Wednesday, May 2, 2007

High-paid consultant to leave Ketchum

Hudson cites budget constraints as reason for departure

After two and a half years as consultant and almost a year as executive director of the Ketchum Community Development Corporation, Tom Hudson is stepping aside, at least for the time being.

In an e-mail Wednesday, April 24, to the CDC board of directors, Hudson announced his reasons for leaving before his current contract with the city expires in September. He also sent a letter Sunday, April 29, to the Idaho Mountain Express.

In his letter to the CDC board, Hudson pointed to several reasons for his departure, including city budget constraints. Those constraints include his $200,000 per year contract salary and Urban Renewal Agency tax moneys that will not arrive until January 2008, a year later than anticipated.

"There is concern within the (City) Council that proceeding with a three-year contract extension with me may be unaffordable and/or untimely," Hudson writes in his e-mail to the CDC board. "Such a contract is essential for me, since the city has previously expressed its interest in me moving to Ketchum as a condition of a contract extension.

"It is unreasonable for me to make such a move on the basis of a single year contract. Consequently, the longest I could expect to continue on contract is to the end of September."

Hudson said he is working with Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall to conclude his contract on June 15, and asked his board to wait for Hall to make a press announcement about his departure.

The CDC board has compiled a budget for an interim director through September, Hudson said. That person will be paid $4,000 to $5,000 per month.

"It'll be nearly full time, I think, between now and the end of September," he said.

Hall spoke via telephone Tuesday afternoon.

"We left the door open specifically to be able to ask Tom to finish things up," Hall said. "But that's not my decision. I don't want to be speaking for the council. We have a lot of respect for Tom Hudson. The city wouldn't be where it is without him. The city sat on its rear end for 10 years until this guy came around."

Hall pointed out that Hudson was contracted to complete a downtown master plan, a Warm Springs master plan and to be executive director of the CDC. The downtown master plan is finished, and the Warm Springs master plan is awaiting further studies.

"So, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement," Hall said. "Once we get all our information, we can always go back to The Hudson Co., but right now there's no reason for us to have him on the clock."

In his e-mail to the CDC board, Hudson specifically cited an "approximately $900,000 over-budget situation" forcing the City Council to seek means of reducing its spending for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The city is not, however, running a $900,000 deficit. In a March 16 General Fund Balance Analysis distributed by Ketchum City Administrator Ron LeBlanc, there were $846,670 in expenditures to be taken from the city's carryover fund. Expenses for work on Fourth Street, Hudson's salary, and CDC and URA startup costs were all part of that projected budget adjustment.

The city is scheduled to open the budget for necessary adjustments on May 21, LeBlanc said, but the number will be less than the original estimate.

Hall said the city is attempting to maintain its carryover at 5 percent of the total budget. That would be $500,000 out of the city's $10 million budget. According to the March 16 General Fund Balance Analysis, the carryover might have slipped as low as 1 percent, or $102,618. A new analysis on Tuesday, May 2, showed the carryover, minus Hudson's amended salary and CDC and URA startup costs, is $561,826.

There is "absolutely not" a budget issue, LeBlanc said.

"When you have an organization that's a multimillion dollar corporation dealing with million-dollar projects, you need time to make adjustments," he said. "Making a series of small adjustments with how we spend money, we can avert problems."

LeBlanc said there are things that have surprised the city this year. For example, there is a six-figure sum the city has not obtained in building and fire inspection fees due to moratoriums in the Community Core, Tourist and General Residential-High density zones. That number should be available soon.

"But that's why you have a fund balance," he said. "That's the reason you have this cushion, and that's completely unrelated to the $900,000 or Tom Hudson."

For his part, Hudson last month alluded to "naysayers" who have, according to Hudson, been attempting to undermine implementation of the city's downtown master plan.

"Where is the smoky back room?" he asked. "Where are the people who are trying to pull strings? It's discouraging, but we hold the high ground. We are committed to being community-based. I'm committed to being held accountable to that letter. I don't think there's anything in there that I'm embarrassed about. I'm saddened it's being taken out and abused by the public, but the things that are in there are in there for a reason."

Hall agreed.

"It's an election year, and we've got the same toxic people sending the same toxic message that's kept us polarized for the last 10 years," he said. "Those of us in leadership positions need to look past that and continue to support community the best way we know how. And that's with lots of hard work. We've got to keep our eye on the target. We've got a great team, and we've done a lot of great work."

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