Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ketchum candidates crop up

3 contenders vie for mayoral position; 5 more want City Council seats

Express Staff Writer

Randy Hall Mickey Garcia Phyllis Shafran Ed Simon Baird Gourlay

Ketchum has its share of candidates this year, with three applicants running for mayor and five vying for two City Council seats.

And there could be more to come with political hopefuls having until 5:30 p.m. Friday to throw their hats into the ring for the Nov. 3 election.

Incumbent Mayor Randy Hall formally announced on Monday that he will seek to keep his office. He'll be up against Mickey Garcia—who has previously run for Ketchum mayor, Ketchum City Council and Blaine County Commission—and Phyllis Shafran, mother of former Ketchum Councilman Steve Shafran and a regular at City Hall.

As for Ketchum City Council, two of its four seats are up for grabs. Councilman Charles Conn has chosen not to seek re-election. Council President Baird Gourlay, on the other hand, wants to stay in his chair. To keep it, he'll need to fight off resident Lee Chubb, Clarion Inn owner Peter Lewis, former Mayor Ed Simon and Rickshaw restaurant owner Nina Jonas.

The council election is "open," meaning candidates aren't fighting for either Gourlay's or Conn's seats. They're all against each other, with the two highest vote-takers winning.

The race for mayor

Incumbent Hall, 50, said he's running for a second term to finish what he started four years ago.

"I want to see some projects through," he said, adding that a new mayor wouldn't have the experience and intimate knowledge of the ongoing projects that he does. "Having the experience really helps."

Those projects include what he described as daily oversight of the city's budget, annexation and development of River Run, and the completion of the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor.

The Fourth Street project is an effort of the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency, which receives a portion of property tax increases that occur through new development and inflation and use it for infrastructure improvements. The project has caused some controversy after accruing $1 million in debt. The debt is only a portion of the $5.56 million the URA owes in outstanding loans for development projects in the city.

Hall said the debt isn't something to fret about.

"The debt is within reason," he said. "It's necessary to build capacity within our region."

The improvements made to the city will ultimately pay for themselves, Hall contends.

Hall said he had not yet developed a specific platform.

"I want to collectively develop a plan by talking to people and seeing what they want for the next four years," he said.

Candidate Phyllis Shafran thinks Hall and the City Council don't do just that—listen.

Shafran, 72, has often spoken at public hearings and questioned the city's handling of the budget and Ketchum's contract for service with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. She said she was time and time again told, "Don't worry about it." People aren't coming to meetings because their opinions aren't welcomed, she contends.

"I feel that almost everything that has happened has been a done deal," she said.


She said that needs to change.

"I'm going to listen to them, not put them off," Shafran said. "I'm not going to say, 'You only have three minutes.'"

Shafran says she is well equipped to deal with a budget.

"I've been dealing with money all my life," she said.

She is a bookkeeper and for 10 years was a production accountant for movies.

"I was responsible for every penny spent on that set," she said.

Garcia shares Shafran's frustrations with an allegedly close-minded city government, and also wants to make it operate more transparently. But he said his main goal is something else entirely.

"If I have anything to say, I want to try to make room for the young people to live here," he said.

Garcia, 66, has lived here for 25 years and has seen "the affordable-housing effort go nowhere fast."

He said that in the last 20 years, the town has lost 500 places to live. He said those who do move here are retired and upper class, and resistant to change.

"They're not just the most recent settlers," Garcia said, "but want to be the last settlers."

And, he said, they don't want to pay taxes to house "ski bums." Garcia describes that mentality as "obstructionist," and said it's preventing the town from growing into a place where people can live and not just vacation. Garcia describes himself as the opposite of obstructionist. He's pro development, he said.

The City Council race

Council President Baird Gourlay, 51, is defending his seat for the same reason as Hall—to continue what he started.

"A tremendous amount of issues are in front of us right now," he said. "The community is invested in me, so I'm going to give back."

Gourlay said the city needs to constantly revisit its spending and decreased revenue, and make efforts to be more energy efficient. He said the city's heating, electric and water bills can be trimmed and that new technologies such as solar panels will be looked into.

He said he'll also tackle long-term issues such as the city's comprehensive plan, which is re-evaluated every 10 years. That time has come. Another hot issue is airport relocation, and he said Ketchum needs to have a voice in the decisions.

"That's going to be the largest coming investment for the county," Gourlay said.

Gourlay has spent three terms on the council and said that even though the poor economy has slowed progress during his current term, success was had with the completion of the Wood River YMCA and the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor. He said he'd like to continue building on that by keeping people employed and businesses healthy. Development of River Run will help with that, he said.

Unlike Gourlay, City Council candidate Ed Simon isn't so quick to call the Fourth Street project a success.

"The city is in a dire financial place because it spent urban renewal money it didn't have," he said.

The URA is now refinancing the $5.5 million it owes, but, Simon contended, that doesn't solve a thing.

"All they're doing is paying their Mastercard with their Visa," he said.

Simon, who was recalled from his council seat in 1992 and later elected mayor in 2001, recently spoke against the city's contract for service with the Blaine County Sheriff's Office. He's frequently gone to council meetings and has been critical of decisions made by the current administration, but said the council doesn't listen. It's time for a change, he said.

"When you get up and talk (at public hearings), there's the perception if not the reality that no one's listening," Simon said.

It's an opinion shared by a number of the non-incumbents up for Ketchum city office. Like them, one of Simon's main goals is to change that.

As for the remaining three council candidates, Chubb couldn't be contacted. Lewis and Jonas were contacted but didn't reply by press time Tuesday.

Trevon Milliard:

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