Taxes, budget top GOP list
County commission hopefuls also handle queries on moratorium.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
July 30, 2008
It’s not the comprehensive plan, it’s not the Brown Connector, it’s not privatization of the hospital. The local issues that most interest valley Republicans are property taxes, government spending and the newly imposed moratorium on development of large parcels in the county.
Members of the Teton County Republican Party’s central committee had the opportunity to query the candidates vying for an opening on the Teton County Board of Commissioners on Monday night during a meeting at the Antler Inn. Thirteen party members were seeking to be considered to succeed the late Bill Paddleford.
From the 13, the Teton County Republican Party chose Larry Williamson, Paul Vogelheim and Scott Anderson as the three who will be sent to the commission. The commissioners have 20 days, or until Aug. 24, to fill the vacancy with one of the three.
Anderson or Vogelheim would be the only resident of the town of Jackson on the board if one of them is chosen.
The 13 candidates were: Anderson, Jeremy Aughenbaugh, Lisa da Costa, Jerry DeFrance, Ted Dawson, Steve Harrington, Dorothy Mercer, Abe Tabatabai, Dennis Triano, Rick Roth, Joni Upsher, Vogelheim and Williamson.
Candidates gave a short speech before the central committee and then took questions from central committee members.
“Ask whatever it is you feel is important to determine the quality and merit of a candidate,” Teton County Republican Party Chairman Joe Schloss told committee members.
Most of the questions hinged on property tax relief, county spending and whether the Teton Meadows Ranch proposal should have been included in a moratorium on large-parcel development in the county.
Of the 36 central committee members, 22 attended the meeting and another seven were represented by proxy.
Williamson, the top vote-getter, is an Alta resident who recently retired after a career running Grand Targhee Resort.
Williamson touted his conservative Republican values in his introductory speech.
“Property rights are very important to me, as are hunting rights and gun rights,” he said.
Williamson focused many of his remarks on the need for employee housing and transit opportunities so businesses can continue to find enough workers in the valley. Williamson said he had been involved in securing housing for workers since the 1970s at Grand Targhee.
“On the way over here I met over 300 cars going over the pass,” he said. “How we deal with those employees, how we house them, how we keep them is very important.”
Williamson said he was unfamiliar with the Brown Connector proposal, which would build a road through Indian Springs to connect Highway 89 with Highway 22, and could not comment on it. He was also unfamiliar with proposals to implement an additional 1-cent sales tax in the county but said it could offer promise for property tax relief.
“I would like to know if there really is going to be reduction in property taxes,” he said. “Without a reduction in property tax offsetting those taxes, we are approaching it the wrong way.”
Vogelheim, who came in second, is involved with Boy Scouts in the valley and lost a bid for Jackson Town Council in 2006. He serves as a managing editor for Off the Record Research, a company providing marketplace analysis for investors.
Rep. Keith Gingery introduced Vogelheim to members of the central committee as someone who “has always showed up for this party when we needed something done.”
Vogelheim offered his experience leading the Boy Scouts of America in the valley and the record number of Eagle Scouts the organization produced this year as evidence of his ability to lead people.
“It’s a reflection on my organizational skills and the ability for me to bring together a group of leaders and deliver results,” he said.
Vogelheim said he supported the county’s moratorium on large-parcel development and thought Teton Meadows should be included in it.
“I think it was a good idea,” he said. “As much effort as has gone into the comp plan, I felt citizens needed to be heard before moving forward with such a precedent-setting application as Teton Meadows.”
He also said he would like to see a greater involvement by private businesses in addressing the housing shortage.
Anderson, who came in third, was a member of the Jackson Town Council for 12 years before losing his re-election bid in 2006. Anderson has managed radio stations and other property in the valley.
Anderson pitched his previous experience in local government. He pointed out that the two longest-serving members of the board of commissioners, Republican Leland Christensen and Democrat Andy Schwartz, are up for re-election.
“Though I can’t predict the outcome, it puts us in position where we could have a pretty significant change in the valley,” he said. “For that reason it is worth considering, as you look at us tonight, our experience in local government, and I have a lot of it.”
During his question-and-answer session, Anderson said he believed commissioners should have voted on the Teton Meadows Ranch development proposal rather than include it in the current moratorium and that future development should be centered on existing infrastructure.
Anderson said he supported property-tax relief for valley residents but said he did not know what the county commissioners could do to bring about significant relief.
After hearing their speeches and questioning them for about five minutes each, central committee members voted for three candidates each in an effort to cut the field down to five. But a tie left six candidates still alive: Harrington, Tabatabai, Williamson, Vogelheim, da Costa and Anderson, with Harrington and Tabatabai tying for the final spot.
After a second round of voting, da Costa was eliminated and Harrington and Tabatabai again tied for the final spot, sending five people on to the final round.
A third round of voting eliminated Harrington and Tabatabai.
Paddleford’s replacement will serve the remainder of his term, which expires in 2010.
Teton County Clerk Sherry Daigle opened the meeting with a few remarks about Paddleford, reminding candidates about his commitment to finding “common-sense” solutions.
“They are very, very large shoes to fill,” Daigle said. “You are not only filling the position of commissioner but you are replacing a man who can’t be replaced.”
Paddleford died July 7 after a battle with cancer.
The county commissioners plan to conduct interviews for each of the three candidates on Aug 11. On Aug. 12, the commissioners plan to hold a special meeting to appoint Paddleford’s successor and will hold a ceremony to swear him in immediately after the appointment, according to a county official.