The Education of Hannah Stauts 

CIEDRA tests Stanley's 23-year-old mayor

STANLEY--A group of guys in beanie caps wait Saturday morning at The Bakery as frost melts off their mountain bikes.

Meanwhile, I have the ice steamed out of my coffee mug and wait for Mayor Hannah Stauts to arrive.

Stauts, likely the youngest female mayor in the country at 23, pulls up in her vintage Ford pickup and bounds into the cafe where she used to work.

"Missmayor" (her MySpace moniker) hugs the waitresses and gets ushered over to the table of biker dudes. One of them catcalls to her. The mayor laughs, cheeks reddening.

"Where you guys going?" Stauts asks, sounding like she's ridden all the trails.

A few ladies from Ketchum walk in. Then a quartet of hunters led by retired Fish and Game warden Gary Gadwa, a political opponent to Stauts, belly up to the coffee bar.

"You guys going hunting?" the mayor asks from our booth.

They're just scouting, and say they are glad to see her.

She quietly confesses she had to walk away while a friend quartered an elk last fall, but is eager to try again.

Dick Neustaedter, who just quit the City Council grunts hello. Another councilman, Charlie Thompson, owner of the local river store, nudges in on the interview, to sing her praises. A former college professor driving downriver recognizes Stauts and hatches a plan to meet. Some local river guides fattening up for winter and a handful of tourists follow the hunters in the coffee line.

Welcome to Stanley, a watering hole at the junction of two highways, three mountain ranges and one of America's greatest rivers. Here, one's outdoor ability or politics are not easily gauged by a choice of rig or apparel, as in Sun Valley, just a mountain pass away to the south.

Hannah Stauts fell in love with Stanley after three summers working on a fire crew. The Boise State political science grad waits tables, keeps house and cleans construction sites. Stauts moves from house to house, depending on the season, to maintain her residency for the remaining three years of her term as mayor.

"I always want to be a part of this place," Stauts says. She plans to some day run a travel and event-planning business in the valley.

She is already making a name for herself in the local wedding circuit. As mayor, Stauts can officiate weddings for couples who prefer the mountainous backdrop of Redfish Lake as a venue.

A ring-bearing dog nearly bit Stauts Friday night. She made sure the Boise North End couple--wed in their hiking boots Saturday morning on the north shore of Redfish--will survive their wedding night on Thompson Peak. But newlyweds and inquisitive tourists are the "warm fuzzy" part of her job.

The other part-- running a town where vegans and ski bums and paddlers live on tiny patches of gravel next to anti-wolf crusaders, hard-core motorheads and ranchers' sons--is testing Staut's political skills. And her nerves.

Sauza tequila and Coors Light got her through the summer. But the Rod and Gun Club, where a map of the Middle Fork is burned into the bar, shuts down next week. It's where "missmayor" is immortalized in Sharpie pen on two dollar bills pinned on the back bar: "Hannah hates Turtles!!" on one and, "AND DYING CATS," on the other.

The overindulged turtles and the old cat that died on her watch were just the straw however. The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA, is the camel's back.

The bill would create a wilderness area in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains--more than 300,000 acres to the east and southeast of Stanley. In drawing the wilderness boundaries, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson talked to people who live, work and play in the area, and tried to throw each interest group a bone or two to win their support.

In Stanley's case, the bones are two parcels of land adjacent to town, now part of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and a snowmobile trail that leads from the city park down to Redfish Lake. The city passed a resolution in 2004 declaring its support for Simpson's effort. In 2005, the City Council passed another resolution declaring its "enthusiastic support" for the bill, as it stood at the time. The bill passed the House, and is now before the U.S. Senate. Idaho Senator Larry Craig began the hearing process last week.

When Stauts took office in January, she successfully lobbied Simpson's office to include $100,000 to develop a parking area for the snowmobile trail, and another $100,000 for the city to put more affordable housing on federal land, should it become part of Stanley.

Then, just as Simpson got some momentum behind the bill in the House, half of the city council called for a new resolution, withdrawing the city's support.

"We should have been neutral in the beginning," said councilman Sean Tajkowski, the leading opponent. "As Craig says, it seems that we need to revisit this."

Tajkowski does technical planning for the film industry from his cabin opposite The Bakery. He dated the mayor briefly before she took office, but is now Stauts' harshest critic.

He is miffed that she met with Craig in Stanley without inviting him, that she was flown to Washington, D.C. to lobby for Stanley's perks in the bill, and that she pushed a public hearing on his resolution back to Sept. 17.

"I've already shown that you do this and you're going to face the consequences," Tajkowski, said of Stauts' actions. "You're going to get written up in the papers."

Tajkowski began the emergency public meeting at the Stanley school on the 17th by threatening to walk out, a tactic he now regrets. But the meeting changed venue in the afternoon and adjourned in a compromise late that night at the Mountain Village bar, where Stauts was waiting tables.

"I thought it was really encouraging," Stauts said. The council, along with wilderness and motorized advocates, came up with a statement that maintains support for the land transfers and trail plan and takes "no official position" on the rest.

Snow machine advocates pushed the issue before the city as leverage against the bill, confirmed Dan Hammerbeck, a member of the Salmon River Snowmobile Club. But both motorized access advocates and wilderness advocates used the town's wavering position to argue against the bill in the Senate Public Lands and Forests subcommittee hearing on Sept. 27th before Craig.

For Stauts, who thinks the new city resolution has been misrepresented as opposition to the bill, it was a key lesson in governance. Stauts said she is learning to work with different types of people and to compromise without backing down.

And the ambitious mayor who said a year ago she would like to be governor or a senator has a new found respect for local politics.

"I'm really proud of you guys," she told the council as they left the bar that Sunday night.

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