Friday, September 3, 2004

Sly maneuver hidden in petition for vote on YMCA

Ketchum is tangled in a web of its own making.

In a special meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Ed Simon broke a tie to adopt an ordinance that calls for voter approval before the city may lease property to the YMCA for construction of a privately funded and privately operated recreation center that would be open to the public.

The ordinance was forced upon the city through an initiative procedure spearheaded by former Mayor Larry Young and former City Councilman Jack Corrock.

Adopt the ordinance, or risk being sued, a brand new Ketchum city attorney advised the City Council.

A long and contentious public hearing ensued as 18 impassioned speakers, who see the petition as a threat to the proposed YMCA, faced off with five petitioners.

The petitioners claimed support for the YMCA. They said they just want to give voters a choice about what should be done with what is known as the Park and Ride lot on Warm Springs Road.

They characterized the petition as innocent and community minded. So democratic. Yet, it?s vicious and disingenuous.

The petition is a thinly veiled attempt to subvert and invalidate the direction provided by voters who in 1989 approved a $2.2 million revenue bond?not a general-obligation property bond--to buy the property. The measure specifically called for use of the lot for parking, recreation, and cultural facilities. The bond was paid for with Ketchum?s local sales tax.

The petition threatens to derail nearly a decade of work by a dedicated group of people who believed city leaders when they said they would welcome development there as part of a public-private partnership.

It?s an attempt to nullify a formal resolution approved just 18 months ago by the City Council in which it promised to lease the property to the YMCA, and to ask for voter approval only if the city contemplates providing public funding for the Y, which it does not.

It?s a small-minded and parochial attempt to totally disenfranchise and alienate valley residents who may not live within Ketchum?s boundaries, but who call the city home.

It?s a calculated and destructive attempt to replace development of a recreation center with?nothing.

Y supporters have raised $6 million of an estimated $16 million cost. That?s something that Ketchum, a city with an annual capital improvement budget of a measly half-million dollars, should welcome.

Yet, the petition implies that the YMCA is attempting to elbow its way into control of the city?s recreation department and into a good feed at the public trough.

The petition threatens to destroy trust between the city and community-minded volunteers and private donors for decades to come.

It?s an attempt for which city leaders opened the door by dawdling and delaying instead of moving forward on the Y. It is the result of wallowing city leadership that allowed rumor to feed the unfounded and ill-informed fears upon which the petitioners capitalized.

Most sadly, it is an attempt that could succeed.

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