Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ketchum consultant bids adieu to city

Tom Hudson is an economic development consultant with The Hudson Company, based in Moscow, Idaho.

It is with a great deal of regret that I am writing to announce I will be ending my contract with the city of Ketchum (as an economic development consultant) this month. I am writing to express why I am doing so.

I have been fortunate to work with a City Council that is devoted to restoring vitality, a year-round community and economic stability to this historic town of Ketchum. These leaders have overcome years of lethargy in the town by taking action on strategic, complex issues. Together, we've made a lot of progress. For this, I'm grateful.

Most of our planning work is done. We have organized the tools we need to move forward with key projects. Among these is an Urban Renewal Agency (URA) that will bring literally millions of dollars to support downtown physical improvements. A Community Development Corporation (CDC) was also formed that will coordinate efforts to enhance community involvement, resources and tools to implement the Downtown Master Plan (DMP).

The City Council is now implementing the plans and projects called for in the DMP. This critical work is expensive and some revenue anticipated to support work this fiscal year will not be available until next January. With major projects, including affordable workforce housing, the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor and a new Central Plaza on the city's near horizon, the mayor and City Council will need to be even more fiscally careful than usual.

I have been heavily engaged by City Council and the Urban Renewal Agency to help guide planning and initial implementation of this work. When I started this contract last year, I was asked by City Council to move to Ketchum to optimize my efforts. I was unable to do so because I could not relocate my family during my daughter's senior year in high school. I also noted that for me to move my residence to Ketchum and become full-time employed here I would need at least a three-year contract to do so. Selling my home, moving my family and closing my business could not be justified by anything less. We therefore tabled the discussion until now with the hope of establishing a mutually agreeable contract extension.

With budget and revenue limitations we couldn't have predicted last fall, it is now apparent that a three-year contract extension entails risks the City Council is not comfortable taking. Meanwhile, the need remains for someone in my position to work and live here full time. These two issues represent an obstacle I can't overcome. My work in its current form must come to an end no later than September.

Recent announcements by the city administrator of budgetary challenges led me to a further conclusion. I observed that I could remove the burden of my current contract by ending my work early, specifically in May. One of the reasons I was willing to make this proposal is an opportunity I have to work elsewhere. I am thankful that city leaders appreciate the risk versus opportunity that I faced; they supported my decision to conclude my contract a few months earlier than expected. I remain committed to the community's vision and to the City Council should it wish to use my services in the future.

I have been the interim director of the Ketchum CDC since its incorporation last year. We have an exceptional board of true professionals and a team of nearly 50 volunteers working with the city to improve Ketchum. While the organization needs a director, it can continue to move forward without me. Potential slower progress with CDC activities while new staff is sought will be temporary. Impacts on other activities in which I would have been engaged will be offset in the short term by contract savings to the city.

I am truly grateful to the citizens of Ketchum who have supported our community-based efforts to build a better future for this town in crisis. Thanks to everyone who reached out to me in partnership. You have helped bring back action and progress after years of neglect. I believe you've restored hope that there can be a real community in your future. Remember that the Downtown Master Plan vision can only be turned into reality through teamwork and commitment to change that is respectful of community values. Please support your City Council in getting Ketchum back on track.

In parting, I urge you to fight the good fight, keep the high ground, reach out to engage your neighbors, listen actively, shun pessimism, and get involved.

It has been a pleasure working with the community of Ketchum.

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