My First 100 Days If Elected as a County Commissioner
Teton County is a special place. We are also at a crossroads. I will work to protect our natural beauty, community diversity, small town character, and wildlife — which together are the foundation for our quality of life and economy — and avoid decisions that are turning us into Anytown, USA.
I will resist building more and wider high-speed roads, which only relocates, rather than reduces, traffic congestion. I will shift future development toward affordable housing for the people who work in our community. I will protect and enhance, to the extent possible, what makes Jackson special.
I have spent the last 35 years helping mountain communities all over the North American West get things done to realize the community’s vision for the future. For more on my experience, check out my best-selling (well, not exactly best-selling) book from the library entitled Balancing Nature and Commerce in Gateway Communities (Island Press, 1997), which outlines my approach.
This post describes my priorities during my first 100 days if I am elected. Three organizing principles are:
Align the county’s spending with the priorities that residents have identified through elections, the comprehensive plan, and other efforts to set local priorities.
Deploy county staff and the local people who are willing to volunteer to serve on boards, commissions, and task forces to realize these priorities.
Enough “planning”. Let’s get busy implementing past decisions and clear local needs.
Hold on tight, because we’re about to dive into policy deeper than cowboy powder in January.
Create partnerships to build housing for the local workforce.
Teton County faces an acute shortage of affordable housing for those who work in our community and especially those who provide important local services such as health care, education, law enforcement, public safety, and other public services — as well as those who generally make our community work.
To address this crisis, first, to the extent possible, we need to shift future development from commercial development that creates more jobs to residential development that is affordable to local workers.
Second, we need to improve commuter bus service (see below).
Third, we need to catalyze partnerships to provide housing for local workers, especially those who provide important local services.
I will work to:
Complete a comprehensive county-wide land and housing inventory and use it to make hard decisions.
The Jackson/Teton County Housing Department is developing a land inventory. This inventory warrants a robust roll-out and vigorous public process laying the foundation for the community to make hard decisions about affordable housing. That process should include:
evaluating potential sites for a new neighborhood (e.g. Hog Island, northern South Park, the fairgrounds/rodeo grounds, the START bus garage site, Victor); and
identifying public parcels that are held for affordable housing, but that are inappropriate for that purpose and should be disposed of or repurposed.
Build partnerships to provide housing for the workforce.
Convene the county’s major public, quasi-public, and private sector employers, lending institutions, home builders, and non-profits (e.g. Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust and Habitat for Humanity) to create a consortium to build affordable, dedicated workforce housing — close to town or with convenient bus service.
In the first 100 Days, I will work to select a task force to get affordable housing on the ground.
Reduce risk and manage contracts to protect the public purse.
Local governments should be vigilant stewards of public funds and should minimize risks to the public purse. To promote careful stewardship of our revenue, I will:
Review the county’s regulations of performance bonding.
This requires a technical review; however, the county needs to modernize our land use regulations to ensure that we are not stuck with the costs and headaches of development that:
does not progress on schedule as promised;
fails to comply with conditions of approval (e.g. see recent news stories about alleged non-compliance with conditions that the county imposed to protect the Snake River on the approval of the Canyon Club); or
encounters unanticipated hazards or problems.
We need to ensure that developers, rather than taxpayers, pick up the tab when the unexpected occurs.
Review single source, no-bid contracts.
The county should revisit its use of single source, no-bid contracts for major expenditures. Competitive bidding ensures that the county gets the best value for its money.
Provide adequate and reliable financial support to human service providers.
I spent 21 years leading the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit that depends on private philanthropy. I learned that it’s much easier to raise funds for enticing new projects than for continuing expenses, regardless of how critical those recurring services are.
In Teton County, we are fortunate to have robust, dedicated nonprofits that provide exemplary social services. Funding for recurring human services, however, is often fickle. As a result, human service providers face tremendous challenges raising the funds necessary to meet local needs.
Over the past several years, state support for human services has dropped and future state cuts are anticipated. Private philanthropy has stepped up to help close the gap. Teton County has also increased support for human services — last year, the county allocated almost $1.5 million to 18 human service organizations.
Nevertheless, our human service organizations should not have to rely on discretionary annual appropriations from the county to provide essential services.
To address this challenge, I will work to:
Expedite creating an adequate, reliable funding source, perhaps a dedicated property tax, directly for human services.
We need to expedite a study of various ways to provide reliable funding for human services. One option is to provide voters the opportunity to create a separate property tax (i.e. a mill levy) dedicated for human services. This would realize one of my goals of diffusing authority to those who best know what is needed.
The county and the nonprofit sector should complete a study ASAP to assess the financial, political, social, and financial advantages and disadvantages of a separate tax directly to fund human services and other possible methods to provide reliable funds for human service providers in Teton County.
County voters have already approved a similar levy for the library. This approach would increase accountability to the voters and allow local human service professionals, to decide how to allocate funds for human services and would provide a stable supplement to private fundraising and increasingly unreliable state funds.
The county should also investigate creating a volunteer board of human services, perhaps combined with the board of health, to advise on human services spending.
N.B.: This proposal is neutral when it comes to taxes and spending, since the question of how to allocate funds (annual appropriations from the Commission versus a direct tax for social services) is a different question than the amount of public funding.
Reduce congestion while protecting community character.
Traffic congestion is a major source of consternation, especially during the summer. The challenge is to reduce congestion while protecting our community character and quality of life, rather than building more high-speed highways and continuing the perpetual widening of highways.
The Integrated Transportation Plan (ITP) outlines several projects, many of which are incompatible with one another; however, it offers no coherent, compelling vision for future transportation that respects our wildlife and community character.
The first step to address this is to:
Create a Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO).
The ITP calls for this step, which is boring, but essential before we continue to invest in uncoordinated transportation projects (e.g. widening Highway 22 through Wilson, redesigning the intersection of Highways 22 and 390, widening Highway 390, building the proposed Tribal Trails bypass, building an east-west connector through South Park, paving Spring Gulch Road, and the list goes on).
The RTPO would develop a coherent vision for the future of transportation in Teton County that balances highways with public transportation and protecting community character and wildlife. It would also execute a plan that would:
redesign roads to make traffic move more efficiently (e.g. avalanche sheds on Teton Pass and roundabouts to replace traffic signals);
create a summer transit system for visitors that connects the Town of Jackson, Teton Village, and Grand Teton National Park; and
expedite design and construction of a transit center at the Stilson lot designed to make it more convenient for commuters and visitors to ride the bus (e.g. day care, secured parking for construction vehicles, year-round all-weather bus transfers, and other amenities).
Wildlife, Water & Public Lands
Implement the Comp Plan vision statement to protect the area’s ecosystem.
The vision of Teton County’s Comprehensive Plan is inspiring: to preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community, and economy for current and future generations. There is room to improve how we realize this lofty vision.
To move this goal forward I will:
Develop a Conservation Action Work Plan (CAWP).
Teton County has many plans: a comprehensive plan, an integrated transportation plan, a housing action plan; however, we need a concise, actionable work plan to set priorities for conservation in the face of ever-increasing growth pressures.
I will work to build support for appointing an ad hoc volunteer task force to develop a CAWP that sets conservation priorities, identifies funding, and makes recommendations on a range of conservation questions, such as:
Creating a volunteer Conservation Commission which brings to bear local experts to advise on: (a) reducing the ecological and wildlife impacts of local community development and transportation decisions; (b) protecting public lands, rivers, and wildlife; and (c) implementing the CAWP.
Deciding how best to support the Conservation Commission — whether to create a Department of Conservation or to assign a staff person from the planning department to support the Conservation Commission.
Determining whether to propose a Conservation SPET and to evaluate other funding to implement the CAWP.
Designate a position for a biologist and/or public lands conservation planner.
This staff person, perhaps a new position or perhaps reassigning current staff, will ensure that county decisions incorporate the best information regarding the potential impacts on wildlife, natural areas, and water quality.
In addition, the biologist/conservation planner will ensure that the county is well prepared to protect the county’s interests in federal and state decisions regarding public lands, wildlife, transportation, and water quality.
Revise the county’s density transfer program.
This regulatory program needs to be restructured to ensure that density is transferred only from designated areas with high conservation value and realistic development potential and only into designated areas with low conservation value that are identified for development.