Friday, August 8, 2008

A fresh perspective

Conn looks to match Parsonís passion for Ketchum on Council

Express Staff Writer

Charles Conn took his seat on the Ketchum City Council this past Monday after being appointed to replace Ron Parsons, who stepped down last month. Conn brings with him years of business success, as well as experience working in the non-profit sector. Photo by Jon Duval

If Charles Conn can bring his streak of success in the business world to local politics, the city of Ketchum will benefit greatly.

Conn, who assumed his seat on the City Council for the first time on Monday, has no shortage of experience in the private sector, after working as both a consultant and entrepreneur.

But his decision to become a candidate during the monthlong search to replace Ron Parsons, who stepped down due to health concerns, was not an easy one.

"I was reluctant, not because of the time commitment, but because of the level of acrimony and incivility in our public debate process," Conn said.

As an example, Conn cited a council meeting in July during which opponents of the proposed Thunder Spring affordable housing project issued catcalls at developer David Hutchinson.

"There seems to be a whole lot of people in the town who don't stand for anything, but are willing to stand against something," said an impassioned Conn. "I overcame my reluctance, though, because I don't want my kids living in a hollowed-out place."

After visiting the Sun Valley area for years, Conn made a permanent move from Los Angeles to Ketchum five years ago with his wife Beverley, two sons, Cameron and Alexander, and daughter Hannah.

"I wanted to raise my family in a place where people knew my children's names, in addition to having access to all the recreational facilities," said Conn, whose kids are enrolled in The Community School. "It's a pretty hard place not to love."

His involvement in the community itself began well before his foray into public office, as he helped set up and is on the board of Idaho's Bounty, a regional food cooperative. As well, he is a member of the Ketchum Development Corporation's Energy Solutions Team, and is a member of the board for the non-profit business Leroy's Ice Cream, The Community School and Trout Unlimited.

Amidst all of this, Conn finds himself traveling due to his job as a senior advisor to the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, where he focuses on conservation projects such as the foundation's wild salmon ecosystems initiative and efforts to change the salmon harvesting practices on the Skeena River in British Columbia.

His focus on conservation comes after a professional career that took him from Harvard Business School to a partnership in the international consulting firm McKinsey & Co. From there, he helped found Citysearch, an online tourism and urban amenities guide, purchased during its infancy, and took over the majority stock in the online portion of Ticketmaster.

Since then, Conn has stepped away from his role with Citysearch, now called Interactive Corp., and now has his sights set on helping his adopted hometown.

"I completely accept that I'm still learning," said Conn, who did not hesitate to contribute during his first council meeting. "But the town is dying as it's becoming a difficult place for young people to live and work in."

Like his fellow council members, Conn sees part of the solution coming in the form of affordable community housing, as well as creating economic projects to provide necessary amenities.

"I'm deeply respectful of the history and traditions here, but feel that bringing fresh perspectives is vital," said Conn, who will soon be turning 47. "We can't preserve this place in amber or pretend that change won't happen. A town needs to keep moving, but through involvement we can make sure the change is positive."

Along with creating workforce housing, Conn said there's a clear need for more high-quality hotel rooms, though he said he still has a lot of research to do on the proposed Warm Springs Ranch Resort.

Perhaps even more importantly, Conn the city needs to rethink its energy consumption, given the current situation of oil and gas supplies relative to Ketchum's distance from any major population center.

On the more personal side, Conn made sure to quickly squash a recent rumor that he is the stepbrother of developer David Hutchinson. In reality, the convoluted connection is tenuous at best, as Conn's stepbrother's wife works for Hutchinson, creating a relationship that Conn said in no way compromises his independence.

With that out of the way, Conn made one last opportunity to relay his overarching message to his constituents.

"We're a small town—we need to look out for each other because these are hard times and they aren't getting easier. It's the decent and neighborly thing to do."

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