Friday, November 4, 2005

Comments, votes depict candidates' differences

Field of five vies for Ketchum mayor

Express Staff Writer

Of the five people vying to be mayor of Ketchum, three of them have previously held office. For a two-year period, from 2002 to 2004, incumbent Ed Simon, Ketchum City Council President Randy Hall and former council member Maurice Charlat sat together at City Council meetings.

During that time, the council debated several significant issues: the Wood River Community YMCA, Ketchum resident Brian Barsotti's proposed hotel on the Bald Mountain Lodge site, and the city's multi-million dollar budget.

Also running for mayor in the Nov. 8 election are Dan Stein, a multi-media artist and server at Felix's Restaurant, and Mickey Garcia, a longtime Ketchum resident who frequently attends council and planning meetings throughout the county.


The Wood River Community YMCA will hold a groundbreaking ceremony today on the Park & Ride lot in Ketchum.

The project was studied and debated for years before being approved by the City Council in September.

While he was on the council in February 2003, Charlat said he wanted to move ahead with the recreational complex.

"We've spent a lot of time talking about this, and now is the time to do something," he said that month.

Hall was among those who voted to approve the planned unit development this fall.

Simon, who as mayor only votes in the event of a tie, voiced qualified opposition during the YMCA lease-agreement discussions.

"I'm very big on process," he said. "I wanted to know what was going to be built there and that we had an OK from the Planning and Zoning Commission before we entered into a lease agreement," he said in June.

Simon also expressed hesitation at the designers' request for two waivers—one for height and one for setbacks.

He said some hotel developers' similar requests were met with opposition.

"We sure did make them jump through some hoops," he said in August.

Hall said the YMCA project was different, in part because of fewer visual impacts.

"I see it as an entirely different scenario," he said at the same August meeting.

Barsotti hotel

In 2002, developer and attorney Brian Barsotti submitted to the city plans for a 59-foot-high, 81-room hotel structure on Main Street.

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission approved the project but the City Council in January 2003 sent it back to the P&Z, largely because its proposed height required a waiver from the city's 40-foot height maximum in the commercial core. Amid a rancorous public debate that divided segments of the community, Hall said he would not vote in favor of the 59-foot, four-story building. Charlat had indicated he probably would.

Barsotti redesigned the hotel to reduce its height to 47 feet.

At one public hearing in August 2003, Hall and Charlat agreed that project should be approved, but they diverged on whether the conditions of approval were adequately defined.

Charlat said the council should abandon its agenda timeline to work through a set of 17 standards of evaluation it is required to consider before rendering a vote.

"I think justice delayed is justice denied," he said. "I believe this has dragged on way too long."

Hall, on the other hand, wanted to take more time to review the project, citing affordable housing as a sticking point. He wanted Barsotti to come back with a written agreement to provide a minimum of five employee-housing units, and he wanted more assurances the project wouldn't significantly deter traffic flow on Main Street.

Hall said at that hearing he would grant Barsotti three waivers to city zoning regulations.

Barsotti told the council he would provide at least five employee-housing units, but couldn't afford deed-restrict the units under the guidelines of the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority.

Simon said in August 2003 that he agreed with Barsotti.

"Housing is not a component of the ordinance for (planned-unit development) hotels," he said at the time. "I believe we have to follow the existing ordinance."

The City Council unanimously approved the project in September 2003, but it was never built.

Budget debates

During the budget process for fiscal year 2003-2004, Charlat presented a two-page budget management plan that predicted that by the end of the fiscal year the city could establish a $980,000 cash surplus.

But Charlat did not stay on the council to see his plan through. During the 2003 council race, he abruptly withdrew his bid for re-election, claiming the job was not providing an adequate "psychic reward."

In July 2001, Charlat said he would support another police department position if the city considers instituting one-hour parking in high-traffic areas.

This year, Simon cast a tie-breaking vote to approve the appropriations ordinance that set the general fund budget at approximately $9,081,000 for fiscal year 2005-2006.

Hall voted against the budget, saying it was padded with extra spending on non-critical city personnel.

"My heartburn over the budget comes in the big picture," he said in August. "I wanted to know what the long-term effects are going to be. Adding four and a half employees ... that's a permanent addition. The impacts of that will be with us in perpetuity."

The city should have a better system for screening and adding full-time employees, he said.

He added that the city's capital improvement plan should be the recipient of additional funds.

Simon said the staffing increases were necessary.

"We're putting more obligations on departments that operate with just one person," he said at the budget hearing. "They just can't do the job they're asked to do without additional staff. The public demands good service, and if we don't (provide it), we hear from them."

Stein and Garcia

Stein has a bachelor's degree in finance and has indicated he would not support large expenditures such as a new City Hall.

"If you give the mayor an office, next he'll want a big oak desk and a brass name plate," he wrote in an e-mail to the Idaho Mountain Express. "A larger Police Department building will not give us better police protection. It's not the size of the building that makes for good government, it's the size of the minds and hearts within it."

He said during a public meeting last month that the city's budget is too big.

"We need to cut people," he said. "I think the budget is fat. We're spending a lot of money on administration."

He prefers spending some funds allocated to personnel on capital improvements instead.

He said costs of making a pedestrian area in the city's core could be defrayed by turning wide streets such as East Avenue into walking areas with small shops. The city-owned retail space would be rented to merchants, thereby enlivening downtown and providing income for the city.

He added that he would hire Garcia as an advisor.

Garcia has a Bachelor's of Science in forestry.

He has long been a critic of how the city of Ketchum spends its money. During one meeting in October 2003, when he was running for a City Council seat, he said he was disappointed in the city's management of its budget.

"I'm talking about spending more in total than you're bringing in," he said.

He said the city should implement a hiring freeze, re-evaluate its salary structure and revamp its costly health-insurance plan.

Last month, Garcia restated his belief in a hiring freeze. He added that he would require that any new or open position go through a public hearing process.

"Not an extensive one, but to say your government is getting bigger. This is why. This is what the position is going to do for us and this is what it is going to cost," he said.

He said he wants to merge Ketchum and Sun Valley's police and fire departments, an act that would save the city $5 million. He would put that money into a land acquisition fund.

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