Friday, March 11, 2005

Mayor's tempests cost too much

The year 2005 is still young. So, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon's craving for turmoil in City Hall still has ample time for another unpredictable eruption, even as lawyers settle the year's first mayoral embarrassment.

Simon's creating a picayune ruckus over personnel is a familiar pattern. The outcome, too, is familiar: Ketchum ends up losing and settling Simon spats with money.

This week, the city agreed to pay $5,200 of the legal costs Ketchum City Council President Randy Hall ran up defending himself against the mayor's badly concealed attempt to hobble Hall's possible political ambitions.

The mayor's pretense—that newcomer city attorney Ben Worst dreamed up the firestorm over Hall's double-dipping as a council member and standby city firefighter—is so much drivel. Long before he named Worst as city attorney, Simon was involved in two other personnel misadventures.

This third political mishap could become a slogan for Simon critics: "Three strikes and yer out!"

Yet, the mayor seems incapable of learning.

In 2002, over strenuous objections of then-Police Chief Cal Nevland, Mayor Simon heedlessly hired Lt. Ron Taylor from the Blaine County Sheriff's Department to be assistant Ketchum police chief.

The hiring was transparent mayoral revenge: Simon was ousted from the city council in a 1990s recall after a failed attempt to fire the popular Chief Nevland.

The hiring fiasco cost $65,000 in damages paid to Lt. Taylor.

Then, in a 2003 act of ill-tempered umbrage, Simon fired the police department's computer systems service manager, Steve Linden, for writing a Letter to the Editor of the Mountain Express critical of the mayor.

The city got off the hook with a payment of $3,525 to Linden.

To date, total costs of Mayor Simon's irritability amount to $73,725.

Those are only measurable costs, however. The greater damage has been in hundreds of hours needlessly spent by a distracted City Council and a demoralized city staff coming to grips with the mayor's conniptions, plus action on a civic agenda delayed while Simon salves a brittle ego.

What did it say of the mayor when he stalled the lease to the YMCA on the park-and-ride property, faulting his own staff for not keeping him informed?

At a time when Ketchum's growth demands level-headed leadership, Mayor Simon has instead squandered his office on personal grudges that demean the city and leave solemn misgivings about his capacity and ability to be the chief presiding officer.

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