Worldwide, Dick Fosbury is famous for his flop.
The “Fosbury flop,” a twisting, arching, at the time revolutionary approach to the high jump forever changed the sport, and earned its namesake a gold medal in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Locally, though, the retired engineer has had a much longer, more diverse career. Now, five decades after his golden moment, Fosbury hopes to build a new legacy in his golden years.
He’s running as a Democrat for the Blaine County commission, and on Nov. 6 he’ll face Republican Mick Halverson and Independent Debra Hall for the south valley’s District 1 seat.
It’s a job, he says, that his background has groomed him to hold. Fosbury, currently in his fifth year on the county Planning and Zoning Commission, founded Galena Engineering after coming to the valley in the 1970s. Since, he’s served on the KART board (now Mountain Rides), the board of directors at the Wood River YMCA and as Ketchum’s city engineer.
It’s the latter that holds most sway over how Fosbury views the work of government.
“Engineers, in school, in training and in practice, understand their first obligation is to protect public safety, health and welfare,” he said. “You’re required to evaluate what the impacts are, consider the rules and guide a project that complies.”
Sounds a lot like the role of county commissioner, Fosbury says.
“That’s how I see things—it’s my natural approach to problem solving,” he added. “After years of practice, I’ve been able to figure out what works and what doesn’t.”
In government, he said, the style means putting policies and practices under a microscope to iron out inefficiencies, and embracing technology to streamline how the county works.
Fosbury supports digital monitoring of the Big Wood River, implementing software to manage the county’s vehicles and heavy equipment and switching employees to flex hours to keep services open five days a week.
“It requires a huge breadth of understanding,” he said of the job. “You need a deep knowledge of all departments—what they do, what their limitations are, what their potential is, how to even effect change.”
One area the county needs that most is affordable housing, he said. Prior to the recession, Fosbury said, its policies—which relied primarily on deed-restricted requirements for development in specific areas—seemed to be working. Today, he sees deed restrictions as one tool among many, but says county ordinances are out of date compare to realities on the ground.
His first step would be to create a mobile home zone, and apply it to the parks that already exist. Currently, the county doesn’t have one; the mobile-home courts have been grandfathered in, and cannot be reproduced as they phase out. From his time as city engineer, though, he knows Ketchum has one on the books.
“We need to innovate, and be creative,” he said. “But we also need to be open to borrowing solutions that are out there, and that work.”
That’s the approach he’d take to all ordinances, he says, revising language already in place to illuminate the path for new applicants.
“Right now, we’re kind of frozen,” he said. “There are no projects coming into the county. Therefore, there are no solutions.”
Fosbury also sees a role for businesses and citizens to help through public-private partnerships and the creation of a tax-deductible affordable housing foundation, which he has seen elsewhere in the country.
“We have a community that will support the preservation of open space,” he said. “I believe there’s a strong enough desire to support this. Parents want to see their kids move back. Employers want to see their jobs filled. With leadership from the right people, we can help with that.”
After decades in the valley, Fosbury believes he’s the right leader to do it from a commissioner’s seat.
“People know that I’m good natured, and I’ll listen to them,” he said. “That I’m reasonable, and rational. That I don’t get emotional, and I’m motivated to solve conflicts.
“I’m a known commodity. If there’s something you don’t know about me, just ask your neighbor—they probably do.”