Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ketchum takes steps toward manager system

But August special election unlikely


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council is giving serious consideration to a change in the city's form of government, but has concluded that more information is needed before the issue can be brought to the voters in a special election.

At a regular council meeting on Monday evening, a lively discussion took place over the potential move to a city manager form of government from the current mayor-council form.

This issue was first broached in late March by Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, who said the conversion could be more efficient by leaving day-to-day administration to the manager. That would allow the mayor and council to focus on policy development.

In the existing mayor-council form of government, administrators have their duties delegated to them by the mayor. With a city manager, the mayor would be part of the City Council, with otherwise mostly ceremonial duties, while the manager would take on the chief executive role. With a city manager government, the mayor has the ability to vote on issues, as opposed to the current system, in which he can only vote in the case of a tie vote among council members.

Powers that would shift from the mayor to the manager would include the ability to hire and fire city staff, and set the budget.

To make the change, the council would have to pass a resolution calling for a special election.

While former Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commissioner Anne Corrock urged the council to pass such a resolution quickly so the new form would be in place for the city election in November. According to Idaho statute, the election would have to be held at least 60 days before then. If approved, the city manager form of government would allow a city council of between five and seven members.

However, the council members said that timeline would be too rushed, especially considering that Idaho Code requires that the city manager form of government be in place for a minimum of six years.

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"I'm interested in exploring the issue, but we've learned from (the proposal to merge Sun Valley and Ketchum) that moving too quickly can have the unintended consequence of taking the issue off the agenda forever," Councilman Larry Helzel said. "It would be gone for at least five years if it gets voted down, which would be a shame if we all thought it was a great idea."

In addition to Corrock, former Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon and resident Pam Colesworthy supported the idea.

Colesworthy said that by changing the form of government, the council would not have to deal with the "minutiae" of daily administration, giving it more time to focus on the "important stuff," such as creating new legislation, and would have a professional to handle the rest.

Hall praised current City Administrator Gary Marks for his work during the first nine months of his tenure in office and indicated that the city could benefit from the transition with Marks at the helm as manager.

Marks said that while he is not campaigning for a change in the form of government and is happy in his current role as administrator, he does think the switch could be beneficial.

"I think the city manager form is more efficient and takes the politics out of the administration of the city," said Marks, who has 16 years experience as a city manager, most recently in the resort town of Whitefish, Mont.

Not everyone in the crowd was in favor of the switch. Former City Administrator Jim Jaquet said the current mayor-council form has worked well for the past 30 years.

"Frankly, I didn't know we were broken," added Council President Baird Gourlay.

Gourlay and his fellow councilmen agreed that a more in-depth presentation on the differences between the two forms of government is needed, as well as an outreach program to educate residents on the potential impacts from the change.

Ketchum Community and Economy Development Director Lisa Horowitz said such a presentation would likely take place in early to mid-June.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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