Heavyweights roast retiring Harlig
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
When it came to roasting Blaine County
Commissioner Len Harlig at his retirement party last week, most obeyed a
principal tenet of local politics: It’s easier to ask for forgiveness
than it is to ask for permission.
Sheriff and longtime friend Walt Femling
told fart jokes about Harlig, 67, to the crowd of 200 gathered in the Sun
Valley Lodge Sun Room last week.
Bud Purdy scorched him a different way:
"I didn’t know he had this many friends," the south-county
rancher said into the microphone.
David Wilson, the mayor of Sun Valley,
lamented the colorful "happy sweater" Harlig wore for the
occasion, a garment that he claimed was 17 years old, "and had to
Harry Rinker, a developer who most recently
asked Harlig to forgive the giant berms his construction crews created
without permission along Highway 75, wasn’t actually in attendance. But
he sent along a letter, read aloud, praising Harlig for the 16 years of
public office he served.
Over shrimp cocktail, hot wings, stuffed
mushrooms, baked brie, crudites, a jazz trio, Ste. Chapelle Merlot and
Chardonnay, the community’s most important decision makers began
gathering at 6 p.m. for the open-to-the-public event, making small talk
and eating small food while Harlig greeted his guests at the door.
Harlig has a reputation for being the
three-member Blaine County commission’s heavy hitter. During seven years
as commissioner and nine on the
Planning and Zoning Commission he has
helped make major land-use decisions in the county. His most recent
project has been helping to promote the closing of the county-run Wood
River Medical Center and the opening of the new St. Luke’s hospital.
Set to replace him in January is Sarah
Michael, who has an extensive background working on conservation and
transportation issues in Blaine County and northern California.
Harlig said many people have been trying to
convince him not to retire, "but this is really it." After
selling off his Los Angeles Sportsman’s Lodge—a hotel and restaurant
business—in 1973 so that he could move to the Wood River Valley and
relax, he instead got caught up in local politics. Nearly two decades
later, the self-proclaimed reluctant public servant is definitely stepping
His friends at the Dec. 13 retirement party
called him a "reasonable voice," an "activist" and a
"continuous force" in this rapidly changing valley.
Whatever feelings Purdy has about asking
permission or forgiveness, he said, "Thank God there was no planning
and zoning" to regulate development 62 years ago.
But then "these damn Californians
discovered Sun Valley," and wanted to build on the "crick"
and build berms.
Len Harlig soon followed them, bringing
with him the planning and zoning concept, Purdy said with blatant
"Everyone wanted open space, but they
wanted the other guy to provide it."
Purdy promoted the idea that he has lived
in Blaine County all his life, but emcee Mike Riedel exposed the truth:
Purdy himself went to high school in Redlands, Calif.
"Politicians and diapers have one
thing in common," Riedel added, "they should be replaced
Harlig was so touched when Riedel invited
him to the microphone that he had to take a moment to compose himself.
"Normally, when things like this are
said about people," Harlig finally began, "they’re dearly
He claimed he is essentially a shy person,
despite his public stature. He thanked his wife Carol Harlig for
organizing the party and called her "the diamond in my setting of
Politics—which he prefers to call public
service—is a ham-and-eggs story, he proclaimed. "The chicken is
involved but the ham is committed." He declined to say toward which
metaphor his proclivities tend.
He noted that 75 percent of the people in
attendance haven’t always agreed with him. "How did I get
elected?" he said.
When his successor Sarah Michael takes
office, Harlig plans to give her three envelopes, just has his successor
gave him. If she "gets into trouble," he said, she should open
the first envelope, which contains a note advising, "Blame it on your
predecessor." Trouble again? Open number two, which advises,
"Blame it on the media." And, if she "gets into
trouble" a third time, the remaining enveloped advises "Prepare
In addition to the party, Carol Harlig is
arranging to have a bridge on the north-county Harriman Trail dedicated to
her husband, who said, "I can’t think of anything that pleases me
more than to have something in the community with my name on it."
Harlig called the Wood River Valley,
"the best place on earth," and said that he has enjoyed working
with most of the people here.
"It’s been just great," he