Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A streetlight named dysfunction

How one junction became a symbol for a city’s politics

Express Staff Writer

    “We’re starting to be the laughingstock,” said Sun Valley Councilman Franz Suhadolnik at a City Council meeting on Thursday, June 6. “My neighbor says, ‘What’s wrong with you guys? Can’t you make a decision?’”
    Suhadolnik offered that comment during a nearly three-hour discussion over whether an intersection in the city should receive safety improvements, whether the mayor and two council members should recuse themselves from voting on the issue and whether a recently installed streetlight there (that was subsequently turned off) should be switched back on or modified.
    The city has waffled on the issue since October.
    Following the discussion, the council unanimously and with no recusals chose to modify the junction of Elkhorn and Juniper roads, including shaving a portion of a nearby ridge to increase the line of sight for those approaching the crossroads. The council also chose to add a “Stop Ahead” caution sign on Juniper Road, to the east of the bike path crossing.
    Lastly, the council opted to tweak the streetlight (which cost about $6,500 to purchase and install) so that it merely indicates where the intersection is as opposed to also illuminating it for safety reasons. Some residents have said at previous council meetings that the light is too bright and does not comply with the spirit of the city’s “dark sky” ordinance. Technically, it does, but the city will dim it nonetheless.
    Mayor Dewayne Briscoe repeatedly asked the council members to vote before they actually did so. Several residents present at the meeting muttered that the council seemed unable to make a decision.
    The discussion appeared to be a microcosm of a small-town political meltdown that’s been ravaging the city since personnel issues involving officials, department heads and staff members erupted in late 2011. Since then, the council (after an administration change from former Mayor Wayne Willich to Mayor Dewayne Briscoe) has become nearly gridlocked, spending countless hours at meetings fixating on correcting grammar instead of taking action on the city’s business.
    Some residents have expressed frustration toward the council, especially concerning the issue of the intersection.
    “This letter is written to express my strong objection to any further participation by Councilmembers [Nils] Ribi, Suhadolnik and Mayor Briscoe in the matter of the proposed augmentations to the intersection of Juniper Road and Elkhorn Road,” writes resident Suzanne Hazlett in a letter dated April 25 and sent to Council President Bob Youngman
    The Idaho Mountain Express published the full letter in its May 22 issue.
    Hazlett wrote that Ribi and Suhadolnik maintain residences accessed via Juniper Road and that Briscoe is “engaged to be married to a resident” who maintains such a residence. But City Attorney Adam King said at the meeting that an official must be in a position to receive a “direct pecuniary benefit” based on a decision he or she makes for it to qualify as a conflict of interest.
    “I’m certainly not aware of a private pecuniary gain to any council members,” he said.
    The council is expected to discuss the proposed improvements again, including a more detailed plan for the light, at its next regular meeting on July 3.

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