Candidates jump into commission race
Former Ketchum council member Noel running for seat
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
The race for two of three seats on the Blaine County Board of
Commissioners got underway Monday, which marked the beginning of the 12-day filing period
for candidates planning to participate in the November general election. The filing period
closes on Friday, March 31.
The term of commission chair Mary Ann Mix, a Hailey Democrat, who
represents the countys central district, will not expire until 2002.
If the comments of several challengers and one incumbent who have
indicated they will run are any indication, issues concerning the new St. Lukes
hospital, Highway 75, open space and affordable housing will be hotly debated between now
and the election.
North-county incumbent Democrat Leonard Harlig, 67, has said he will not
seek another term, leaving his position open to challengers.
Sally Donart, a Democrat, and Sue Noel (who calls herself an
"independent") of Ketchum, have designs on Harligs open seat.
South-county incumbent Dennis Wright, a Democrat, will likely compete with
Carey resident Robb Peck, a Democrat, for that regions seat.
According to state and county rules, candidates must run within the
districts in which they live, but voters cast their ballots at large. This means citizens
in the south county will have a say in issues to the north, and vice versa.
Nevertheless, many candidates are sharply focused on the things they hope
to accomplish near home.
The independently minded Sue Noel, 61, was ousted from the Ketchum City
Council last fall, she believes, because of her boisterous advocacy of creating more
affordable housing in Ketchumand the instrumental role she played in bringing
price-controlled units to The Fields condominiums on Warm Springs Road.
When asked during an interview Monday if last falls election
indicates shell have a tough time winning a seat on the county commission, Noel said
shell be seeking votes from residents all over the county, not just from Ketchum.
"I couldnt get elected dogcatcher up here," she said of
the city in which she is apparently so politically unpopular.
Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles, who worked closely with Noel during her recent
term on city council, said during a phone conversation yesterday that Noels
attendance was good and that her input during council meetings was good.
"Shes an interesting, motivated person," he said, adding
that she always has a strong point of view on issues. "Come hell or high water,
shes not going to change it."
Noels ideas on the future of Highway 75 also contradict the views of
many Ketchum leaders, who, she said, are resistant to highway expansion.
Noel wants to see "four lanes, all the way" between Timber Way
and Alturas, she said, because all other transportation improvements, including creating a
public bus system, depend on it.
"Nobody is going to get on a bus and sit in the same gridlock with
everybody else," she said. "Ketchums attitude on this thing is so
As for the new St. Lukes hospital and the future of the surrounding
McHanville area, Noel said she would likely continue the work of Leonard Harlig, who has
been supportive of the project.
Noel likes the idea of building a 40,000-square-foot office complex around
the new hospital.
"I do understand that theyve always intended to have an office
building as part of the project," Noel said. "Im sure eventually that
every doctor in Ketchum will be there. I dont think it will harm the downtown core.
Doctors offices are not what make the downtown at all."
As for the location of the hospital, Noel thinks it is
"absolutely" in the right place.
"For one thing," she said, "all of the ancillary facilities
should be near the majority of the people who gave money to the hospital. I mean those
people wouldnt have given the money they gave. The big donors for the hospital are
up at this end of the valley."
Because she is an independent candidate (but not a member of the
Independent Party), Noel will not run in the May 23 party primaries, she said.
South county incumbent Dennis Wright, 57, while saying very little about
the hospital during a telephone call Sunday, was outspoken about land-use issues.
"I believe the uppermost thing to maintain is the land-use patterns
that in the last four years weve begun to develop," Wright said. "And
theres a multitude of smaller issues, some of them stemming from that subject, like
TDRs, for example."
Wright said a key issue in preserving open space is the fact that state
law prevents counties and cities from implementing a sales tax.
"If [Blaine County] could raise some money," he said, "it
would give us the ability to create a kind of a bank
.The bank itself, or the county
perhaps, could purchase [open space] to keep or to market down the road."
Probably none of that will happen, in Wrights view, until both
Republican and Democratic parties are evenly represented in the State Legislature.
"But how do we do that? How do we bring back the Democrats from the
dinosaurs?" he said.
As a Democrat, Wright hopes people will see him in action and realize
Democrats are "really not too bad a people. Theyre not too bad for the
environment. Theyre not too bad for the economy. Theyre not too bad for really
Unlike Noel, who said she would like to see more houses built on less land
in the south county so that people with average incomes will have a place to live, Wright
said he is offended by the idea of the north and south county being divided by income.
Speaking of Ketchum, he said, "It seems extremely narrow minded, this
attitude of Ill let you in to clean the dishes and wash the toilet, yet
youre not good enough to exist in this community to the point where I might see you
on the sidewalk.
"I dont happen to believe money makes you a better
person," Wright said. "Thats pretty basic."
In a written statement, south county candidate Robb Peck, also a Democrat,
said he is running because he feels that "our county government needs to be
consistent with (its) decisions and needs to be of service to county residents."
Peck, a 48-year-old farmer, served on the Blaine County School Board from
1986 until 1995 and on the Blaine County agricultural committee in the early 1980s.
According to the statement, Peck would like to simplify government, and as
a public servant, would cater to the needs of the average citizen.
"I will instill in county employees a can-do attitude and remind them
who their customers are," the statement said.
Peck promised to represent the entire county, to make county P&Z more
accessible to the public, to stop "unnecessary county lawsuits" and to cut
expenses while improving the countys roadways.
As the only Democrat running so far in the north county, Sally Donart, 73,
said during a telephone call Tuesday that she has not yet taken a stance on most of the
major issues facing the county.
"This is going to be my period of listening," she said of the
next several weeks.
Donart currently chairs the Blaine County Democratic Party but has never
held pubic office.
The primary election is scheduled for May 23.
Voters have until April 25 to register; otherwise voters can register on