Friday, March 3, 2006

Ketchum mayor backs housing appointment

Ketchum and county to address resignations by board in public meeting

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County did not violate any state laws by appointing a Sun Valley city employee to the Blaine Ketchum Housing Authority board, said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, who suspects that personal differences led to the board's mass resignation earlier this week.

All five Housing Authority board members resigned Wednesday in protest over the county's appointment of Sun Valley City Administrator Virginia Egger to the board.

Board Chairman Timothy Eagan believes the appointment may have violated Idaho law, which states that "no commissioner of any authority may be an officer or employee of the county for which the authority is created."

Egger is not an employee of the county, and the Housing Authority was not created solely for Sun Valley, Hall noted Thursday.

"Someone is operating under the misconception that it's illegal for Virginia to be appointed to the Housing Authority and that's not true," Hall said. "It's very clear that the (appointment) can go ahead, as long as she doesn't work for the county.

"I don't understand why everyone's getting all sideways on this."

The city of Ketchum and Blaine County are each responsible for appointing two members to the board. The board itself makes one appointment.

Ketchum had appointed Derek Ryan, an architect, and Eagan, a property manager. Blaine County appointed Charlie Holt, a builder, and David Kipping, a retired engineer. The board appointed Jim Laski, who's a lawyer.

Kipping's term ended Feb. 1, 2006, which is when the county began interviewing other candidates for the volunteer position. Egger was eventually selected over a handful of other candidates, including Kipping.

A statement from the Blaine County Commission said Egger "brings a great deal of experience in the area of getting affordable housing accomplished."

Hall said he doesn't "think there's anyone more qualified in the state of Idaho" to work on affordable housing issues.

Egger has been the city administrator in Sun Valley for approximately one year. For the previous eight years, she was the city manager of Telluride, Colo., where she worked closely on a number of affordable housing issues.

In a letter to the Blaine County Commission earlier this week, Eagan said the resignation "has nothing to do with the personalities. It has everything to do with the principle."

Hall said since no laws have been broken and Egger is clearly a highly qualified member of the board, "I think and fear it has something to do with personalities and not principles.

"So, again, I don't understand (the resignation). Reasonable people will assume there is more to it. That's a problem we will address head-on—the last thing we need is to do any damage to an issue so sensitive to our community. We need to be clear that we all are still 100 percent behind affordable housing and we're going to do everything we can to work with the other cities and the county to make sure we address this critical issue."

Eagan is standing firm that the board's resignation is due to the principle of appointing a public official to the board.

"That's a bogus attempt to make this into something other than what it is, which is the impropriety of a public servant serving on the board," Eagan said Thursday, adding that the board will not involve itself in the issue further.

However, Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay also spoke out against Egger's appointment, claiming it violates state law.

Hall, who was in Washington, D.C., for most of the week, said he had not yet spoken to Gourlay.

The city of Ketchum currently provides about 80 percent of the authority's funding through development fees. Hall said "Ketchum's participation is not going to change."

The BKHA staff consists of two full-time members—Executive Director Michael David and Associate Director Drew Sanderford. Both will continue working full time for the organization.

David said he would not "hypothesize and theorize" about the reasons behind the board's resignation, but he did say that "in this town, there is always talk of perceived conflicts of interest."

The city of Ketchum and the Blaine County Commission plan to meet in the next couple weeks to discuss the issue and move forward with new appointments. The meeting will be open to the public, Michael said.

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