Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What is the Ketchum CDC?

Local officials break down Ketchum?s new machine

Express Staff Writer

Second in a two-part series on changes being made at Ketchum City Hall.

The city of Ketchum gave birth last July.

Following a yearlong labor, Ketchum officials and consultant Tom Hudson delivered a wobbly-kneed Ketchum Community Development Corporation, an entity born of the city but not to the city.

Its life mission is to work in conjunction with other groups and political bodies to improve the overall culture and viability of Ketchum. Thus far it is an infant still trying to find its legs.

"It's a start-up scenario, and we haven't started to build a CDC culture yet," said Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall. "Tensions will start to evaporate."

The CDC is very different from city government. Although it was created by Ketchum using public funds and although the Ketchum City Council served as its initial board of directors, it is quite independent from the city.

It's got roughly 55 volunteer members and a 10-member board of directors. Its executive director, former Ketchum consultant Tom Hudson, resigned amid controversy last month, and the organization is at present without any paid staff. But the gist of what it is, or could become, appears clear to some.

"It's a private non-profit, community-based organization that has a focus of affordable housing and public projects for the betterment of the community," said Ketchum City Administrator Ron LeBlanc.

Express graphic by Gavin McNeil
 --Click to enlarge (PDF)

Its accountability as a municipal organization evaporated, however, when the Ketchum City Council pulled out as the board of directors.

The 501(c)(3) organization is not much different from the Sun Valley Ketchum Chamber & Visitors' Bureau, the Wood River Community YMCA or Advocates for Real Community Housing, LeBlanc said. Although it is attempting to operate in a transparent way, it is not beholden to open meeting laws or other forms of government accountability, LeBlanc and Hudson said in separate interviews.

Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst put it this way: "It's true that they were born in the public sector, and they are transitioning into the private sector. I would argue they are not subject to the open meeting laws. It started at a time when it was unquestionably needed to have open public meetings, and there will also be a time when they can unquestionably have closed, private meetings."

The Ketchum CDC departs from traditional CDC models in that its focus is unquestionably larger than others throughout the country, LeBlanc said. Nevertheless, its mission, goals and strategies are evolving as it transitions into a probable period of growth.

"We're pretty new," said CDC Board President Neil Bradshaw. "The way I see us is that we're just kind of a group that's promoting good ideas for the community. That's what we want to do. Call us a lobbyist for the community. We're going to do whatever we can for the community. As a new organization there is inevitably some confusion."

As the CDC continues to work in the community on projects such as the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor and on development of geothermal resources, Bradshaw believes people will become more convinced about what the group is and where it is going.

"We were put together by the city, appointed by the city," he said. "As we morph into an independent organization, people will see us as separate from the city. But is there a close relationship? Absolutely. In time that relationship will be more independent as we find our way, which we're doing every day in my view."

Ketchum Councilman Steve Shafran said he envisions the CDC as a "wonderful avenue for creativity" in Ketchum, and Bradshaw agreed.

"The CDC is like a think tank for good community ideas that we'll then lobby to the city," he said.

The CDC is on a shoestring budget for now, but it is a non profit, so it can raise money. Private fundraising, grants and city money are the three sources from which the CDC will be funded "although over time I see that (city money) playing a diminishing role," Bradshaw said.

The CDC is part of the new Ketchum machine, an engine equipped with the traditional accouterments of government along with an urban renewal agency. The new Fourth Street Heritage Corridor is a good example of how the new machine could continue to work, Bradshaw said.

It is a city project, but the CDC advises the city on what happens, and the URA will pump $4.5 million into it before it's said and done.

"The concept, the new plan, the pedestrian-friendly nature—what do we think as a CDC? We think pedestrian friendly is good," Bradshaw said. "We think bike racks are good. All we're doing is promoting those ideas. You put the canvass down, and we'll put the paint on the canvass. We're advisory on the construction. It's all up to the city on what they decide to do and how they plan to implement it."

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