MOSCOW — Moscow voters face an embarrassment of riches in November, with six accomplished candidates vying for the three available seats on the city council.

Backyard Harvest Executive Director Anne Zabala is the only incumbent in the mix, as Councilors Jim Boland and Kathryn Bonzo chose not to run for reelection. Other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot include Kelsey Berends, human resources director at Emsi; community volunteer Sandra Kelly, who works as office manager for the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute; Maureen Laflin, former director of the University of Idaho’s Legal Aid Clinic; and business owners Brandon Mitchell and James Urquidez.

Zabala, who grew up in Middleton, Idaho, moved to Moscow in 2011 to attend the University of Idaho. She was elected to the council in 2017.

“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done the past two years,” she said. “I think we’ve worked hard to do things that are critical, (such as) soliciting feedback from the public and trying to make data-driven decisions as much as possible.”

Her top issues include economic development and affordable housing, as well as sustainability and alternative transportation. She previously served on Moscow’s Fair and Affordable Housing Commission, and currently serves on the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee and SMART Transit board. Although economic development and housing are driven largely by the private sector, Zabala believes the council plays an important supporting role.

“One thing we do have influence over is our quality of life,” she said. That includes “exceptional city services, the culture we help promote, and balancing taxpayer interests with city needs and community amenities.”

That sometimes leads to difficult decisions, as with the council’s recent debate regarding the use of $200,000 in foregone taxing authority to provide raises for police officers and some recreation staff. Zabala was the only council member to oppose the move, in part because voters had already approved higher property taxes to pay for a new police station. As an alternative, she suggested spreading the raises out over a few years.

“I know how hard our staff works, and it’s important that we compensate them competitively,” she said. “But we’re already asking a lot of our taxpayers this year. I take my responsibility to look at every line in the budget very serious.”

Berends, who moved to Moscow in 2012 to attend New Saint Andrews College, was unsure how she would have voted on the foregone taxes issue.

“I could go either way,” she said. “I really do want to support our police force, but I don’t know if raising (salaries) that much was the right call.”

The problem, Berends said, is that the foregone taxes come on top of the tax increase for construction of the new police station — something voters weren’t made aware of before they approved the bond.

“So the question is, are we communicating well enough with our citizens?” she said.

As human resources manager for Emsi, Berends has helped hire more than 120 people the past three years. She actively promotes Moscow as a place where people can thrive and set down roots, and wants the community to “grow strategically, while maintaining its charm.”

Finding that balance, she said, is a matter of taking a long-term view and prioritizing correctly, based on input from the community.

“Having a diversity of opinion and variety on the council is important for that,” Berends said.

She said she’s the right choice for voters because of her experience dealing with people and businesses, and making tough decisions.

“I’m passionate about Moscow, about growing strategically and setting the community up for an excellent future,” she said.

After a 20-year career in journalism, Kelly moved to Moscow in 2007. She quickly became immersed in the community, volunteering for a number of boards. She currently chairs the 1912 Center board, and serves on the Moscow Humane Society Board, the Moscow Human Rights Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission.

“I’ve been an advocate for Moscow for a long time, and felt like this (running for city council) was the next step,” she said.

Kelly is a sixth-generation Idahoan who notes that her great-great-great-grandfather gave Weippe its name. She grew up in Mountain Home, where her father served as a Republican state representative for seven years. She has no prior elected experience herself, although she currently serves as chair of the Idaho Democratic Party’s 5th Legislative District Central Committee.

Maintaining a strong business climate and vibrant downtown are two of her top priorities, along with affordable housing and community infrastructure.

“I think I’ve shown through my volunteer service that I’m dedicated to this community,” Kelly said. “I have a lot of drive and focus, but I also know how to listen. I want to take people’s ideas and make them happen.”

Maureen Laflin tells people when she moved from Philadelphia to Moscow 28 years ago, she immediately felt 10 pounds lighter.

That was the weight of all the worries she left behind — the locked doors and bars on the windows and public safety concerns.

“Coming here was such a delight,” she said.

Helping to maintain Moscow’s quality of life is one of the main reasons she’s running for the city council.

“I really care about having a sustainable community and employment opportunities, and accessibility,” Laflin said. “We need to make sure we think through the long-term consequences of the decisions we make today.”

Laflin describes herself as “a social worker at heart.” That was her first job after graduating from the University of Dayton, in Ohio. She grew up in Clayton, Mo., on the outskirts of St. Louis, where her father was a businessman, city councilman and longtime mayor.

“I grew up in a family that valued public service,” she said.

After earning a law degree and doing a variety of legal work in Missouri and Pennsylvania, including six years as deputy city solicitor in Philadelphia, Laflin came to Moscow to work at the University of Idaho. She served as director of the College of Law Legal Aid Clinic for 25 years, helping provide legal representation for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. One of the clinic’s most notable recent successes was the class-action lawsuit regarding Syringa Mobile Home Park, where residents had gone without potable water for more than three months.

“My job allows me to do a little bit of everything, combining my love of social work and my law degree in ways that benefit the community and myself,” Laflin said. “Now I’m working half-time at the university, and I’ll retire in May. I thought this was a good time to give back to the community in a different way.”

Mitchell moved to Moscow in 2013, after acquiring the first of the six Jiffy Lube franchises he now owns. He sees running for city council as an opportunity to be a bigger part of the community.

“I heard there were three seats open this year,” he said. “My wife and I talked about it and prayed about it and decided to throw my name in the hat. I’m very pro-business, and the council needs a businessman to come and help.”

Mitchell doesn’t have major concerns about the direction the council is going, but he does think it has a tendency to “try and pick winners and losers too much.”

“The council needs to be more open (to opportunities),” he said. “I question sometimes whether we’re turning businesses away.”

Living within a budget is another priority for Mitchell. He disagrees with the recent decision to tap the city’s foregone taxing authority, and feels property taxes have increased too much.

“Transparency is one of the biggest issues I have,” he said. “I feel like they tried to hide (the foregone tax increase) until after the bond for the police station passed. We need to be open and honest with the community and let people know what’s going on.”

Mitchell believes he’s a good choice for voters “because I’m a local businessman and love the community. I want to get to know people in the community and see us grow.”

Like Mitchell, Urquidez felt this was an appropriate time for him to become more involved in the community. He grew up in California, where he worked in the wood flooring industry and served as a pastor and jail chaplain. In 2010 he moved to Moscow, where he has his own small business, Classic Wood Floors and Carpentry.

“I feel like I can represent small businesses and working-class people (on the council),” he said. “I want the city to be family-friendly and safe, and to make it as easy as possible for businesses to get established.”

Outside of work, Urquidez spends time helping others. He went back to school to earn a degree in Christian ministries when he was 40 years old, and has spent time working with felons and drug addicts, trying to find them housing and gainful employment.

“You’re dealing with the brokenness of society, and a class that’s been marginalized,” he said. “Left alone, without help, they can become a threat to society. If we want a family-safe environment, we need to help them. And I’m a Christian; I see it as an opportunity to bring the good news of the Gospel to them.”

Urquidez doesn’t have major concerns about the job the council is doing, although he questions the recent decision to prohibit more educational facilities from locating in the core downtown business district. As a taxpayer, he also wasn’t thrilled with the decision to tap the foregone taxes.

“I’m not against it. I just don’t know if there was a better way,” he said.

Overall, Urquidez believes he’s a good choice for voters because he’s “a lifelong learner and a truthful, honest man who cares about the community.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

Moscow City Council candidates

Name: Kelsey Berends

Age: 24

Education: Liberal arts degree, New Saint Andrews College

Work experience: HR and talent acquisition manager, Emsi

Prior political experience: None

How long lived in area: Since 2012

Family: Single

Website: Facebook-Berends4Moscow

Name: Sandra Kelly

Age: 51

Education: Journalism degree, Idaho State University; history and political science degrees, Lewis-Clark State College

Work experience: Office manager, Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute; previously worked as a journalist for 20-plus years

Prior political experience: None

How long lived in area: Since 2007

Family: Single

Website: NA

Name: Maureen Laflin

Age: 64

Education: Spanish and social work degrees, University of Dayton; law degree from St. Louis University

Work experience: University of Idaho law professor; former director of the College of Law Legal Aid Clinic; previous experience in social work, municipal law and private practice

Prior political experience: None

How long lived in area: Since 1991

Family: Divorced, two grown children

Name: Brandon Mitchell

Age: 49

Education: Working on a business degree from BYU-Idaho

Work experience: Owns six Jiffy Lube franchises in the region; previously worked for the company as a district manager

Prior political experience: None

How long lived in area: Since 2013

Family: Married, three grown children

Website: Facebook-Brandon-Mitchel-For-Moscow-City-Council

Name: James Urquidez

Age: 55

Education: Christian ministries degree, The Master’s University

Work experience: Owns a wood flooring business; previously served as part-time pastor at Word of Life Church

Prior political experience: None

How long lived in area: Since 2010

Family: Married, four children

Website: Facebook-James4Moscow

Name: Anne Zabala

Age: 27

Education: Interdisciplinary studies degree, University of Idaho

Work experience: Executive director of Backyard Harvest; previously worked as digital fundraiser for UI

Prior political experience: Incumbent; elected to two-year term in 2017

How long lived in area: Since 2011

Family: Single

Recommended for you