Michael Braden had a big change at the start of this year, which came on the heels of losing his bid for re-election to the Ontario City Council. At the time when he lost the bid to keep his seat, he questioned why. But when he found out on Jan. 1 that he was no longer going to be employed, he paused to reflect on how being freed up would allow him to potentially shift roles with his wife, who has long filled the role of being the home school teacher for their seven children, ages 7 to 17. The fresh start could put her back into the workforce and allow Braden time at home to deal with a chronic pain issue.
During the initial interview for this piece in January, Braden expressed interested in applying for the Ontario Budget Committee or possibly going back to the council should a seat open in the future. However, since then, his wife was hired at Ontario Community Development and for that reason, he withdrew his application for the Budget Committee and has firmly decided he can’t go back on the council, as her wages are paid from the General Fund and it would create a conflict of interest.
At that time, he also mentioned potentially trying to get elected to the Treasure Valley Community College Board of Education, which has several seats expiring. An election for TVCC and other special taxing districts will be held in May.
In an update on March 1, Braden said he was still “potentially” considering the TVCC Board, but said if he had to make the decision that day he would pass.
“I’m staying home,” he said. “Home life is like juggling 45 balls in the air.”
As such, Braden is cautious of taking on extra outside duties for the time being.
Prior to his wife going back into the workforce, she was “the permanent taxi driver.”
Now, the two have flip-flopped roles and he is the home teacher, saying this was made even more possible by paying off their home early.
“We’re blessed. We’ve lived on a single income,” he said. “With the mortgage paid off, it gives us the freedom to do these things.”
He did not say whether he plans to continue coaching sports, but did that for boys basketball, for 10 years out of college and again the last two years for volleyball. That coaching was with CHAMPS, Christian Homeschool Association of Malheur and Payette Counties, a small local homeschool group which his children are a part of.
His oldest is a junior this year, starting to drive and focusing on graduation.
Prior to his new role, Braden had been working for the Student Loan Fund of Idaho since 2007. In 2009 he took over the sole accounting for the company, but in 2016 or 2017 he started doing that from home.
Being a CPA gives him flexibility to continue doing things on the side. That’s how he got involved with TVCC’s Small Business Development Center 13 years ago. He spent a good five years there working 8 to 20 hours per week, reaching out to businesses and having meetings. then his injury happened and he eventually realized he needed to scale back what he was doing in his extra time. Since 2017, he hast taken on more of a mentorship role.
In his free time, he also has served on the board for Eastern Oregon for Center for Independent Living since 2011 and small stuff, such as bookkeeping for multiple churches, though says he is trying to roll back on the latter.
Reflecting on the council
Braden is curious to see the direction for the new council with new Mayor Deborah Folden at the helm. Though she is inexperienced in that role, Braden said she “is putting her heart into it.”
For him, he felt like the final year and a-half of his term was when he became the most comfortable with “tackling anything.”
“Because it takes time to learn what we want to say, what we want to do, what kind of leaders we are,” he said.
He said the hardest thing about the council for him was learning how expensive anything is if the government does it. This goes from prevailing wages to fixing concrete.
Additionally, he pointed out that the city’s property tax revenue, which pays for wages, is $3.8 million and the police force is $4.1 million.
“Our tax revenue base does not even support one department at City Hall,” he said.
While funding is available from other sources, it is not finite. As such, “we don’t have a lot of flexibility in our decisions … then we gotta come up with more.”
Some work on that during his term was with former Mayor Riley Hill trying to find extra revenue for the city through raising the local option tax on the sale of marijuana goods or by going out for large government grants, which they hired a firm to do the searching for.
While the $6,500 of General Fund money it is costing the city to employee that firm could go toward other project, “we just need to try for those,” Braden said. Because success of those grants could mean spending money in other areas.
In his experience working on the Budget Committee before he served on the council he learned the Street Fund was very underfunded. The council had residents paying extra fees on their water bill and that afforded the city with “greater revenue to do things like fund a water cassette.”
It was a change he had pushed for for seven years in the committee.
The marijuana revenues of $2 million to $3 million per year enabled the council to chip away at a long list of wants (both internally and externally). Those lists are large, and the committee and council constantly has to weigh the needs of the community, including paying down PERS debt.
He felt putting 50% of those incomes toward PERS debt in 2022-23 was “a little harsh.” However, I do think the biggest longterm obligation that frees us up over the midterm the greatest, so I think sticking to that was a very good fiscal decision, paying as much as we can.”
He noted that financial freedom is amazing, paralleling that to his personal situation when he paid off his mortgage two year ago.
Serving on the council with Braden helped Councilor Eddie Melendrez understand his own role better.
“Councilman Braden has been more than a friend but a mentor for me during my time on City Council,” Melendrez wrote in an email. “He has helped me better understand the language and workings of City Council. I will miss him and our conversations.”
Braden lost his bid for re-election to Penny Bakefelt, who spoke highly of him.
“I’ve encouraged him to keep his fingers in the pot because you never know when changes are going to happen or when someone is going to step down.”
She said Braden was the primary reason she got involved, noting it was a bittersweet win for that reason.
Pushing through the pain
“I did all of this service through pain,” Braden noted, adding that he only missed a couple of meetings in four years that were due to going to Florida for specialty surgeries.
Braden has been dealing with a chronic pain issue for nine years, considering himself 98% disabled from a surgery that happened then.
“The pain that is always there is always really bad,” he said, adding that in November.
On top of the chronic pain, in the last year Braden also dealt with getting extremely sick from COVID-19, and was placed on oxygen for about six weeks. in which he had to attend council meetings virtually.
He attended all the meetings he could including other community meetings, but was not as active in the community as he would have liked to be. Part of the ongoing struggle was that sitting through a two-hour meeting was so taxing he would sometimes have to sleep the rest of the day.
“So if I went out and did something, it came at a great personal cost and I would have to recoup at home via rest.”
People in the city all knew about his pain, with City Clerk Tori Barnett also keeping ibuprofen on hand. But he eventually had to stop taking that because he developed fatty liver issues from taken it so much for the first two years.
Braden said his four years of sacrifice through pain, coupled with “the personal sting of losing to three other people in one election,” has him refocusing on himself.
“I would like to get a little rest. I hurt myself enough doing this,” he said.
That said, he had a revelation in December, saying that while most people want to focus on career, he wants to focus on family.
“I have worked very hard on being a good steward a good leader for the city, and that transfers very well to a home with seven children. Being a good steward of finances, being a good leader, helping them get plugged into the community, and making sure they’re developing good character."
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