Two veteran Hailey City Council members touted their accomplishments Wednesday night at the Pizza and Politics political forum in Hailey, while two challengers eager to win their seats called for new ideas and a revamp of some city policies.
In the process, a clear line emerged between incumbents Don Keirn and Martha Burke, with five and four terms served, respectively, and challengers Geoffrey Moore and Walt Denekas.
Denekas is a two-year resident of Hailey who works as chief financial officer of Marketron, a software company with a major office in Hailey. Moore is a construction foreman and six-year member of the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission.
Moore and Denekas called for a reconsideration of the city’s development-impact fees, which require developers to bear the brunt of a project’s financial impacts on city services.
The challengers also raised concerns about the city’s water consumption, even as the council is implementing fee structures to encourage conservation among ratepayers.
All four candidates expressed support for the proposed 1 percent local option tax increase to support commercial air service, and praised the work of Community Development Director Micah Austin for attracting new businesses to town.
Burke, who is facing off against Denekas for seat No. 1 on the council, said her top priorities are to team up with a Blaine County road levy to rebuild city roads, and seek voter approval for a bond (which could exceed $5 million) to rebuild a portion of the city’s sewer plant.
Denekas said his priority would be to attract businesses, especially high-paying technology jobs, by speeding up the process of development applications at City Hall. He alleged that the current City Council is known for “rubber stamping” the agenda of Mayor Fritz Haemmerle. Burke said she respects the mayor but has consistently voted as an individual.
Denekas also criticized Burke and the rest of the council for not establishing legal guarantees during negotiations with Old Cutters developer John Campbell. He said he would have safeguarded the city’s financial interests in a deal that has been ruled illegal by a federal court.
The ruling left Hailey with $2.5 million in unpaid annexation fees and 20 affordable-housing units that could never be used by the city.
Burke defended the city’s negotiation with Old Cutters, saying the appeals process would likely overturn the ruling under the Idaho Land Use Planning Act. In addition, she said, the proper legal protections were put in place by the city.
“We [Hailey] did everything right,” Burke said.
Denekas claimed that the federal government exacerbated the effects of the recession by passing the Dodd Frank Act (for financial regulation) and the Affordable Health Care Act. Burke, meanwhile, repeatedly stated that she has the experience and long-term knowledge of Hailey issues to escort the city into better times.
Denekas suggested accommodating potential business developers by negotiating the development-impact fees down so they are not an “insurmountable obstacle.”
“Hailey zoning is a nightmare,” said Denekas, who upon further questioning offered no concrete plans to change the city’s zoning laws.
Denekas described the new Hailey Rodeo Arena as “ugly,” whereas Burke defended the development, saying 70 percent of Hailey voters supported the $3.5 million project in a bond election.
Both candidates said they would work to expand broadband telecommunications access in the south valley, and find mitigation solutions to reduce the impact of airline noise.
Geoffrey Moore, who is running against incumbent Don Keirn for seat No. 2, said he would bring a “fresh” perspective to the City Council.
“The majority of the council has been working together for so long they have lost their individual thinking,” Moore said. He called for a “modification” of the city’s development-impact fees, which he said “hurt the city.”
Moore also called for a reassessment of the city’s capital improvement plans, which are expected to require bonds and other taxpayer support in order to move forward.
Keirn said he would continue to prioritize rebuilding the sewer plant and increasing water conservation, while using his extensive background in private and public development to solve problems and bring new ideas to City Hall.
“I get up every morning with a fresh perspective,” Keirn said.
Keirn said no new annexations should be considered by the city until the case with Old Cutters is finally adjudicated, but that he would eventually consider individual annexations based on their specific merits.
Moore said if an annexation did not cost the city anything, and brought amenities, he would support it, but he said he would be against both Quigley Canyon and Old Cutters today.
Moore said the City Council was not responsive to ratepayer reaction when water rates were increased to pay for engineering plans to upgrade the sewer plant.
“Citizens came unglued,” Moore said. “The City Council does not prioritize its needs.
Keirn said he disagreed, “180 degrees.”
“We do debate and prioritize,” Keirn said.
Moore and Keirn agreed that Fire Department consolidation in the south valley would cost Hailey tax-payers, and were therefore against it, but Keirn said “merging” fire departments in small steps could be a good idea.
Moore used the final minutes of the debate to criticize Keirn and Burke for not knowing—or revealing—the name of an anonymous donor who Hailey Ice board members and their attorney Jim Laski said in 2010 was prepared to donate at least $800,000 to pay for a covered ice rink, if the $3.5 million rodeo bond passed. The rodeo bond passed, but the donation never materialized, leaving an unfinished ice rink near the Hailey skatepark.
“We don’t know his name,” Burke said.
“It was your responsibility to know,” Moore said.
Burke noted that the bond was not tied to the ice rink project.
Keirn was asked how he would provide more accountability at City Hall, in light of lawsuits with developers and controversies over anonymous donors.
“That’s easy,” Keirn said. “It’s called election day.”
The city election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org