Wednesday, April 22, 2009

SV Council works to hinder merger

Resolution to stay independent passes

Express Staff Writer

The Sun Valley City Council, with the help of Mayor Wayne Willich, approved a resolution on Thursday that declares the city's desire to remain independent, a move that puts yet another hurdle in front of the effort to consolidate Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Willich's vote was necessary to break a 2-2 tie, after Council President Nils Ribi and Councilman Dewayne Briscoe voted for the resolution while Councilwoman Joan Lamb and Councilman Dave Chase voted against it.

Chase and Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn are the spokesmen for One Community, One Town, the group proposing the merger. The pair brought the issue before the public in February, and since then the controversial topic has spurred contentious arguments that have stretched all the way to the Capitol in Boise.

The debate became heated as Lamb made an impassioned plea to allow Sun Valley residents to make the choice on their own and to have an open discussion on the issue.

"My first thought on reading (the resolution) was this is George Orwell's 'Animal Farm,'" Lamb said at the start of her comments. "This is your politicians telling you how to think ... and doing what's in their best interest, not yours."

Lamb countered a statement in the resolution that the proposed consolidation hasn't shown any positive benefits for Sun Valley residents. She said the potential property tax savings and the ability to have a voice in future Ketchum development would be advantages for citizens in her city.

Chase and Conn have argued that a consolidation of the two cities could save millions of dollars annually, largely through a reduction of about 16 duplicated staff positions.

Lamb called the resolution an insult to the intelligence of Sun Valley residents, a sentiment that clearly did not go over well with her opponents on the council. Briscoe sarcastically asked if she had video to go along with her written comments.

Willich quickly reminded Briscoe to maintain a respectful manner during the proceedings, and the latter said the resolution was to help bring an end to the caustic atmosphere that has characterized the issue of late.

"We need to take a stand against an issue that's become so divisive," Briscoe said. "The resolution doesn't stop the petition; it just gives an opinion from people that have studied the issue."

Ribi also argued that the merger effort is sowing seeds of unrest between the two communities.

"It is time for you, the promoters of this consolidation effort, to lay down your arms," Ribi said. "There will be no tax savings for Sun Valley taxpayers. There will be no improvement in city services for Sun Valley citizens. These are the two principal criteria I have always considered in any consolidation effort."

Ribi added that the merger talk is damaging the good name of Sun Valley outside of Blaine County and, in turn, is negatively impacting local businesses.

Willich also asked that this debate be ended, declaring his opposition to what he has vociferously called a "hostile takeover."

"Hopefully we can put this aside and move forward in cooperation with Ketchum," Willich said before calling for a vote on the resolution.

Willich also claimed impropriety on behalf of the merger proponents, saying that Ketchum attorney Miles Stanislaw and former Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson approached Willich last fall with the merger idea.

"They suggested that if I helped with the consolidation effort, I could end up being the mayor of the whole package," Willich said. "I turned them down, saying it was totally inappropriate for them to be offering up something like that to me."

Stanislaw said in an interview that he did meet with Willich to go over the merger idea, but that no such offer ever took place.

"The idea that myself or Jon Thorson could make anyone mayor is absurd," he said. "If that were true, Jon would be the mayor of Sun Valley right now."

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