For almost a decade, Kathy Griesmyer was one of the most familiar faces in the Idaho Statehouse, where she represented ACLU-Idaho as its public policy strategist. Hers is a storied resume, and her work, which has touched on issues like Add the Words, Ag-gag and an attempt to ban the practice of Sharia law, is legendary.
In April, Griesmyer took a new job, this time at the City of Boise, where she now works as government affairs director. Boise Weekly sat down with one of the Idaho Legislature’s most hawk-eyed observers to discuss what’s at stake in this election cycle, what’s at the top of her to-do list and maintaining local authority when it comes to responding to the pandemic.
BW: Why did you take up work at the City of Boise?
KG: I was really excited about the election of Mayor [Lauren] McLean, and was excited about her staff. Personally, too, I was looking for a new opportunity to engage and be involved with the community and be involved at the Statehouse—but maybe finding a new avenue to explore.
BW: What’s your job in a nutshell?
KG: My official title is Government Affairs Director, and I’m a liaison between Boise and those other entities that might want to partner with the city on the mayor’s strategic priorities. That’s other cities and across the state, at the Statehouse and with other civic leaders.
BW: Where are you focusing your efforts right now?
KG: Right now I’m focusing on the property tax interim committee that’s been working pretty diligently over the summer. There are homeowners who need relief, and the city wants to support things like the homeowners exemption, it wants to see the circuit breaker increased, it wants to see impact fees for schools. These are reasonable, modest solutions that will have impacts on taxpayers. I’m also working on the best ways to disseminate information to the public about what the city is doing as it relates to its legislative priorities. I’ll have updates every week during the session that we’ll have up on our City of Boise website that highlights issues we’re working in, ways for people to engage.
BW: There are a lot of issues where the city and the legislature don’t see eye to eye.
KG: Right now there’s a lot of focus around budget transparency and making sure we’re utilizing the tax dollars that do come into this city, and that’s something we have a lot of commonality with as it relates to lawmakers on this interim committee. It’s starting from a place of agreement, but also reminds them that people live in Boise because of the services the city does provide, and voters have voted twice for what kind of leadership they want the city to have, and what that leadership means for services and programs. There are constituents here in the city that value parks, that value open spaces, public safety, they value an arts program and they’re willing to pay for it with their tax dollars by choosing to live here in the city.
BW: What kinds of conversations are you having about a coronavirus response?
KG: Having to step out on a limb to make decisions is hard and I don’t think anyone runs to be in office during a global health pandemic, but also working with lawmakers to preserve local authority. I think a good example is the Economic Recovery Task Force that [Mayor McLean] convened. One of the key components of a thriving, healthy economy was that health is a really critical component. One of her strategic priorities is continuing to work with local health districts to make the most informed health decisions, and as relates to the legislature, also preserving that ability to make what are difficult decisions.
BW: What races are you watching this election cycle?
KG: Certainly, the legislature first and foremost, and how that might affect committees that will have significant oversight over issues the city cares about. Revenue and Taxation, of course, Local Government, State Affairs, things of that nature. Certainly there’s elections at the local level. We’ll be looking at who will be on the commission level, and ACHD, right? Local elections are super important and they do have a big trickle-down effect into everyday Boiseans’ lifestyles. Lots of things at stake.
BW: What’s at the top of your to-do list for this upcoming legislative session?
KG: Property tax is definitely the biggest one we’ll be watching. Again, really wanting to partner with the legislature on these transparency efforts because that’s where our values are; but also making sure the legislature is genuinely looking at property tax relief solutions—not looking at scrutinizing how local governments are choosing to prioritize services that their residents care about. The other big one for us is a follow-up to HB 413 that was passed last year, which requires cities with 100,000 people or more to divide themselves into council districts for city council elections. We are working with the bill sponsors to try and address a timing issue with implementation. To avoid spending additional taxpayer dollars to redraw the lines twice in two years, we want to move back the implementation time frame so it’s consistent with the census reapportionment time frame. We don’t want to unnecessarily redraw lines at the cost of the taxpayer.
BW: What else is on your agenda?
KG: Based on some of the conversations that were being had around the special session that were about circumventing local authority around public health mandates, that would be something we’d be interested in. I feel like we’re walking into a strange session next year. What will the legislative session look like, given the ongoing health requirements that we have, watching how the special session rolled out, wanting it to be an experience where people can feel safe and engaging in a setting where they can have their voices heard. There’s going to be a little bit of a different tenor.