Friday, October 14, 2011

Candidates face off on government form

Most challengers support council-manager system


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum resident Anne Corrock, who was behind the initiative petition to put the council-manager form of government question on the November ballot, provides introductory remarks at a candidates’ forum Wednesday at City Hall hosted by her group, Ketchum Committee for Better Government. Photo by David N. Seelig

A distinction is becoming ever more evident regarding which candidates for Ketchum City Council seats favor the current strong-mayor form of government and which support the council-manager form. Council hopefuls provided further reasoning for their opinions at a meet-the-candidates forum Wednesday.

More than 40 people attended the event at Ketchum City Hall, which was organized by the Ketchum Committee for Better Government. The group, launched by residents Anne Corrock and Ed Simon, has advocated for a change to the council-manager form of government.

Under the strong-mayor form, a mayor is the city's administrative officer and is elected by citizens. The system employs a professional city administrator, but ultimately administrative decisions rest with the mayor.

Under the council-manager system, the mayor's position is lessened because the executive branch of government shifts from the mayor to a professional city manager.

Twelve candidates are running for five council seats: Challengers Jim Slanetz, Neil Morrow, Mickey Garcia, Bob Kesting, Phyllis Shafran, Chip Bailey and Bill Marshall—and incumbents Curtis Kemp, Nina Jonas, Baird Gourlay, Larry Helzel and Mayor Randy Hall.

Gourlay said citizens may have a hard time deciding which is the better system for Ketchum because much of the information has been filtered through political campaigns, not impartial public forums.

He listed accomplishments of the current council as evidence of the merits of the current system.

Garcia said he supports the council-manager form because it makes the City Council a board of directors of a municipal corporation. He called the system "more efficient."

Slanetz also said the council-manager form would be more efficient and less political.

"What we have right now does seem to create a disproportionate amount of conflict," he said. "It does seem a bit dysfunctional right now."

Shafran, too, said politics would be minimized in a council-manager system.

"It divorces policy from politics," she said, adding that it would offer more stability to government.

Morrow supports a council-manager form of government, saying he also believes that a city manager system would reduce the politics in municipal government. But, he said, "no one is saying there won't be any politics in this town."

Jonas also said government could be depoliticized with a council-manager system and touted the stabilizing effect it could have. City employees, she said, wouldn't have to get to know a new boss each time a new mayor is elected.

Bailey compared the council-manager form to a company, wherein the city manager is a CEO, rather than a mayor, who may change every four years. He also said city staff and services could benefit.

"Those things can all run much more smoothly," he said.

Kesting admitted to being "somewhat conflicted," saying a good argument could be made for each form of government. His preference for keeping the current system stems from concern that a complete transformation would be too disruptive to the development of Ketchum, especially to hotel developers, whose projects would offer a boon for the city.

Helzel, who was out of town Wednesday, said in a written statement provided to the Idaho Mountain Express that the council-manager system can have benefits, but not to a city like Ketchum.

"Ketchum's operation is neither large nor complex nor politicized," he said. "In Ketchum's case, changing the form of government ... would not improve the operations. The systems and procedures that (City Administrator) Gary Marks has installed have already accomplished that goal."

Kemp, who also was out of town Wednesday, provided the Express with a written statement on changing forms of government.

"The only reason for making such a change would be a readily discernable flaw in the existing system," he said. "There is no flaw in the current form of government. If the citizenry has a problem with the policy-making decisions of the Mayor or Council, there already exists a system for dealing with that."

Mayor Randy Hall said he was not able to attend because he was at work. In a written statement provided to the Express, he said the council-manager form works better in bigger towns.

"Conversely, the council-manager form does not work well in communities under 5,000," he said. "This is because in smaller towns the community wants to hold accountable an elected mayor over an appointed city employee."

Marshall did not attend Wednesday's event nor did he respond by press time to an e-mail seeking comment on the issue.

The election is Nov. 8.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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