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For the week of Mar. 22 through Mar. 28, 2000

Candidates jump into commission race

Former Ketchum council member Noel running for seat

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 county’s 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. Luke’s 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
Sally Donart

Sally Donart, a Democrat, and Sue Noel (who calls herself an "independent") of Ketchum, have designs on Harlig’s open seat.

Sue Noel
Sue Noel

South-county incumbent Dennis Wright, a Democrat, will likely compete with Carey resident Robb Peck, a Democrat, for that region’s 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 Ketchum—and 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 fall’s election indicates she’ll have a tough time winning a seat on the county commission, Noel said she’ll be seeking votes from residents all over the county, not just from Ketchum.

"I couldn’t 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 Noel’s attendance was good and that her input during council meetings was good.

"She’s an interesting, motivated person," he said, adding that she always has a strong point of view on issues. "Come hell or high water, she’s not going to change it."

Noel’s 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. "Ketchum’s attitude on this thing is so wacko."

As for the new St. Luke’s 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 they’ve always intended to have an office building as part of the project," Noel said. "I’m sure eventually that every doctor in Ketchum will be there. I don’t 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 wouldn’t 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 we’ve begun to develop," Wright said. "And there’s 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 Wright’s 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. They’re not too bad for the environment. They’re not too bad for the economy. They’re not too bad for really anything."

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 ‘I’ll let you in to clean the dishes and wash the toilet, yet you’re not good enough to exist in this community to the point where I might see you on the sidewalk.’

"I don’t happen to believe money makes you a better person," Wright said. "That’s 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 county’s 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 election day.


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