Mike A. Nielsen
Mike A. Nielsen
Candidate for: Bonner County Commissioner
City of residence: Coolin (Priest Lake)
Years of residence in Bonner County and Idaho: 15
Marital status/family: Married to Annina, two sons Michael (USCG), Robert (USMC)
Education: BS Degree – Criminology
Recent or pertinent employment history:
- Retired Law Enforcement Commander (27 years)
- Chief, Coolin-Cavanaugh Bay Fire Protection District (current)
Public offices held: None
Relevant professional affiliations:
- Bonner County Fire Chiefs’ Association, Member
- FBI National Academy Associates, Member
- Alaska Peace Officers’ Association, Lifetime Member
- National Rifle Association, Lifetime Endowment Member
Nonprofit groups or service organizations to which you belong:
- Bonner County Interoperability Governance Board (BCIGB), Member
- Priest Lake Search & Rescue, Inc., Commander
- Priest Lake Ambulance, Driver
- Priest Lake Sportsmen’s Association, Member
- SPORTS (Safety & Police Officers Retired to Sandpoint), Member
- While attending Fresno State College from 1968 to 1971, I worked for both the Fresno Sheriff’s Office and the State College Police. Following college, I served as an officer in the USAF from 1971 to 1975, including one year in Southeast Asia. As a staff officer, I learned the necessity of conducting proper and thorough research before making decisions that affect others. I also developed invaluable leadership skills including administrative, organizational and self-discipline that have served me well throughout my careers.
- From 1975 to 1995 I served as a peace officer in Fairbanks, Alaska, working in every division and held every rank from Patrol Officer through Captain and Division Commander. In addition to supervising Field Operations, Investigation and Communications Divisions, one of my primary staff responsibilities included developing and managing the budget. I was appointed by the City Manager and served 18 months on a Blue Ribbon Planning and Budget Ad Hoc Committee to assist the City of Fairbanks. We addressed the municipal needs of all departments during a severe economic downturn. I interfaced with six council members, the mayor, and the manager, as we developed and administered the City’s Budget. I also negotiated the contracts for the city with subordinate bargaining units for several years. In 1989, I was selected and attended the FBI National Academy (11 weeks) for Executive Development and Leadership in Quantico, VA for eleven weeks.
- Ten years ago I founded, and still continue to develop, the Priest Lake Search & Rescue (PLSAR) Team. Using all volunteers, we have developed it into a 100+ person SAR Team, with Technical Teams trained in Rope, Water, Ice and Snowmobile Rescue. The SAR Team has completed 46 missions, with 70 saves and 10 recoveries. I commanded 44 of those missions. PLSAR also hosts a Winter Survival Skill Training every couple of years, utilizing instructors from the USAF Survival School. This year’s 2-day training had 126 students from more than 20 agencies including State and County lawmen as well as SAR members from several counties in Idaho and Washington. All of this is done at no cost to the participants, and with no paid staff, no taxes, and no cost to Bonner County. I have developed 13 assistant team leaders who will be able to carry on these services without me as the commander.
- I also served as a volunteer firefighter both in Alaska and in Idaho for more than 10 years. A year ago I was asked to assume command of the Coolin-Cavanaugh Bay Fire Protection District. At that time it had 5 active volunteers and training had ceased. In less than one year we revived the Fire District, and brought volunteer staffing up to 28 personnel with training twice a month. The Idaho Survey & Rating Bureau completed its inspection of the Fire District in March 2010. As a result of that inspection we received an improved fire risk rating. This should result in lower insurance rates for the Fire District’s homeowners when they renew their policies. I also trained and developed several fire volunteers who will be able to carry on the fire service without me as well.
- For the last five years I have volunteered my time to serve on the County’s Communications Advisory Boards and have assisted in maintaining the County’s Public Safety Radio Communications System. Radio communication in the Priest Lake Area failed completely from Thanksgiving 2007 through February 2008. The County did not have any plans to repair the system until the summer of 2008. Finding that unacceptable for emergency services (Fire, EMS & SAR), I organized a team of technicians who volunteered their time in early February 2008. We successfully restored radio communications with the 911 Center and the entire Priest Lake Basin until the Sundance Tower could be repaired 8 months later. This was done at no cost to the County by using all volunteers. During the summer and fall of 2008, I volunteered for three months assisting with the permanent repair of the Sundance radio tower site which has not failed once. While researching material for these Communications Meetings, I learned of many problems and hidden costs associated with the proposed 700 MHz Trunked Radio Program being promoted by the Incumbent. This is a very expensive system Bonner County does not need and cannot afford to buy or maintain without an increase in taxes.
- Collectively, I have more than 15 years of volunteer service in emergency public safety, including Fire, EMS and SAR. I understand the nuances of each of the emergency service disciplines from field provider to commander/administrator, including Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and SAR. My volunteer service coupled with my professional managerial experiences gives me an exceptionally broad perspective, not found in any of the other candidates.
Why are you running for public office?
I’m running for County Commissioner because there are troubling issues that need to be addressed in our county government. This includes the trampling of residents’ property rights, the wasting of taxpayers’ money on projects that are “nice to have” but not necessary, and the poor planning and processes that have and will result in increased costs and increased taxes to pay for these mistakes.
If you are elected, how much time will you spend each week in the office?
Based on what I now know of Bonner County Government, I plan to spend at least 40-60 hours a week working on the County’s business. The first 6-12 months may require more effort. I believe in the business model of “management by walking around” and will be in the field as well as in the office during my tenure.
Describe the top three to five issues you believe are most important, why you consider them most important, and your position on these issues.
- Our residents need good jobs and we need to encourage business employers to create more jobs in Bonner County. County leadership must work closer with local businesses and the Bonner County Economic Development Council (BCEDC) to provide economic opportunities and incentives, and support the Incubation Program. County leadership should facilitate coordination with State and Federal Government agencies to develop more local employment and services, including the airport and broadband.
- The county must find a quality solution for housing juvenile offenders that Bonner County taxpayers can afford. The current deplorable situation is not acceptable and creates too great of a liability for the County. We need a full examination and discussion on the alternative option (e.g., transporting juveniles to Kootenai County) showing all direct and indirect cost savings as well as expenses for using Kootenai County’s Facility. This discussion must consider the impact of jobs lost in Bonner County, as well as the cost of the time lost for officers to transport the juveniles to Kootenai County. In the final analysis, I believe we will find it is in our best interest to build a modest facility here in Bonner County. Pursuant to this conclusion, we need a completed staff study for the proposed facility based on the minimum scale/size necessary. We need to retain a qualified architect working for our County’s interest, to determine the basic needs, and develop a written program including plans for future expansion. There needs to be a competitive bid process to select a qualified contractor, rather than using the same firm for all projects as has been done in the past. If we decide to build, the Reserve Funds must be considered to help pay for the Juvenile Detention Center to reduce financing costs and alleviate the burden on taxpayers.
- We need to develop a Strategic Interoperable Communications Plan for Bonner County that serves the actual needs of our public safety agencies. Of the 23 local public safety agencies operating in Bonner County, only one has claimed a desire to switch to the 700 MHz band. The 700 MHz system has been promoted to the public as a panacea, but it actually creates more problems than it solves. The major problems with 700 MHz are (1) the initial costs (which are at least three to four times more expensive than a VHF system), and (2) the continuing tax burden of yearly maintenance and operations (M&O) costs. The 700 MHz system would remove interoperability (compatibility) away from Bonner County Fire, EMS, SAR, all federal agencies, the three surrounding counties and our Sheriff’s office which recently decided to switch to VHF also. Modern technology could connect the disparate radio band systems using electronic bridges, but that significantly increases the costs and reduces the reliability of the system as well. We would need numerous towers (6-12) to serve all of Bonner County on 700 MHz. The money spent on just one tower for the 700 MHz system could be used instead to correct all the problems of the existing VHF towers which are currently in use countywide.
What differentiates you from other candidates? Why should people vote for you?
I am a problem-solver rather than a politician. I agree to represent the will of the people and strive to achieve positive outcomes through mutual cooperation and respect, while engaged in open and fully informed discussions. Honor and integrity are the most important principles that will guide my actions. I will not participate in meetings held behind closed doors as has been the past practice which violates the Idaho Open Meeting Law. I will not circumvent the will of the people, or raise taxes without the consent of the majority of the taxpayers, except in obedience to a court order.
I bring a unique combination of professional education and training, coupled with more than 25 years of progressively responsible paid leadership experience in planning and budgeting at the command and staff level in municipal administration. I also have many more years of experience in all public safety disciplines than the other candidates. I have a proven track record of managing budgetary issues with integrity during difficult economic times. I appreciate, understand, and respect the proper “processes” required to make good government work for the people.