Friday, October 21, 2011

Ketchum candidates make one more pitch

11 face off in Pizza and Politics forum

Express Staff Writer

Issues other than a potential change of government and hotel development competed for attention during the kickoff Pizza and Politics forum Wednesday, featuring candidates for Ketchum City Council.

About 80 people attended the event at the nexStage Theatre on Main Street. The forums are sponsored by the Idaho Mountain Express to bring candidates to the people and bring people's questions to the candidates.

Twelve people have filed to run for Ketchum City Council seats: Challengers Jim Slanetz, Chip Bailey, Bob Kesting, Mickey Garcia, Phyllis Shafran, Neil Morrow and Bill Marshall, as well as incumbents Mayor Randy Hall, Nina Jonas, Larry Helzel, Curtis Kemp and Baird Gourlay.

Marshall did not attend the forum.

Candidates in attendance reiterated their stances on the change-of-government issue, which will come before voters on Election Day.

"The most important thing about this election is you not be confused," Garcia said, adding that individual candidates are of secondary importance to understanding, and voting for, the council-manager form of government.

The current council was elected under the strong-mayor form of government.

While most candidates said they would be content or willing to serve under either type of government, Gourlay said he would serve but would be greatly disappointed if the system changed.

"I'm not up here to try and save my job," he said. "I think (switching) would be a mistake. I'd serve, but I think it'd be a mistake."

He read a list of accomplishments the sitting council influenced, including the visitor center, Fourth Street corridor and the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival.

Slanetz, owner of the Board Bin for nearly two decades, said he's not running because he thinks the current council has done a bad job, but rather because he feels his experience can help "make Ketchum a fun, sustainable, vibrant community."

Tourism is a defining characteristic as well as the lifeblood of the community, according to many of the candidates, who pinned their hopes on that industry for economic recovery.

"Our basic business here is tourism," Kemp said.

He argued for an "aggressive" approach to funding marketing efforts.

Kesting also called for an "outstanding effort" to promote the area, and reiterated his belief that development can pave the way for an economic rebound.

"We need to do everything we can to promote our wonderful assets," he said, adding that Ketchum should be "a place where the word 'developer' has no negative connotation."

Bailey, a Blaine County planning and zoning commissioner and former Ketchum building official, touted his experience in building as well as what he said was the other prominent industry in the valley—skiing.

"I believe we can make Ketchum the community its residents want it to be," he said.

Candidates debated the need for more hotels, with some saying there are too many empty rooms right now.

Morrow said four- or five-star hotels would appeal to a different demographic.

"We need this kind of product," he said, adding that other resort destinations have luxury hotels that draw a desirable, high-end visitor.


"I'm not convinced we're going to fill a five-star hotel," Bailey said.

Jonas said other issues are important, not just hotel development. She hopes to diversify the economy so people can find jobs and build a life here. She said diversity would draw tourists as well.

"It goes beyond skiing and golfing," she said. "There's an amazing amount of amenities here."

Shafran, who worked as an accountant in the movie industry, said her financial background would be an asset to the city.

"I'm very good with financial and fiduciary duties," she said.

She added that she wants the city to "get after" Sun Valley to pony up more money for the valley's marketing efforts. The cities recently clashed about how much Sun Valley should contribute to the joint effort supporting the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.

Hall said Ketchum's support this fiscal year of $450,000 was the right amount.

"It's key to maximizing the assets that we have right now," he said.

He also said the city's approach to increasing tourism is the right way to boost the economy and sustain the community, even though some residents don't like the impact visitors and associated development have.

Helzel said Ketchum's issues can be boiled down to two main problems: lack of demand and lack of capital investment. To address those challenges, he advocated for continued investment in the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance and creation of recreational amenities such as a whitewater park.

Candidates were split on the topic of affordable housing. Some said the city should be active in supporting such housing options, while others said there is a glut of available homes already.

Garcia said whatever existing inventory is considered "affordable" isn't really affordable to all the people who ride the bus from the south valley each day for work.

Helzel predicted that the discussion of affordable housing will be "the most contentious issue in the valley" next year.

Harmony existed for a brief moment during responses to a question about local-option taxes.

The LOT ordinance is up for renewal this November, and all candidates said they support its extension.

"I think that's the first time Mickey, Phyllis and I have agreed on anything," Gourlay said.

The three candidates frequently butt heads over issues.

Candidates' diverse views didn't obscure their underlying motivations for running.

"This is a great place," Morrow said. "I'd like to continue making it better."

The election is Nov. 8.

Rebecca Meany:

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