Some of us are driven to distraction. Others have a way of putting our distractions to work for the benefit of others. Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch falls into the latter category.
For the past five years, Koch has overseen the resurgence of a city hit hard by the recession. Working within a frugal budget, he and the City Council have managed to make ends meet while pushing forward with much-needed infrastructure improvements.
But serving as mayor is only the tip of the iceberg for Koch, who suffered from dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as a kid. Today, he exudes energy and good humor while pursuing a busy schedule of public service.
In a recent Facebook post, Koch stated in his typically humorous fashion, “I have too many tabs open in my brain.”
Koch’s mental taskbar includes numerous volunteer positions, many of them associated with his work as a paraprofessional at the Wood River High School special education department, where he helps kids with emotional issues and learning disabilities.
“I get a lot of enjoyment from working with kids,” Koch said. “I like the challenge and I like passing on my previous failures to them for their benefit.”
Koch overcame his own learning disabilities well enough to earn a degree in architecture from the New York Institute of Technology and a degree in education from Keen State College in New Hampshire.
Today, he coaches the freshman basketball team and serves as advisor to the student union, the senior class and the nonprofit Idaho for Drug Free Youth organization. He has raised funds for the Hunger Coalition. As a board member for the “no-kill” Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, he regularly dons a full-length dog suit to raise funds.
This week, Koch is playing Santa Claus at three events and trying to find sponsors to help build a hockey rink in Bellevue’s Memorial Park.
“I’ve been here for 20 years so I know a lot of people and am able to network with them to get things done,” he said. “I’m fairly level-headed and have some good ideas. I’m also a sucker for a dog suit.”
As a 20-something newcomer to the valley, Koch worked the usual assortment of jobs—cook, bartender and doorman at a local bar. He also spent time reporting on sports for the local radio station. During the summer he works at the Sun Valley Garden Center.
Koch and his wife, horse-trainer Kim Koch, live in Bellevue. They have four dogs and seven horses.
Koch admits that having ADHD can cause problems.
“I can’t focus or read very well, and I start a million projects and rarely complete them in a timely fashion. But on the other hand, I can multi-task with the best of them,” he said.
Koch said he was never a “model student” in school, earning a C average, but that public service has opened up new opportunities for him to succeed.
“I am fairly level-headed and have some good ideas. I am also a sucker for a dog suit.”
“Public service is a way to give back to the community that has given me a place to live and a sense of home,” he said.
Koch served for two years on the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission and for five years on the City Council before taking over as mayor. All those years of studying budgets, implementing city projects and reviewing city laws have made him a better student.
Under his leadership, the city has acquired a new fire truck, fire station and other city equipment, all by applying scrupulous attention to financial detail to keep the city moving forward during challenging economic times.
“It’s boring, but it works,” Koch said. “This year was the first time in 10 years we could chip-seal the streets.”
Koch said one of his pet projects that he would like to see move forward in the new year is the installation of energy-saving LED lights along Main Street. He said he would also like to see the city move toward completion of water mains and a water-metering system.
“When the water meters are up and running, we’ll save significant amounts of water,” he said.
Koch would not speculate on what the City Council would do with an unexpected budget surplus in the coming year, which could come from development in Strahorn subdivision, or elsewhere.
“With the fiscally responsible council we have now, I know they will not make plans for the money until we have it in hand,” he said.
Koch said the money could be used to reduce a bond payment associated with the city’s wastewater treatment plant, a move that could reduce water and wastewater fees for Bellevue residents. He said the money could also be used to improve parks or roads.
Koch said he is excited that the Bellevue business community seems to be rebounding after a few years of recession. He attributes some of the new energy on Main Street to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, which has taken over the Labor Day festivities and Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and has held five Business After Hours get-togethers.
Koch said what might look like hard work to others is what gets him inspired to take on the many projects he has in store each day.
“I love all the things I do. If you don’t like what you do, don’t do it,” he said.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org