Seven candidates for two Ketchum City Council seats and two candidates for the mayor’s office debated an array of issues at a Pizza and Politics forum hosted by the Idaho Mountain Express Wednesday at the nexStage Theater.
Some 200 people turned out to first listen to the mayoral candidates, incumbent Randy Hall and challenger Nina Jonas, a current City Council member.
Hall said he believes Ketchum is a much better place since he took over as mayor, helping save the taxpayers $9 million in his two terms in office. He said he has ushered successful projects through and has visions for more in the future, including a whitewater park.
Jonas focused on her passion for Ketchum, drawing on her experiences as a City Council member.
“I’ve seen how government works, and I know how government should work,” Jonas said. “We will have faster and more streamlined decisions. I’d like to offer more collaboration with the local business community and the community as a whole for a more open government.”
Both candidates agreed that Ketchum needs to bring more affordable housing to the city in order to strengthen its workforce and bolster the local economy.
“In order for us to diversify our community, we’ve got to have affordable workplace housing,” Hall said. “Without it, our employers don’t have a labor pool to draw from. In order to have a healthy community, your employees need to live and work in the same community.”
Jonas said the city can be more directly involved in producing affordable housing.
“Providing housing for our community is super important,” Jonas said. “My suggestion is to take out a percentage from the general fund so we can get some monies going and not put it all on the developer.”
In terms of handling the city’s affairs, Jonas said she has been very open and transparent with her decisions and ideas on the council, while Hall defended his track record of openness with the public as mayor.
“I know there’s been criticism of me for making decisions behind closed doors, but that’s absolutely not true,” Hall said. “It’s my job to turn every stone and bring every idea that can help this community.”
Both Hall and Jonas agreed that the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance is in need of more funding. At Monday’s City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted in favor of providing the SVMA with $450,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
“The Marketing Alliance is starting to hit their stride in terms of measurables,” Hall said. “We need to continue to fund them at the same level and find new revenue streams.”
Jonas said, “SVMA funding is at a 15-year low and that’s because of the Sun Valley city contribution. I think the measurables show that they need to keep trying to help.”
At the end of their debate, Hall and Jonas each asked one question of each other. Hall accused Jonas of “flip-flopping” for voting against the Bald Mountain Lodge hotel and River Run annexation and still saying she is pro-growth, and asked her if she really was in favor of growing Ketchum’s infrastructure.
“I’m for pro-growth that is reasonable,” Jonas said. “I voted only for Hotel Ketchum. I voted against the Bald Mountain Lodge because what we need in our community is hotel rooms. The incentives for timeline A produced two floors of hotel rooms and two floors of condominiums. I came back and voted for it a year later because they later offered 75 percent hotel rooms and two floors of condominiums. What we need for our economy is hotel rooms. I was against the development and annexation that had to be voted on together because the agreement mostly supported second-home owners, which is not key to a sustainable economy.”
Jonas asked Hall why he didn’t collaborate more with the city of Sun Valley to co-fund the purchase of a new aerial-ladder fire truck.
“We don’t need a new ladder truck,” Hall said. “We have one that’s certified every year, is in tip-top shape and works very well. The argument of whether or not Sun Valley buys a ladder truck is entirely up to them. There’s absolutely no need to spend $1 million when we don’t need it.”
7 candidates for City Council
The Ketchum City Council debate featured three first-time candidates and three people who have previously run unsuccessfully for council, along with incumbent Councilman Baird Gourlay. Two seats are up for election, those of Gourlay and Jonas.
Two of the council candidates who have run before are hairstylist and former ski instructor Anne Corrock and longtime Planning and Zoning commissioner and clothing store owner Deborah Burns. Vietnam War veteran Mickey Garcia made his 10th consecutive run for office wearing a T-shirt that said, “Politicians are like diapers. Both must be changed for the same reason.”
The three council candidates running for the first time are also the three youngest candidates. They are attorney Amanda Breen, Ketchum Community Library information systems director Aaron Pearson and online journalist Brennan Rego.
Many of the candidates spent their opening remarks talking about their passion for the city of Ketchum, their public service experience and family ties to the area. Several candidates gave unique reasons for running.
“I’m running because I’m excited about the new infrastructure projects and some of the other developments that are coming out,” Breen said. “I believe at this time it is imperative that we have professionals who have the business and legal experience to make the hard decisions that will keep this economy moving forward at this time.”
Longtime Ketchum resident Deborah Burns said she wants to build the City Council into an open and responsive leadership team.
Former Mountain Express reporter Brennan Rego said he chose to run because he was “heartbroken” by the stories he wrote on city politics.
Each candidate agreed that improving the local economy is Ketchum’s biggest issue, while different candidates offered a variety of suggestions on how to do so.
“The way I see improving the economy is that we don’t view it as choosing between tourism or diversification,” Pearson said. “It’s both; it’s all of the above, all of the time.”
Corrock said the government is limited in what it can do to improve the local economy.
“Government doesn’t really rule the economy; we can only be a guide,” she said. “It’s time we hire locally for our own city government. Our form-based code needs improvements so we can encourage development in the downtown area.”
Garcia said an important part of strengthening the economy is bringing more young people to live and work in Ketchum.
“The young people have the most skin in the game to diversify a sustainable economy,” Garcia said.
Pearson stressed the importance of improving the city’s infrastructure and diversification as cornerstones of improving Ketchum’s economy.
“We need to diversify the economy and decrease dependence on tourism,” Pearson said. “We will always be a tourist town, but we can be a tourist town-plus. That’s the most vibrant economy I can imagine.”
Burns also said the city needs more young residents and described the shoulder seasons as “just too hard to bear.”
The debate also featured each candidate addressing the importance of adding affordable housing.
“Affordable housing is very important to make living and working here more attractive,” Rego said. “The more people you get in, the more results you’ll get.”
Gourlay agreed, saying, “We need to have as much housing as we can possibly have.”
Several of the candidates also emphasized the importance of funding the Marketing Alliance.
“Marketing takes a lot of patience, and a lot of money,” Burns said. “We don’t have a lot of money, and we don’t have a lot of time. I think that because of the scant amount of money, the marketing looks at the technical part, and I think it needs more business influence.”
Breen was also adamant of the need to bolster the organization’s funding.
“The Marketing Alliance needs a lot more money,” Breen said. “We are way behind our competitors on our marketing budget. We need to collaborate closely with the city of Sun Valley to increase funding and see if we can find more state funding for the Marketing Alliance.”
The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Unregistered voters that are Ketchum residents are allowed to register and vote on Election Day.
Eric Avissar: firstname.lastname@example.org