Friday, December 23, 2005

Simon reflects on term at City Hall

Ketchum mayor says he set stage for city to face key issues

Express Staff Writer

Ed Simon

The voice on the other end of the phone sounded desperate.

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon, listening on one end, remained calm while a woman explained her situation.

"We just found out the minister died two weeks ago," she said. "We've got 80 people coming for the wedding. We're looking for someone to do the ceremony."

The minister's death was a sad turn of events. It also presented an unwelcome dilemma for the mother of the bride, who scrambled to find his replacement.

Simon didn't hesitate to offer his services.

"With a story like that, how could I say no?" he recalled.

That day last summer was one of the more memorable of some very happy experiences performing weddings during his time as mayor, Simon said.

"I've done 43 weddings," he said. "I keep track."

The ceremonies took him to Trail Creek Cabin, private homes, "all over Blaine County," he said.

"It's the only time in four years that I know everyone was glad to see me," he said.

During his tenure, which began in January 2002 and will conclude Jan. 3, 2006, Simon has seen weighty issues and massive projects come before Ketchum's governing body: the YMCA's proposal to build an 84,000-square-foot recreational facility on city property at the corner of Warm Springs and Saddle roads; The Nature Conservancy's proposal to open the Ernest Hemingway house to public tours; and Sun Valley Ventures' application for annexation and development of the Warm Springs Ranch property as part of a $200 million proposal.

Often disagreeing with the City Council, and never hesitant to throw his opinion into the discussion, Simon doesn't second-guess his decisions.

"My only regrets are the things I didn't try, not what I did or didn't do well," he said.

Despite the challenges the city faced, Simon said he's pleased with the direction Ketchum is going. And he credits the efforts of an interested public and a solid city staff with much of that.

"I've had a lot of fun working with the competent and dedicated staff," he said. "I'm very proud of the city staff. We have dedicated employees."

Many department heads and city policies changed while Simon was in office.

"In the first year and a half we replaced 70 percent of the department heads," he said. "We had major staff changes. We implemented some new policies and procedures, upgraded equipment and programs. What that has done has enabled us to take the next step for some serious master planning."

The city enacted in October a moratorium on some residential building applications in the downtown area. Simultaneously, Ketchum is formulating a downtown master plan to stimulate the commercial core.

"Unless you have personnel to implement policies and procedures, you're not ready to effectuate change," Simon said. "The infrastructure, personnel and policies are in place for Ketchum to deal with drastic changes and issues that are confronting it."

Pressures of development, especially in the downtown core, and the expected annexation application for the River Run area owned by Sun Valley Co. are significant issues facing the next sitting council and mayor, Simon said.

"The master plan really is critical, as well as the idea of increasing densities in the core to make it more cohesive," he said.

What happens with the former Bald Mountain Lodge property and Williams Market on Main Street also will be significant, he said.

"Zoning restrictions can shape the direction the developers go," Simon said. "Do we want to have nothing but a condo development on the property? I think the answer is clearly 'No.'"

When mayor-elect Randy Hall, the current City Council president, takes Simon's seat Jan. 3, Simon said one critical decision will face the new leader.

"The most important decision he makes to start out will be who he chooses to replace him on the council," Simon said. "I would hope he appoints someone that has a little history with Ketchum, someone who's lived here a while and who's been involved publicly."

Besides being qualified based on those merits, Simon said Hall's replacement should get along with other council members. But he noted that the decision rests with one person.

"It's strictly the discretion of the mayor," he said.

Simon, a Ketchum resident since 1978, plans to return to his law practice full time.

His departure from public office in January won't, however, mark an end to his involvement in civic affairs, he said.

"There's no reason I can't be part of it, just as any private citizen can be part of it," he said. That can be accomplished by attending meetings, speaking out and offering to participate in committees, he added.

Despite a frequently acrimonious relationship with Hall, Simon offers regards to his successor.

"I wish him well," Simon said. "You've got good consistency on the council. You've got three people willing to work hard."

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