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Boise Mayoral Candidate Conversations 2019: Brent Coles


Of the seven men and women running for Boise mayor this year, the most surprising candidate is Brent Coles. After serving as Boise Mayor from 1993-2003, Coles resigned from office. He was subsequently indicted on charges of fraud and misuse of public funds and sent to jail.

Coles spoke about his return to the public eye with Morning Edition host George Prentice.

"All of my children said, 'Dad, you've been miserable. It's time. If you feel that strongly, go ahead.'"

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: Mr. Coles, your biography tells us that indeed you were appointed to be mayor of Boise and you were elected to that position three times and indeed secure the trust of voters in this city. To those whose trust that you lost when you left office because your biography indeed also includes an indictment and some time behind bars. To those whose trust you lost you would say what?

BRENT COLES: I apologize. That was one of the worst moments in my life. It was devastating to the city of Boise and to me and my family, accordingly. I apologize I am sincerely sorry for what happened then. Since then I've raised my five children. We've worked hard together as a family. But anytime we look back I would hope people look back at the 10 years I was mayor when we were hiring 10 officers a year. We were building our police department. We were out buying properties for parks for the future and those things have reaped great benefits for our community. And now I have a new platform and a new desire to run for office.

PRENTICE: Municipal elections are non-partisan. That said what are your politics. How would you best describe them?

COLES: Well I've always been pretty conservative. I believe in you know private property rights and I believe in squeezing a budget very tightly. I don't like the rising property taxes that we're seeing and want people to be able to stay in their homes not leave just because we have to take more and more money for City Hall. So my politics are quite conservative and we'll see a much tighter budget for the city of Boise.

PRENTICE: You know this incumbents are rarely unseated. And history tells me that incumbents are usually unseated only when while there's a scandal or if there's a public safety issue or if the economy is bad and I don't think we have any of those. So what's it going to take?

COLES: Well what we do have is runaway spending in City Hall. I mean 11 million dollars to bring in an out-of-state architect to design a 100 million dollar library and let's look at that library now as I read would it would be six seven hundred dollars a square foot. You can build a hospital for around 300 dollars a square foot. I mean what are we doing spending money like that when we're short police officers. We have not kept up. We've been annexing property, we're building in higher densities and our patrol officers are exhausted out there.We're not keeping up.Their own internal documents says they're 54 police officers short.Six hundred and fifty thousand dollars to move the Log Cabin literary center? That's a historic building on the greenbelt.

Why would we spend six hundred fifty thousand dollars to move that when we could take that same six hundred fifty thousand dollars to pay for the bus ridership in the city of Boise? We can have everybody riding the bus for free. What does that do that reduces traffic congestion. Those are the kind of things that are going on today, those are things that have caught my attention and would be big changes in City Hall.

PRENTICE: What was the tipping point where you decided, 'I'm going to run for mayor again?'

COLES: It was two things. One: I live out in Northwest Boise and for the last five years out there the area's been annexed and we've seen no public infrastructure put into place. We finally saw the park go in. But again it was just a facade or grass actually. They just put seed in out there. No play equipment, not even a picnic table. So I looked at that and the people in northwest area and a project was coming along and it was very high density and I was like where the police services, the fire department that was supposed to be built out there has never been built. And then I went to attend a meeting at City Hall to talk about this with the city council and their budget was on this schedule and they were 11 million dollars for an out-of-state architect. One hundred million dollars for a library? When we need to be focusing on the priorities of our community. Traffic congestion,public safety those kinds of things. So that was a tipping point.

PRENTICE: Well then take us to the next point if you don't mind could you take us to your kitchen table or your living room and the conversation with your family when you said, 'I think I'm going to run for mayor?'

COLES: Thank you very much for that question. My children are now adults. They live all over the United States. They're from from 27 to 40. So they're adults. They have their families they're amazing. They're amazing people. So grateful for them. But so you get on a conference call and you I mentioned to my children look these are the things going on at City Hall I feel passionate about them but there's no way I will run for mayor unless we are unanimous as as a family because what I did impacted their lives. And so we had many conversations and in the end all of my children said, 'Dad we know where your passion is. Your passion has always been local government. Dad, you've been miserable. It's time if you feel that strongly. Go ahead, Dad, will support you 100 percent.'

PRENTICE: Can I ask which of your children said, 'Dad, you've been miserable and it's time for you to move forward?'

COLES: It was pretty much all of them.What they understand is where I've been is I've been focused on them and our family and just taking care of our needs right and enjoying living in Boise. It's a great place to live so I've enjoyed being here,I've enjoyed being out of the limelight. But what they knew is all along the way is you know dad has this heart and where his focus is and so all the work I've been doing hasn't been to improve the city. It's been to be a participant in this city and enjoy the city. But when I talk passionately about changing the direction of the city of Boise we are at a crossroads. We are spending a lot of money in areas where as I said let's focus on what local government is about. It's about Parks and Recreation. Certainly it's about libraries out in the neighborhoods. In 1999 rise when I was mayor and the City Council then, they put in nine hundred thousand dollars to go out and start buying up properties. And another 13 million dollars in the budget to start building those libraries. So that was a decision at that point we were looking at rebuilding the downtown library.

We purchased the property right behind the library where the Shavers property was. And so the idea was okay are we gonna do this or do we really focus on neighborhoods and we that city council in and with their support we went out and that's what we were doing. So that's where passion is. Everything seems to be focused on downtown and that's way too much money.

PRENTICE: Speaking of the library, let's talk about the initiative requiring voter approval on a possible Library Project. How are you going to vote on that?

COLES: Absolutely going to vote yes. I carried petitions that was another thing that caught my attention. It was like what,like I said, was why are we spending all this money? I saw some people saying you know we'd like to have some people go out and help us carry petitions. I saw where they had a sign up and said stop in pick up petitions I just stopped in they I didn't know who was going to be in there but when I walked in I picked up some petitions I started walking around my neighborhood and people were mad. People are like Yeah I'll sign that petition and not only will I sign it I'll support it. I'll be out campaigning in favor of voting yes means that we'll have the right and the opportunity to vote on any library project over 25 million dollars.

PRENTICE: And can I assume that you would also vote yes on the initiative asking for voter approval on a stadium project?

COLES: Absolutely, and that says any stadium project over five million dollars would require a vote and I will absolutely vote yes and I'll campaign in favor of it.

PRENTICE: Are you okay with the wording? I know there's been some conversation about the wording of that initiative that it's a vote for a vote.

COLES: Well it has to be. I mean you have to adopt a code. So, in fact, I was with the attorney last night that helped draft that because I asked him the same question I said hey look people are saying maybe this is unconstitutional. He says you bet it's constitutional, the wording is very specific,very direct and it has to be. Any stadium project not just a specific one. And that's what makes it legal. You have to have a code in place before you can vote on whether or not you have a library or a 25 million dollar project. We should vote yes it does. It holds local government accountable. These are property taxes that you know this affects our lives and it affects whether we can stay in our home, it affects the rents that people pay. So property taxes we should do everything we can to keep our property taxes low and if we want to project like that then let's vote on it. Let's as a community be involved in a campaign in favor of it and vote for it. And if we're not for it we don't want to raise taxes then let's vote. But let's do vote yes on these initiatives.

PRENTICE: There was an interesting report last month in the Idaho Press that said the city of Boise has added more than 200 full time employees to the payroll since 2013. Do you think that number seems appropriate?

COLES: That's a big number. And if I were elected mayor I would freeze the budget immediately. We just freeze it. We'd stop hiring in all areas of the city except for police and fire. We're behind there but in every other department.These are professional department heads, they're going to follow the direction if the mayor and the council together say let's look into our budgets. Let's tighten them up. Let's stop hiring so many people.Let's make sure we've got the right people in the right places. But two hundred seems like a lot of people over a short period of time.

PRENTICE: Brent Coles, thank you.

COLES: Thank you, George.

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

George Prentice has been honored for his decades-long career in broadcast and print journalism. As news editor of Boise Weekly, he won multiple awards for his investigative reporting and took home top prizes in the fields of crime/courts, environmental, health, religion and feature reporting.