Last week I responded to an anonymous letter mailed to Sun Valley voters which mischaracterized the truth and my service on the City Council for the past four years. I have prepared the following specific point by point answer to address the factual errors, and clarify the misrepresentations and distortions in that letter. You can then decide about the vitriolic conclusions the anonymous writer makes about me based on his/her mischaracterizations of the truth.
The anonymous writer claims I have “voted to give your money” away to my following “favorite special interests and charities”:
- “WREP” – WREP stands for Wood River Economic Partnership. On October 18, 2007 I, along with the rest of the Council, voted to enter into a Contract for Services with WREP to conduct specific economic development work for the City, with payments based on the progress of the work. They were unable to fulfill the contract and NO money was expended.
- “ARCH” – ARCH stands for Advocates for Real Community Housing. I have NEVER voted to give ARCH any money or enter into any Contract for Services with ARCH. However, I learned through my own review of the City’s finances in early 2008 that former Mayor Thorson gave money to ARCH in 2007 and 2006 without seeking Council approval, a violation of the City’s Community Support Grant Policy. I brought this and other violations to the attention of the City and Council as soon as they were discovered.
- “BCHA” – BCHA stands for Blaine County Housing Authority. The City of Sun Valley is a member of BCHA by virtue of a joint-powers agreement with the other cities in the valley and Blaine County. On November 11, 2006 I, along with the rest of the Council, voted to enter into a one-year contract with BCHA to manage and sell the workforce housing units created as a result of the Elkhorn Springs development and to conduct a needs assessment, along with the other joint-powers partners. Since then, I have not voted to continue that contract or any payments.
- “ERC” – ERC stands for Environmental Resource Center. On June 18, 2008 I voted, with a majority of the other Council members, to enter into a Contract for Services with the ERC to conduct an energy consumption analysis of all Sun Valley municipal operations for a total of $1,600. That study was presented to the Council and Mayor on February 19, 2009 and is now being implemented to save the City money. In my early 2008 investigation of former Mayor Thorson’s use of the City’s Community Support Grant fund, I found he had also given money to the ERC in 2007 without seeking Council approval, another violation of the City’s Community Support Grant Policy.
- “KART” – KART was the original name for the local bus service, now known as Mountain Rides. It also operates under a joint-powers agreement among the cities and Blaine County. The City of Sun Valley has funded the local bus service since its inception years ago with proceeds from the local option tax. I have voted to fund KART/Mountain Rides each year I have been on the City Council under a Contract for Service. Since I have been on the Council, I have worked each year to make that Contract for Service more accountable to the citizens of Sun Valley, which in turn makes the bus service better.
- “Sustain Blaine” – Sustain Blaine (also known as “GoBlaine!”) is a cooperative partnership of all local governments, numerous businesses, including the Sun Valley Company, and other non-governmental agencies working to develop and implement an economic development strategy for all of Blaine County, including Sun Valley. On June 19, 2008 I voted to enter into a Contract for Service with Sustain Blaine, administered by Blaine County, and then on January 15, 2009, based on good progress, I voted, along with the rest of the Council, to fund our share of the Contract to finish the strategy.
- “48 Straight” – 48 Straight is the name of the former “The Ski Tour” which was held on Dollar Mountain in 2007 and 2008. I NEVER voted to give The Ski Tour or 48 Straight any money. On December 13, 2006 I voted, along with the rest of the Council, to transfer money from the City’s contingency fund to the Police and Fire Departments to cover their anticipated costs associated with the event since this new event had not been anticipated during the normal budgeting process. On November 15, 2007 I voted, along with the rest of the Council, to enter into a Contract for Services with The Ski Tour to provide the same in-kind Police and Fire support for the 2008 event. It should be noted that the City of Sun Valley also provides the same in-kind Police and Fire support to events put on by the Sun Valley Company, the Special Olympics, and the like, all events which generate local option taxes.
- “Ketchum Chamber of Commerce” – The “Ketchum Chamber of Commerce” does not exist. The City of Sun Valley has entered into a Contract for Service with the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber and Visitors Bureau (SV/KCVB) for around 30 years. When I was first elected to the Council, I noticed the City of Sun Valley automatically gave the SV/KCVB 25% of the local option tax it collected. I have insisted that this practice end and we now have accountability in a Contract that is based on specific deliverables that are related to tourism marketing which benefits the value of our City.
- “Ketchum Parks and Recreation” – Ketchum Parks and Recreation is a Department of the City of Ketchum which primarily operates Atkinson’s Park and the children’s summer and winter recreation program located there. The City of Sun Valley has historically contracted with Ketchum Parks and Recreation for these municipal services, since we do not have a parks department. I have voted, along with the rest of the Council, for the past three years to enter into a Contract for Service with Ketchum Parks and Recreation to fund approximately 10% of the Recreation Program Fund, which matches the 10-12% program participation by Sun Valley children.
From my documented record above, it is clear I have not “voted to give your money” away to my “favorite special interests and charities” as the anonymous letter writer insists you must believe. Rather, I have voted with the majority of the Council only when it was appropriate to enter into written contracts for legitimate and accountable City purposes. The anonymous letter writer has no idea to which charities I write my personal checks.
The anonymous letter writer next claims I “promoted and supported” the following three ordinances:
- “The garbage ordinance” – I did support better recycling options for Sun Valley residents. However, it became immediately clear to me that the Ordinance originally proposed by the former Mayor and former City Administrator was not acceptable as written. I listened to the public comments through numerous public meetings and made sure changes were made to the Ordinance throughout the process. I also worked tirelessly behind the scenes to try to convince the City administration to be more receptive and proactive in regard to the citizens concerns, mostly without success. They literally ridiculed me for attempting to try to find solutions. I worked to eliminate the “mandatory” requirements of recycling and make it optional, while still including recycling with the price of your garbage collection. We were able to change the fee structure to the one the public demanded before any impact was felt by the citizens, even though the majority of residents would have actually had lower rates under the originally proposed fee structure. On February 21, 2008 I voted for the current garbage ordinance and rate fee resolution.
- “The mass and scale ordinance” – I voted to reject the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission to adopt the proposed residential mass and scale ordinance at the October 26, 2006 City Council meeting. I did so because there was serious confusion about the intent of the proposed ordinance, due to the fact that the City administration did a poor job explaining it to the public. It should be noted that existing City ordinances since the inception of Planning and Zoning have dictated the size of a house that can be built. These ordinances exist to protect your property rights from a neighbor building, for instance, a ten story, lot-line-to-lot-line, box house on the property next to yours. The existing ordinances do need some updating.
- “The workforce housing ordinance” – It should be noted that this ordinance was adopted by the City Council BEFORE I was elected to the Council. I objected to a significant change that City Council made to this ordinance from the recommendation they received from the Planning and Zoning Commission, on which I was serving at the time. The change made by that Council was responsible for significantly increasing the fees on small additions and remodels, and had an overall effect of raising other fees. Once I was a member of the Council, it became a priority of mine to correct that ordinance change, however I was unable to get support from a majority of the Council or the former Mayor.
Regarding my vote to appeal the District Court’s decision to the Supreme Court, the City had already invested considerable resources into the case, and the City Attorney advised the cost to appeal would be small. I made it clear in my vote that there were private individuals willing to fund the appeal and it would not have cost the City any money. Therefore, it was in no way a “disregard for managing the public’s money” as the anonymous letter writer put it, but rather a very prudent one.
You can judge for yourself if I am being a “social engineer who wants to dictate your life style” or a public servant looking out for what is best for the citizens.
In the last paragraph of the anonymous letter, the writer discusses the local option tax and makes several factually incorrect and irresponsible statements:
- The writer of the anonymous letter incorrectly misleads the reads as to the legislative intent of our local option tax (LOT) when he/she says it is to “provide property tax relief to residents.” In fact, the voters of Sun Valley expressly approved 11 uses for the LOT when they adopted the latest version in 2007. The eleven specific intended uses in the law include: administrative and legal expenses; economic development; fire protection; hospital support; land acquisition; law enforcement; municipal transportation; parks, trails and recreation; property tax relief; public information and education; and roads, buildings and grounds. The fact is the City spends the majority of its LOT receipts on roads, police and fire, all of which are impacted by tourism. All proceeds of the LOT are used for their intended purposes in the law, as we are required to do by the law. For the anonymous letter writer to boldly state that the LOT was not used for the intended purpose, as he does in his/her letter, is misleading and reckless. It gives you an example of just how irresponsible the rest of the letter truly is.
- As a footnote to point #1 above – the anonymous letter writer must not understand that by State law the only way LOT can be used for “property tax relief” is if the LOT proceeds are collected and not spent on any of the other 10 uses (Idaho Code 50-1045). That amount is then used to replace city property taxes in the ensuing fiscal year. Therefore the anonymous letter writer’s argument that the LOT should be used to “provide property tax relief” to residents would mean he/she would like the city not to spend the proceeds on things the voters approved it for, but instead give it back to him/her as a rebate on his/her property taxes.
- The anonymous letter writer contradicts himself/herself when he/she also suggests that virtually all the LOT should be spent fixing all the streets and roads throughout the City. It is not possible to generate enough tourist LOT revenue to completely rebuild all our streets and roads as the anonymous letter writer suggests, let alone consider using some of it for other purposes like fire and police. The prudent approach for major street and road rebuilding is through a capital improvement program, one the City has historically funded by other means. The suggestion and “urging” for a “property tax levee” (sic) has come from the City’s bond underwriter who may or may not present an idea to the City Council once a revised Capital Improvement Plan is finished. The City’s only outstanding debt, a general obligation bond being repaid with a special property tax levy will be fully repaid in 2011. Numerous factors would play into any decision the full Council would have to consider before deciding to ask the citizens to vote on any property tax levy. When questioned about possible ways to fund a Capital Improvement Program, I have mentioned the possibility of bonding, among others. The truth is I have actually urged the Council to slow down any consideration of bonding until we have a better understanding of all the variables. That is hardly urging on the Mayor and Council.
The mischaracterization of the truth and my service on the Council for the past four years by this anonymous letter, written by someone who doesn’t have the decency to even put his or her own name on the letter, speaks for itself.
The distortions of the truth and taking matters completely out of context in the name of “Better Government” through mean spirited personal attacks is something for which I believe the voters of Sun Valley have no use. Clearly it is a disservice to the citizens of our fine City.
These anonymous cowards may continue to spread their vitriol and misinformation. I am proud to stand by my record of public service. It is available for all to see at anytime. I only ask that you examine the public record, not one made up by some anonymous person or persons.