Five candidates vying for two Sun Valley City Council seats engaged in a thoughtful debate this week, focusing on the city's comprehensive plan, regional services and the incumbents' voting records.
Sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express, the annual Pizza and Politics question-and-answer forum attracted approximately 75 people to Sun Valley City Hall Wednesday, Oct. 19.
The candidates include two incumbents, Ann Agnew and Kevin Laird, and three challengers: Nils Ribi, chairman of the Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission; Dan Pincetich, a former Sun Valley city administrator; and Milt Adam, a political activist. The five are directly competing in an open election, in which the two with the most votes win a seat.
All five utilized the evening to differentiate their stances on city issues.
The forum invited candidate speeches, public questions and an opportunity for each candidate to pose a question to the others.
Now completing her first term on the council, Agnew initiated the discussion.
"Our biggest effort happened over the last two years, and that was the adoption of our comprehensive plan. We have huge tasks ahead to adopt and enact the goals. It will it take me a lot of time, which I now have, over the next four years to carry forward," she said.
In his bid for a fifth council term, Laird emphasized his tenure on the council. "I have taken time to learn city government," he said.
Pincetich emphasized his 25-year career in city management. "I believe I will bring better focus and less use of the consultants on these various processes and decisions over the next few years," he said.
Making his third attempt to gain a City Council seat, Adam, a 30-year city resident, drew on his creative problem-solving approach and interest in government as demonstrated by his work to restore open elections.
"I believe a new era began two years ago with the election of Mayor (Jon) Thorson. I support the changes he is making in city government by engaging citizens," Adam said.
In light of the imminent Sun Valley Resort expansion, Ribi focused on implementing the comprehensive plan action items and regional cooperation.
"My goal, working on your behalf, is to make sure we ensure the character of this community. I will work for protecting our natural resources, our valued open space and our hillsides," Ribi said.
Speaking to the character of the wider community, the candidates agreed the city of Sun Valley should continue to be involved with planning Ketchum's future, although the five differed on the city's financial responsibility.
Ribi spoke of economic and transportation links between River Run and the Sun Valley Village. "Financial participation depends on an absolute benefit to the citizens of Sun Valley," he said.
Adam said he would support Sun Valley's pledged financial assistance of Ketchum's planning efforts.
Agnew said the city should not offer monetary support at present, but that financial support could be possible in the future. She articulated her vision for the downtown parking lot owned by the city of Ketchum. "I would like to see that be a town center that is open with parking underneath. We need a place to gather," she said.
Laird said: "I think the city of Ketchum is certainly capable of hiring their own consultants to reach their own goals."
Pincetich said he would not, for example, allocate $10,000 to Ketchum or offer five hours per week of the community development director's time.
The candidates turned to address municipal partnerships through a consolidation of city services.
"I think we will continue to look for ways to combine and to look for ways to save money. We need to provide the service, and we need to do its as cost effectively as possible," Agnew said.
Ribi holds a similar view, "If it is beneficial to the taxpayers and to response times we should look at it. The key is to look at opportunities where we can consolidate. Look at transportation issues, housing, water and sewer, where we can save money."
Pincetich said he does not support consolidation and does not see the financial benefit. "I truly believe in control," he said.
Adam suggested consolidating all of the transportation entities into one agency, including the school bus system.
"We have a lot of consolidated services. I don't know if consolidated services is the way to go," Laird said.
The public inquired about boycotts and pay raises for elected officials, recalling a meeting boycott Laird and Councilman Lud Renick staged in September. The two choose not to attend the third reading of an ordinance that proposed a salary increase for Sun Valley's elected officials.
Adam, Ribi and Agnew said boycotts are inappropriate.
Pincetich said boycotts in the context of a special meeting could be acceptable. "I do not think more money is necessary for the elected positions," he said.
"I don't think the issue is so much about pay, rather than about the generous benefits packages," Ribi responded.
"I think the pay raise is obviously wrong," Laird said.
After numerous public questions, a vote from the crowd moved the forum to questions posed by the candidates to the other candidates.
Laird asked his challengers whether they would support a tax increase that would be used to support community housing.
"I don't see that the community would be in favor of a tax increase," Adam said.
Ribi suggested the city pursue a Real Estate Transfer Tax. Agnew agreed.
Pincetich said the city needs a solid plan to present to the public, before "maybe" pursuing an increase.
Voters will decide the outcome Tuesday, Nov. 8.