Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Express election endorsements

Every election season, the Express offers endorsements in contested elections as a way to help voters.

In making endorsements, the newspaper looks carefully at the candidates' positions as expressed in their campaigns.

This year, we looked for the following: 1) broad knowledge of local issues, 2) open minds about the future location of Friedman Airport, 3) commitment to investing in local infrastructure and economic development, 4) knowledge of the wide spectrum of local interests, 5) the ability to work with people with divergent opinions and styles, and 6) willingness to act even when faced with opposition.

Voters have a wealth of candidates from which to choose. They should choose carefully. It's a critical time.

Sun Valley

For mayor: DeWayne Briscoe

Briscoe has given up his council seat to challenge incumbent Mayor Wayne Willich. Briscoe's gentler and more polite approach to politics contrasts with the rough, no-holds-barred approach that Willich has used to engage in combat with groups and individuals inside and outside the city. Briscoe has a high tolerance for divergent opinions and a propensity for civil discourse, and has demonstrated skill in constructing healthy compromises. Even so, he's no pushover when it comes to city interests. He knows the city is not an island and that to operate as such is detrimental.

For City Council: Joan Lamb

This incumbent is running a write-in campaign because her nomination petition fell short when signed by an unregistered voter. A write-in campaign is a steep hill to climb, but voters should bring her back. She has a strong background in investment and business and is the council's better angel when hotter heads barrel down the road of disengagement with other communities. She's gracious and persistent in balancing budget realities with city needs even when faced with intractability and outright rudeness. Her four years on the Planning and Zoning Commission also recommend her.

For City Council: Michelle Griffith

A former derivatives trader and the executive director of ARCH, a nonprofit dedicated to making sure the area has enough worker housing, Griffith is a newcomer to city politics. With a background in economics, she would be a good addition to the council, though she would need some history lessons in planning and zoning issues and the city's influence on the local economy. She seems to understand that investments in infrastructure can boost the economy and protect voters' property values at the same time.

$14 million bond issue for capital improvements: Yes

Eighty-five percent of the money would be used to rebuild and restore deteriorating city roads and paths. The rest would pay for half of a new aerial-tower fire truck, with Ketchum sharing the cost, and new emergency radios. The truck would replace an old one that will soon be obsolete. Property owners would pay 50 cents per $1,000 in valuation or $500 per year on a $1 million property for five years.

Unless residents want to tolerate the risk of greater fire damage and insurance increases, and see roads and paths revert to rubble, this bond is essential.


Change to a council-manager form of government?: No

The city should retain its strong-mayor and council model and reject a city-manager system of government. Claims by supporters that it would make governance less political are magical thinking in a city that characteristically welcomes vigorous debate. Doing away with the mayor's responsibilities would be to decapitate the administrative branch of local government and spread accountability for city operations and policy thinly among five council members. That's a recipe for citizen frustration, not empowerment.

Defeat of the change in government would mean that the current mayor and council members would serve out their terms of office. While no one ever agrees with everything a mayor and council do, incumbents Mayor Randy Hall and council members Baird Gourlay, Curtis Kemp, Larry Helzel and Nina Jonas have brought innovation, sensible economic and land planning, marketing initiatives and infrastructure development to a city that had sat on its hands for a couple of decades. They should be retained in office.

Renew 1 percent local-option sales tax?: Yes

Extending the existing broad-based 1 percent local sales tax for 15 more years is a no-brainer. The resort city tax is collected on lodging, alcoholic beverages and retail sales except for groceries and motor vehicles. Revenues are used for transportation, open space acquisition and recreation, roads, water, sewer, parking, the Ore Wagon Museum, marketing, visitor information and events, and property tax relief. The revenues make Ketchum a better place to visit, to live and to work. It relieves the tax load on property owners. It wouldn't be the same town without the tax that is largely paid by visitors.


For mayor: Rick Davis

This incumbent understands the dilemma the city is in relative to the airport. Instead of drawing a line in the sand on the question of expansion in place vs. relocation as other candidates have, he wants to wait to hear from Hailey residents after in-place expansion options are fleshed out. When critics assert that the airport bruises Hailey's quality of life, Davis says that quality of life begins with a job. That's a good place to start in these troubled economic times. This born-and-raised Hailey man understands the city at a granular level, eschews top-down management and gives council members a lot of leeway.

For City Council: Pat Cooley

As a 22-year resident with five years of service on the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission, Cooley would be a good addition to the council. He works for the city of Ketchum, lives in Woodside and would provide a missing viewpoint from a big neighborhood that needs help with traffic issues. His in-depth grasp of the city's economic, infrastructure and development issues comes with practical ideas to address them. He's unapologetic about charging development fees. His easygoing, sensible approach will be an asset as the city faces the toughest issues in decades.

Shall Hailey ban the use of plastic grocery bags? No

While figuring out how to live with less damage to our land, water and air is a worthwhile endeavor, the move to ban plastic grocery bags will have consequences that will defeat its purpose. Paper bags have a greater negative impact on the environment and cost retailers more even though they degrade in a far shorter time. The additional cost will show up in higher prices for food and goods. In communities that banned plastic bags, studies found that instead of reusing grocery bags, consumers increased purchases of plastic wastebasket liners by 400 percent.

Plastic bags are the tip of an environmental iceberg that will require far more than a feel-good ban on bags to avoid.


For City Council: Dave Hattula

Now a seasoned veteran of the council, Hattula knows where the dollars are—and aren't—in the always cash-strapped city. Instead of whining about the city's condition, he helped reorganize staff, expand the city's hours of operation, strike a contract for police services with Hailey and draft a fire bond issue to put the city in better economic shape. Voters should welcome him back to office.

For City Council: Janet Duffy

Appointed to a vacant seat on the council in May, Duffy wasted no time in applying her background in research science to city affairs. She's focused on squeezing more out of less, but is clear-eyed about the city's financial resources. She's proud of saving the city money in a new police contract and has more than enough energy and creative ideas to devote to building jobs, families and the economy.

For City Council: Shaun Mahoney

This veteran official wants to return to the council to ensure it's hearing from businesses. That, his previous experience with the city and his ongoing good humor in the face of the city's dismal finances are prime reasons to return him to office. He could bridge the gap between the public and a council that today is focused more on nuts and bolts than on the handholding that constituents sometimes need.

$375,000 fire bond issue: Yes

The city needs new equipment and a new firehouse whether or not it ever consolidates fire services. Today's firehouse was once a lambing shed. It's tiny and rickety. The city is buying a 3,300-square-foot building in central Bellevue to replace it.

The bond would cost residents $16.80 per year per $100,000 of taxable property value. It would buy a new pumper truck for $300,000, additional land for a new fire station for $65,000 and equipment upgrades for $10,000. The city owns two pumper trucks that are more than 20 years old, which makes them ready for replacement, and a 1995 brush truck with a foam unit. Pretty skimpy when a house is on fire.

Say yes to reduce fire risk and to keep insurance rates in check. It's a wise investment.

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