Candidates square off

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COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County Commissioner Todd Tondee and challenger Marc Eberlein revealed diverging opinions on county policy Thursday, when they squared off at a forum hosted by the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans.

Responding to questions from group founder Jeff Ward, Eberlein criticized the county's past attempts to fund a jail with a bond measure.

"This has already been put out two times for a vote, and each time voters said no," said Eberlein, Post Falls resident and owner of a cabinet business.

He would rather see more effort invested in programs like work-release to free up space, he said.

"We have 4,000 outstanding warrants at any one time in Kootenai County," he said. "If those were 4,000 people we could suddenly pick up, then what? How many jails do we need for that?"

Tondee said the voters' response indicates they're comfortable with the county spending tax dollars shipping excess inmates to other facilities.

"What I heard at the last election was 'Ship them out,' and that's what we're doing, until we see different numbers or hear something else to give us another option," he said.

He is also open to ideas from the new sheriff elected this year, Tondee added.

Ward also asked about the county pursuing a new panel of professionals to conduct Board of Equalization hearings instead of the commissioners.

Tondee said he is open to testing the idea.

Some who appeal property valuations before the commissioners have "called it a kangaroo court," he said, because the elected officials are not valuation experts.

"I'm committed to try that," he said of creating a professional panel. "Our attorneys have assured us it's legal to do."

But Eberlein said he would oppose creating such a panel, because state statute calls for only the commissioners to hold BOE hearings.

"Other commissioners I've talked to thought this was totally off the wall and will result in lawsuits against the county," he said.

Tondee also said he supports letting the public vote on creating a new county administrator, which would take on some of the commissioners' duties.

The commissioners are still working out the language for a ballot initiative this year, he said.

"We think that's very important, that that go to a vote of the people," Tondee said.

Eberlein argued that an administrator would only create another level of bureaucracy.

He also contended it would be hard to fire such an administrator, because of personal feelings that would develop between the official and the commissioners.

"Have you ever had to fire a close friend? Because I have," Eberlein said.

Asked the county's biggest problem, Tondee said there are many issues the commissioners must address.

Prominent among them is helping the area recover from the recession, he said. He believes the county's rewrite of land ordinances will help, in determining how the county develops over the next two decades.

Eberlein said the area's greatest problem is people struggling.

Financial challenges are probably leading to more domestic quarrels and arrests, he said.

"We have a large amount of problems, and we're not getting more money, we're getting less money," he said. "If we have a positive outlook and be really creative in it, we can find solutions."

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