Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mayoral candidates debate Ketchum's future

Stein, Garcia add laughs, color to political forum

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum mayoral candidates Randy Hall, left, and Maurice Charlat share a light moment with the audience Thursday during a political debate between Ketchum municipal election candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The motley opinions and personalities of Ketchum's mayoral candidates were on full display last week, livening up a panel discussion that brought together the five political hopefuls.

More than 100 people attended the Idaho Mountain Express' Pizza & Politics forum Thursday, Oct. 13, at Ketchum City Hall.

In the race to unseat incumbent Mayor Ed Simon are Ketchum City Council President Randy Hall, political newcomer Dan Stein, frequent local government critic Mickey Garcia and former Ketchum Councilman Maurice Charlat.

"My vision for Ketchum is a vital, healthy, active community without compromising our character," Hall said. "My biggest fear is the loss of our sense of community. I love this community. I feel very strongly and very passionate. We need horsepower. We need a mayor who can demonstrate real leadership and real experience."

Charlat also talked about the shape of the future.

"I'm here tonight to share my vision," he said. "It extends to a 10-year horizon ... I envision a highway that feeds into a rational traffic and circulation pattern. I also envision a pedestrian-friendly, happening place with adequate workforce housing and a significant retail component. I envision a City Council that has learned to work with, not against, the Planning and Zoning Commission. I envision Ketchum as the jewel of the Rockies."

Stein, who has described himself as a multi-media artist, offered voters a different vision of the city's future.

"I envision a town maybe without a mayor," he said. "If elected, I might just get rid of myself. The City Council and the mayor can't work together. If you want to elect the mayor, maybe the best bet is a person who represents fun and excitement, (someone) who everybody wants to shake hands with. Someone who's going to bust out into theatrical song and dance at any moment. Right now, you've got the opposite."

Simon presented his alternate approach as more pragmatic.

"I believe in 'Show me, don't tell me,'" he said.

Simon made mention of troubles that racked the governing body last year, wherein a city lawsuit was filed against Hall and mediators were called in to help fractious relations. The suit ended earlier this year with the city dropping its case and agreeing to pay most of Hall's legal fees.

"Randy has been a gentleman," Simon said.

Simon also took a few moments of his allotted time to criticize the Idaho Mountain Express in the presence of publisher Pam Morris, who moderated Thursday's event.

"If there's one thing I could change it would be the editorial policy of the Mountain Express," he said. Negativity and divisiveness do not serve the public interest, he stated, and the paper should heed a message of compassion touted by the Dalai Lama.

Garcia let fly unabashed opinions of the current system and Simon's leadership.

"Basically, the mayor is a figurehead," he said. "In our system the mayor just causes trouble. The taxpayer is burdened with these prima donnas."

Garcia proposed that the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley merge, thereby saving millions of dollars spent on services such as police and fire response.

"If the two cities were one, we could save $5 million in funds and that could go to a land acquisition fund," he said.

Keeping Ketchum an attractive place to live and visit elicited a non-traditional statement from one candidate.

"Drugs and fun are really what keeps people here," Stein said.

Disparate views greeted a question about how much the city should weigh in on environmental matters, such as a coal-fired power plant proposed for Jerome County.

"I'm not in favor of the city involving itself on things outside the city of Ketchum," Simon said. Rather, he said, the city should concern itself with things it has direct control over, such as water, sewer, garbage pick up and recycling.

Hall said the city can pass resolutions announcing its support or disfavor with particular projects.

"We need to watch what's going on, work with some of the nonprofit organizations ... in order to bring us into the 21st century," he said. He also said keeping projects off hillsides and limiting the size of homes would help limit impacts on the environment and its resources.

Garcia doubted the effectiveness of a resolution, saying it wasn't worth the paper it was written on.

The topic also prompted Garcia to lecture the questioner, saying he had interest in the subject of environmentalism long before the questioner was born.

To emphasize his commitment to earthly items, Garcia said his "whole outfit ... is made out of broccoli sprouts."

Charlat's approach to environmental issues is to monitor "the little things," he said, "so when we come upon a bigger (issue) we're sensitized to it."

He suggested that mail be delivered by an efficient truck instead of a system that requires most people to travel to the post office, and added that increased public transportation would alleviate some negative impacts of a motorized society.

In running for mayor, Hall is not risking an end to holding elected office in Ketchum. If he is elected mayor, it would open up his seat on the council, but if he is not, he would retain his seat for another two years. As mayor, he would be tasked with selecting someone to complete his term, but the appointee would have to be confirmed by the council, according to City Attorney Ben Worst.

The appointee would have to be a Ketchum resident but doesn't have to be chosen from current council candidates.

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