The issue of when Ketchum residents might vote on a new form of city government is generating almost as much discussion as if they should.
Ketchum currently operates under a "strong mayor" form of government, wherein a citizen-elected mayor is the city's chief administrative officer. In the council-manager form now being debated, the administrative chief is a hired city manager.
Prompted by comments made by Ketchum resident Anne Corrock, City Council members during their meeting Monday voiced support for the creation of a committee to educate and inform the public about the council-manager form of municipal government. Corrock had previously expressed interest in being on such a committee. On Monday, Mayor Randy Hall said the city would like to see her serve in that capacity.
The council was prepared to direct staff to write a resolution defining and adopting the formation of a committee that would help inform the debate and determine when or if the issue should go to voters. Following information presented by Corrock, however, they decided to postpone that action.
Corrock told the council she is involved in a petition drive to get the council-manager form of government on the November ballot. Voters would then have the option to change or keep their form of government.
Hall and Councilman Larry Helzel expressed concern that if a person is working on a petition drive for a ballot issue while at the same time serving on a committee to study the timing and feasibility of the issue, it could present a potential conflict of interest, or at least might lead to confusion among the public.
"What's a poor voter to do?" Helzel asked. Why create confusion, he added, "when the objective is clarity?"
Corrock disagreed, saying a petition drive could help inform the public.
"It's part of the education process," she said. "I think they'll both be working in the same direction."
Petition-drive advocates hope to put the question to voters during November's general election. Voter turnout is usually higher in general elections.
Even if the issue gets on the ballot, it would likely be challenged, said City Attorney Stephanie Bonney.
The way Idaho law is written, a change in municipal government is difficult to implement—and may be open to dispute.
"It's just setting yourself up for a legal challenge," she said.
Helzel advocated for a "patient and well-informed" process, and said that waiting for a later election date, such as May 2012, would allow for a thorough public discussion of the issue. He said it would also give more time for review of Idaho code and how proponents could amend state law to better accommodate a change in city government.
"We should take time to build consensus one way or another," he said.
However, he admitted that Corrock had reason to be suspicious of a slower approach. City officials two years ago said they would pursue the issue but took no action to further the discussion.
"We were totally distracted with lots of other things," Helzel said in an interview. "The time wasn't right. Now, it's a different picture."
The council is scheduled to discuss the issue again at a special meeting on Tuesday, May 31.
Rebecca Meany: firstname.lastname@example.org