Friday, October 19, 2007

Pizza, politics, and a few chuckles

Hailey candidates face off in political forum

Express Staff Writer

?The young buck and the old bull,? as Ketchum City Council candidate Mickey Garcia referred to Erin Dunn, left, and Rick Davis, the contenders for the Hailey mayor?s seat, at Pizza and Politics on Wednesday, Oct. 17. Dunn, 28, is making his first foray into city politics, while Davis. 58, has served on City Council for 16 years. Photo by David N. Seelig

While the future of the airport and countywide fire consolidation remain obfuscated, there appears to be one certainty for Hailey: Its two vacant city office positions won't be won as a result of indifference.

This was evident when a large and vocal crowd filled the Old County Courthouse meeting room in Hailey to question and listen to the platforms of candidates for mayor and City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

More than 100 Hailey and Wood River Valley residents were in attendance for the Hailey Pizza and Politics event, a forum sponsored by the Mountain Express and moderated by Express Publisher Pam Morris.

Council candidates Fritz Haemmerle, Stefanie Marvel, and Geoff Moore, along with mayoral candidates Erin Dunn and Rick Davis, presented their goals for office and faced a myriad of tough and often impassioned questions from the audience, ranging from the economic environment to water conservation.

City Council candidates

With Rick Davis running for mayor, his No. 4 council seat will be filled by one of three candidates of vastly different backgrounds who share the overarching aim of maintaining the quality of life currently enjoyed by Hailey's citizens.

Haemmerle, who has lived in Hailey for 18 years and is a partner with his wife, Jennifer, in their Hailey-based law firm, Haemmerle & Haemmerle, said his experience as the county's prosecuting attorney from 1991 to 1995 would help him take this next step in public service.

Having been raised in Ketchum, Haemmerle said he would work to ensure that Hailey doesn't lose its residential neighborhood atmosphere, which he said happened to its northern neighbor as a result of developers hunting for a profit.

Like Haemmerle, Marvel also brings significant political experience with her to the race. Currently the chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, on which she has served since 2004, Marvel has also been part of the Library Board, Parks and Lands Board, the Transportation Committee and the Development Impact Fee Committee.

In her opening statement, Marvel said she has high aspirations of making Hailey the most environmentally friendly city in the nation, along with this year's hot-button issue of increasing the vibrancy of the city's downtown core.

Unlike the other two, Moore has yet to serve in public office. However, as a stalwart fixture at council and Planning & Zoning meetings, the self-professed citizen's advocate displayed an in-depth knowledge of the issues currently facing the city.

Moore said the city will soon face a major challenge in the form of transfer of development rights (TDRs), and that the city needs to be proactive with regional planning in order to manage growth.

This issue of TDRs, which would focus density in and around cities while preserving open space, was one of the few questions that brought out differing opinions from the council candidates. Both Marvel and Haemmerle appeared much more hesitant about the county-proposed program, with the former saying that she doesn't want a developer or outside entity determining Hailey's density, and the latter wary because the program has yet to be tested.

When asked to single out Hailey's biggest problem, the candidates' answers varied. Moore said the city needs to find a way to get the funding necessary to make any necessary improvements. Marvel was more specific, noting the need to increase the "walkability" of the city. Haemmerle hit upon a problem faced by more cities than just Hailey. "Affordability. The cost of living is increasing exponentially," Haemmerle said. "This is a problem throughout the entire valley and the answer is a complex one."

For the most part, however, the candidates were in agreement in their responses, supporting the increase of recreational amenities around the city, affordable housing, the conservation of water, and moving Friedman Memorial Airport from its current location.

Perhaps the most touched upon subject by the audience were the possible options for the Hailey Fire Department, a countywide consolidation or mere cooperation for equipment purchases.

Moore, who spent 11 years with the department, said there is no issue with the current level of service offered and that because of the city's density, it would likely face an increase in taxes if it merged with the county. Both Marvel and Haemmerle said that it would be a priority only if it was in the best interests of Hailey's residents. Still, there was little doubt that the issue remains a difficult one for city officials.

"It seems like it comes down to turf battles," Haemmerle said. "The council has to have the strength to set aside the wishes of the employees and move forward if necessary."

Mayoral candidates

A similar question was posed to mayoral candidates Erin Dunn and Rick Davis. Davis, a 16-year veteran and current president of the City Council, said that it's wise to start off the current course of action of consolidating with the Bellevue Fire Department and determining future steps after judging its success. Dunn, however, responded along a similar vein to Haemmerle.

"Personalities will always be an issue because people here are passionate about the issues that affect them," said Dunn, an account executive for Edge Wireless and part-time bartender at the Sun Valley Brewery. "But leaders need to be strong and make the best decision possible for the residents."

The difference between the two candidates—who sat next to each other—was apparent and appreciated by the audience.

"The young buck and the old bull," quipped Ketchum City Council candidate Mickey Garcia of the pair, and another said it was great to have "polar opposites."

Dunn, 28 and looking to enter city government for the first time, said he had no specific platform, but would like to be a progressive leader and be mindful about conservation and sustainability.

Davis, on the other hand, opened by saying he wants to be proactive in helping the business community in order to help create vibrancy in downtown Hailey. Davis, an active member and former president of the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary Club, said this could be accomplished by looking at city ordinances to make it easier for new businesses and to encourage the expansion of products and services offered in the city.

While Davis said it was important to try to stop the flow of money out of the valley, Dunn said that because residents will continue to shop in places such as Twin Falls, it's important to work with other communities in the region to fill specific product niches.

The pair had different responses to approaching Hailey's environmental policies. Whereas Davis applauded the efforts of the current city staff for taking measures to make Hailey one of the most environmentally progressive cities in the state, Dunn said that more could be done with incentives for "green" building.

While Davis said his experience plays a huge role in the performance of a mayor, in that it would help keep from repeating past mistakes, Dunn wasn't so sure.

"I have no past experience, so I can't tell you how important it would be," Dunn said with a smile. "But it's definitely something I can learn."

The candidates will face off in the city election Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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