Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ketchum to decide form of government

Voters also will select 5 potential council members

Express Staff Writer

An issue that has been years in the making, Ketchum's form of government, will finally go before voters next week.

Ketchum residents will see a ballot that includes an initiative to change from a strong-mayor form to a council-manager form, as well as a slate of candidates hoping to fill the council seats.

Under a strong-mayor form of government, the administrative head of a city is the mayor, who is elected by citizens and is responsible for creating a budget, hiring and dismissing staff and other duties.

In the council-manager form of government, the mayor's power is diminished in favor of a more powerful city manager, who is hired not elected, and who carries out all administrative functions.

Although the current mayor and council were elected under the strong-mayor form, City Administrator Gary Marks has previously said the city functionally is at about 80 percent on the spectrum towards the council-manager form, and so like a hybrid of the two forms.

Supporters for the change, including Ketchum Committee for Better Government co-founders Anne Corrock and Ed Simon, say ensuring that administrative powers are left to a city manager warrant a formal and complete change of government type.

This summer, Corrock led an initiative petition drive that placed the matter on the November ballot, arguing that the council-manager form would bring more professionalism to government.

Simon, a former Ketchum mayor, said it would present a "more effective, more efficient" system for the city.

"It will enable elected officials to do what they do best, which is to reflect the will of the voters in the policy decisions that they make," he said.

The system leaves the hiring and dismissing of staff to the city manager, which Simon says is more fair.

"It really depoliticizes a lot of issues that come before the city," he said.

Some opponents, however, say politics is behind the entire effort.

Councilman Larry Helzel has referred to the effort as a "very thinly disguised recall." Corrock was involved in an effort to recall Mayor Randy Hall in 2008.

Ketchum businessman and developer Jack Bariteau called it a "deceptive effort to turn the tables on the elected officials who consistently disagree with their opinions."

All current elected city officials are running for re-election, against more than a half dozen challengers.

Simon said people can vote for the current council members and mayor if they are satisfied with them.

Wood River Economic Partnership, a nonprofit business advocacy and education group, came out against the change.

"The theoretical arguments put forward by the proponents about more efficient government, less politics, more transparency, etc., don't hold up in reality," Doug Brown, Ketchum resident and executive director of WREP, said in a written statement. "In fact, the current council has a strong record of accomplishment in reducing both the size and cost of our city government."

WREP, along with developers such as Bariteau and Wally Huffman, director of resorts and resort development for Sun Valley Co., said a change in government would create uncertainty at a time when the city desperately needs investment.

In the running

In conjunction with the proposition, voters also will be asked to choose five council members who will serve if the measure passes. The top five vote-getters will be elected. The top three will serve four-year terms; the next two will serve two-year terms.

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

Bill White filed to run but announced in October that he decided against seeking office. Ballots had already been printed with his name.

If the council-manager form is not approved, all current council members and the mayor will keep their seats; according to state law, the election results would be invalidated.

An election for the two seats that would have been up for vote had the form of government issue not appeared on the ballot—those held by Curtis Kemp and Larry Helzel—would be held in May.

Rebecca Meany:

Yes or no?

Ketchum voters will be asked on Nov. 8, "Shall the City of Ketchum, Idaho, adopt the council-manager plan of government as set forth in Sections 50-801 through 50-812, Idaho Code?" For more information on the forms of government, visit the city of Ketchum website, Under City Departments, click on City Clerk, then Election Information, then open the PDF "Council manager form of government." All Ketchum residents vote at Hemingway Elementary School on Nov. 8. Polling will open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

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