Currie says goodbye

Commissioner, county staff reflect on 8 years in office

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Rick Currie, outgoing chairman of the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners, left, shares a laugh with Capt. Neal Robertson, with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, during a party Friday to celebrate Currie's service since 2002.

COEUR d'ALENE - Rick Currie swept through the crowd with vigor, swapping anecdotes and doling out handshakes to Kootenai County staff, his comments full of thanks and jobs well done.

As the farewell party ushered Currie to the front, where he was handed a plaque honoring his eight years as county commissioner, his words came out a little shaky.

"It has been my pleasure to serve you, and probably one of the proudest things of my life," said Currie, 63, surveying the county employees gathered in the meeting room of the county Administration Building. "You've made my job not only pleasurable, but easy. Most people in the county have no idea the quality of the people who work for Kootenai County."

He paused to glance at fellow commissioner Rich Piazza, also leaving office after an election defeat.

"So where is your first interview?" Currie asked.

Friday was the bittersweet last day for Currie, the chair of the county commissioners who lost the race for re-election last November to Jai Nelson.

It was also the finale for Piazza, commissioner for four years, who was defeated by Dan Green.

Disappointing, Currie admits, but life goes on.

Looking back on his term since he started in 2003, Currie said it was exactly what he had hoped it would be.

A chance to give back.

"I can't put into words how rewarding the experience has been," Currie said before the party on Friday, seated in the commissioners' chambers. "It's extremely rewarding working with people and trying to help them where you can."

Easy days are rare for a Kootenai County commissioner, who faces a perpetual rush of planning and zoning issues, budget and tax decisions and dealings with the 14 cities, on top of early meetings and late night hearings.

Currie, who chose to run for the job after seeing his own father's successes as commissioner, said he has accrued more than a few achievements.

Like establishing Citylink, he said, and finishing the Comprehensive Plan update. He was key in negotiating a deal with Kootenai Electric to use landfill methane for energy, and he helped build up the county's foregone balance 279 percent higher than when he entered office.

In between, there were myriad decisions on applications for housing and commercial developments, acting with the other commissioners as the board of equalizers, and overseeing the more than 30 county departments.

"Every decision you make (as commissioner) affects a lot of people," he said. "Some of the decisions are a life sentence, whether for a planning issue or a taxing issue."

The most meaningful experiences for Currie were when he worked with county residents one on one, he said.

People behind on their property taxes, for instance, he met with face to face, sometimes knocking on their doors to discuss what could be done to save their homes.

"I've had times when they yelled at me. I tell them, 'I'm here to help. I'm not the enemy, I don't want your property,'" he said. "Since I became commissioner, we haven't taken anyone's home who didn't want it taken."

The future is yet uncertain for Currie, a Coeur d'Alene native who holds a business degree from North Idaho Junior College and still dabbles in the family financial business.

One thing is certain, he said. Retirement isn't for him.

"I haven't checked too many (job prospects). I haven't had to look for too many jobs in my life," he said. "I've talked to people ... But not wholeheartedly, shall we say."

Currie wouldn't comment on whether he would run for office again.

His wife, Vicki, who sat watching her husband hobnob at the party, said she had mixed feelings about him leaving office.

"I feel bad for him. He's very good at his job, and he loves his job," she said. "He's well thought of, and I'm proud of him."

Commissioner Todd Tondee, whose seat was not up for election this last November, said the change in leadership is an inevitability all elected officials must face.

"They (Currie and Piazza) were very dedicated to the county," he said. "You hope to leave a legacy of fair decisions."

Piazza said it's easy to wonder if the commissioners' hard work is acknowledged.

"At times, it seems the public doesn't appreciate you, but they do," he said. "You just have to put the negative things aside and focus on the importance of the job you're doing."

Currie had simple advice for his successor.

"Keep an open mind," he said. "So often you read all this information and have an idea going into a hearing, and then be surprised how many times your mind is changed because of how that information is presented. Always keep an open mind, and be willing to change your mind."

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