day with a deep seeded belief that Boise has come together for with solutions, with a desire to protect this place that we love and with a distaste for divisiveness and the technical techniques and tactics we all too often see in politics today.

PRENTICE: I'm going to ask one last bonus question, and that is..

MCLEAN: These are all bonus questions. George.

PRENTICE: How excited should we be in the real possibility, the real possibility of getting an Amtrak link between Boise and Salt Lake City? We've been talking about this a lot, but I'm just wondering: What is the real possibility of that?

MCLEAN: This is when I wish that we had TVs so you could see my big smile. Of I am the reason. And there are many reasons that I'm so excited about the potential for this. First off, and we continue to have great conversations with Amtrak, with the administration about the process that we've got to go through to be selected for the first step, which is a grant to study, to study further. I'm also optimistic because. We have built solid partnerships in this region and then all the way over to Pocatello and then down to Salt Lake. And those partnerships are helping us put together an incredibly strong application for the for the grant that we'd receive to study the corridor. And I'm also excited because it's created an opportunity for us throughout southern Idaho and of course, particularly here in Boise and in the Treasure Valley, to share our stories about the importance of connecting to people that we love and the role that trains have played in that historically and the promise that they could play in our lives again. And it's just it's a fun project. We've made so much progress and it also sets us up in the long run for better transportation options in this region that all of us want and need as our region grows.

PRENTICE: And speaking of region… and getting that rail link from points west, from across the Treasure Valley to the Depot and then possibly a circulator down to the downtown transit center, do you envision that as well?

MCLEAN: Well, George, we’ve got to take things incrementally.

PRENTICE: But if people start moving via rail, and fewer cars on I-84…

MCLEAN: That's a i great point. And as I've worked with a team of folks to build an actual plan on transit and in this case related to Amtrak. But it's that corridor, right, working with Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian and even Mountain Home in the region we have to look at and we are looking at a whole bunch of different transportation solutions because there will be some people that will always drive. They have to. And we've got to have things set up so that folks, as we as we grow folks, don't have the continued increase in congestion that we're seeing because there are other options like a train connection between the cities and the region, a bus system that works along corridors and runs more often, and of course a pathways and a bike system that allows those who can move about from home to work to school, etc. that way to move safely that way. And so really looking at all of this together, there is a lot of opportunity if we grow and a modern zoning code, taking it back to that helps lay the blueprint for where we live that makes that even more possible.

PRENTICE: Well, Boise Mayor Lauren McClean, thank you so very much for indulging my bonus questions. Indeed, my list gets longer every time, so we always look forward to this and to our next visit as well. And for now, thanks for giving us some time this morning.

MCLEAN: Well, thanks so much, George. Have a great day.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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