2021 Project Achievement and Leadership Award Blog Series: A Conversation with the Honorable Garret Nancolas

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Garret Nancolas — who has spent over 20 years as mayor of Caldwell, Idaho, and over 30 years as a public servant in the region — stands as a prime example of the good that can come from people who understand and care for the place they call home, and we are pleased to recognize him as a recipient of the 2021 NARC President’s Award. Although he has decided not to seek reelection this year, he leaves behind a legacy of dedication and success in his region that will remain for decades to come.  

Mayor Nancolas began his career in public service as a member of the Caldwell Planning and Zoning Commission in 1987, before moving on to the Caldwell City Council in 1989 and finally being elected mayor in 1997, where he has served ever since. He is the only mayor in the city’s history to serve more than one term, and looking at his track record of success, it’s easy to understand why. Under his watch, the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) expanded from a small planning association in Ada County into an effective and successful Metropolitan Planning Organization serving the entire Nampa Urbanized Area.  

Mayor Nancolas has also invested significantly in the next generation of leaders in his region and throughout the country. He previously served as the Vice Chair of the Youth, Education, and Families Council for the National League of Cities, and also established an award-winning Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council in his own city.  

These efforts exemplify how Mayor Nancolas’ leadership will benefit not just the current residents of Caldwell, Idaho, but residents for years to come. To gain insight on his successes as a regional leader, we asked Mayor Nancolas about his own leadership style, as well as the future of regional planning in his hometown and beyond. 

To further highlight the tremendous work done throughout the Caldwell region, we asked Garret Nancolas about his leadership style and the role he sees for regionalism in government — both today and in the future.  

1.) What role has regional cooperation played in your successes as mayor?  

The most important factor in success regionally is friendship, trust, partnerships, and relationships. Little is ever accomplished in a vacuum. As we know, regional cooperation is imperative to the success of any city, county and region. Working together has brought many regionally significant transportation projects to our valley, which in turn has helped bring many new major companies to Caldwell and the Region. Our household income has risen dramatically because of the new jobs created through this process. Our transportation systems are improved, jobs are created, families’ lives have improved, and we are enjoying a better quality of life as a region! 

2.) What lessons have you learned about encouraging people to cooperate on important projects? 

By encouraging others to cooperate, trust is built, friendships are established, partnerships are created, and the better for the whole is achieved. There have been numerous times over the years that the trust created has allowed us to make decisions that benefit the region over individual desires. In the long run, however, we have benefited individually as well. There is no question that the Theory of Rising Tides is true. When we succeed as a region, we have all been impacted positively by that success.

3.) In over two decades as mayor, you’ve obviously spent a lot of time getting to know the people in your community. How instrumental has that familiarity been in addressing community issues?  

It has been my privilege to serve the City of Caldwell for nearly 34 years. Two years on planning and zoning, 8 years on city council, and nearly 24 years as mayor. This has been the privilege of a lifetime, and I am so thankful for this opportunity! The best part is the wonderful friendships, working relationships, and partnerships that have been created. This is especially important in forming workgroups, committees, and commissions that are essential to the ongoing success of any City. When we need input on projects, events, policy changes, etc., it is so important to have citizens who are engaged and willing to participate! Our downtown is the epitome of this type of collaboration! With a new plaza, ice skating ribbon, more than 250 event days a year, a new college campus, and new businesses in downtown, which together draw more than 400,000 visitors a year. This could not have happened without the input and support from a wonderful community. 

4.) What is something you know now that you wish you knew when you first began your career? 

I truly wish I had known that I cannot make everyone happy. There will always be opposition in all things. My job is to work hard, be dedicated, be honest and serve with integrity, always working for the best for our families and businesses, the rest is up to them.   

5.) How has the shape and scope of regional cooperation changed throughout your career 

When I first took office, regional cooperation was literally nonexistent! Cities in the Valley did not communicate well, the cities and counties did not cooperate. Ada County was referred to as the Great State of Ada. Boise was considered an 800-pound gorilla that always got its way. Canyon County did not like the cities and vice versa. Needless to say, things have improved dramatically since then. I believe that everyone realized that we, in fact, needed each other if we were truly going to maintain the wonderful way of life that Idaho and the Treasure Valley provides. The level of cooperation is amazing, and the results show how well it now works!

6.) What traits — in both yourself and others — do you think are most important to being an effective community leader? 

 I believe the most important traits for success in any arena are the same. Honesty, selfless service, truly being a good listener, integrity, teamwork, and placing your faith and prayers in a loving Heavenly Father. This formula will always work! 

7.) What future role do you see for regionalism in government?  

Regional cooperation is absolutely essential for future success in this and any region. With rising costs, difficult rules and regulations, rising populations, demands on all resources, etc. If we do not work together, it will be difficult, at best, to deal with these, and all issues we will face in the future. 

8.) How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way you view your work?  

The COVID-19 Pandemic was unexpected and difficult. It made me realize how much kindness, patience, and understanding matter in the world we live in. With so many impacted in so many ways, it made me realize, again, how important families are, and how important friendships and relationships are. Yes, we deal with roads, and crime, and parks, and economic development and public services. But if we forget that lives and people matter the most, then we have truly failed in our obligations. 

9.) What impact has coordination with like-minded colleagues had on your own leadership abilities?  

The most rewarding part of my many years of being an elected official is the wonderful, kind, thoughtful, intelligent, dedicated, compassionate people I have had the privilege of learning from and working with! The lessons they have taught me are the treasures of being an elected official. I will be forever grateful for every moment of mentoring and teaching from these incredible people!! 

 

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