Town-gown question sparks strong responses

In this image taken from a screen grab of Tuesday’s Moscow Chamber of Commerce online candidate forum, moderator Paul Kimmell (center-top) asks a question of candidates for mayor. Candidates participating were (from left to right): Art Bettge, Olivia Moses, Barb Rathbun and Jim Gray.

The quality of the University of Idaho’s education and the value of its students in the community sparked perhaps the most lively candidate responses during a Tuesday night forum featuring the four Moscow mayor hopefuls.

Candidates Art Bettge, Olivia Moses, Jim Gray and Barb Rathbun were invited to participate in the video forum hosted by the Moscow Chamber of Commerce. The candidates and moderator Paul Kimmell each appeared via video in a Zoom call. The election is Nov. 2.

Kimmell asked how a mayor should address the town-gown relationship between the UI and the City of Moscow.

Bettge said one of his goals is to sit down with UI administration to talk about developing Legacy Crossing, the property between the UI and downtown Moscow, into housing and mixed-use developments.

He said faculty and staff are crucial to the local economy as are students, whom he called “importers of cash.”

“They don’t have jobs, well some do, but a lot more bring in money from mom and dad, and that’s free money to the city,” he said.

Gray took issue with the way students are being taught at the UI.

“It’s not a learning climate like it used to be,” he said. “It’s more of a social climate if you will.”

He said the university is no longer a place that promotes diversity of thought. Gray also mentioned that students he’s interacted with have issues with authority, holding a job and “thinking they should have something just because they want it.”

Gray said he wants to talk with the professors who are putting these thoughts into the students’ heads.

“We’ve gotten to the point where young people are becoming so destructive because of how they’re being in my estimation, how they’re being taught,” he said.

Gray has worked in the Moscow, Troy and Genesee schools as a substitute teacher.

Moses took issue with the comments from both Gray and Bettge.

“These are not kids, these are grown adults starting at 18 years old who are working members of the community,” she said. They work one to three jobs, they are not just mommy and daddy’s money. They are not just the occasional vote, they are not disobedient children that you’ll just go talk to their professors or the administration, I’m sure that will sort it out.”

She said city representatives should talk to the UI student government and make college students know they are members of this community.

“To see this population as a problem and that this university is some kind of social hindrance to us, is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

The candidates also discussed their views on the need for affordable housing.

Moses said that as mayor, she would reach out to cities that have successfully worked with for-profit and nonprofit agencies to build affordable housing.

“If we have a culture that is dedicated to making sure that our working families and our people, our town, are housed, period, and are able to have housing that is dignified and safe and comfortable to the level that we all take somewhat for granted perhaps on this call,” she said.

Rathbun said she believes everyone should have the opportunity to buy a house with land and one option is creating more trailer parks in the city.

“I know that there’s some concern with trailer parks but it seems to me that we can keep drugs and such out of the trailer parks,” she said.

Bettge said Moscow needs to have more conversations about dwelling units and higher density housing such as condos or townhomes. He said this is a more realistic affordable housing goal than a three-bedroom house.

“I don’t think that given the cost of land, and the availability of land, that providing separate space for everyone is an attainable object,” he said.

Video of Tuesday’s vforum will be available on the Chamber of Commerce’s website. The topics also included the aquifer and the state of downtown Moscow.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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