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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 16 - 22, 2002


Michael reflects on her initial successes, failures

Express Staff Writer

When Commissioner Sarah Michael began her four-year term a year ago, she was daunted. She had experience working in local and state government, but that was nothing like this. The commissionerís job required budget oversight of five taxing districts and 19 county departments, direct supervision of six of those departments, and liaison with 20 federal, state and local agencies.

On top of it all, she would be replacing heavy-hitter Len Harlig, who had spent 16 years in county government and whose tour de force was running defense for St. Lukeís in getting a major hospital project through the county permitting process.

Michael acknowledges she was "a bit scared" at the prospect of taking over his seat on the three-member commission.

January marks her first anniversary in office. She is no longer scared. She has tackled some difficult projects such as promoting the public transportation portion of the valleyís highway expansion agenda, and trying to get the county to hire additional staff so elected officials can do more planning and less paper shuffling.

She has had successes and failures. A commuter bus between Bellevue and Ketchum is scheduled to start next month, thanks largely to her. But her proposal to hire a county administrator to free the commissioners from the time-consuming budget-setting process was quickly rejected last summer.

On Sunday, Michael took time out to discuss her experiences in office and talk about what she plans for the future.

One of the things that Michael likes best about the office is the freedom she has to chose projects she thinks are worthwhile to the community.

She emphasizes protecting the environment and promoting public services, but rejects any notion that she brings progressive ideas to a commission that has focused on such projects as road building, preserving the countyís nursing home and promoting St. Lukeís Regional Medical Center.

"I wouldnít go there with a ten-foot pole," she said. "Each commissioner brings unique skills and experience to the job. So, it allows each commissioner to be proactive on the primary issues of interest to them and the community."

And despite her proposal to expand county staff and increase the number of hours county employees work from seven to eight hours each day, "I donít want to sound like a tax-and-spend Democrat," she said. But thereís a "long, long list" of items still not completed that were outlined during the planning and zoning departmentís 1999 priorities-setting session.

"I think as a commission, we have a history of being pretty tight with the dollars," Michael said. Itís something she must give a lot of consideration to in planning her newest project, a water-quality initiative. She wants to regulate the way wells and septic systems are built to protect the countyís water supply. But where will the extra staff time needed to do that come from?

"Over the next year, the idea is to possibly have developers test ground water as part of the permitting process," she said.

The initiative is only in the beginning of the planning stage, but Michael thinks that testing would involve having developers measure water table depth, soil type and speed of underground flow, among other things, to determine what effect planned septic systems could have on the water supply of neighbors.

Most wells that supply cities are located in the un-incorporated county, which could approve projects that would affect those wells. The water quality initiative is meant to change that.

A guest opinion by Michael appears on Page A9 of the printed edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.