Jackson voters to narrow council field
Field of 9 candidates will be trimmed to 4 in nonpartisan race.
By Noah Brenner, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 13, 2008
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to choose the four candidates for the Jackson Town Council that will advance to the general election in November.
The nonpartisan race features nine town residents who would like to help lead Jackson for the next four years. The field features a mix of newcomers, incumbents and perennial candidates. Though candidates’ focus has ranged from affordable rentals to housing mitigation to planning to natural-resource protection, all are firmly focused on development in Jackson and how the town can maintain its unique look, feel and residents into the future. t
The vote will be an important litmus for current council policies, including its approval of large planned mixed-use developments and its reticence to raise housing-mitigation rates.
In 2006, voters bounced incumbent Scott Anderson in the primary and, though fellow incumbent Steve Harrington moved on to the general election, he was defeated by current Councilors Bob Lenz and Melissa Turley. Lenz campaigned largely on a platform of opposing large buildings, while Turley generally stressed youth and change.
If incumbents Mark Obringer and Abe Tabatabai make it through the primary and there is not a strong write-in push to oppose Jackson Mayor Mark Barron, voters will send a strong message that they approve of the council’s current direction. If newcomers prevail, it could signal that residents don’t feel their leadership is being responsive, particularly on growth and development issues.
If there has been a single, overriding issue in the race for the Jackson Town Council, it has been affordable housing. Candidates have approached it in different ways, but housing has been on the lips of each at some point during the race.
Taking on affordable housing
Candidates Kyle Burson and Tommy Wood have chosen to focus on maintaining affordable rental units within the town.
Wood, 29, has lived in Jackson for the past two years working with nonprofit groups, most recently as director of programs for the Community Resource Center. He has proposed trying to build a large dormitory-style facility for seasonal workers, as well as giving a public subsidy to landlords that rent to year-round workers rather than tourists or seasonal employees.
Burson has said the best way to address rentals is to keep those apartments already in place by prohibiting their conversion to condominiums. Burson, 48, has lived in Jackson Hole for 20 years.
Matt Lee has been the strongest proponent for increasing housing mitigation rates, saying that the loss of workers to outlying communities threatens the fabric of the community. Lee has called for the current 15 percent rate to be increased incrementally to about 60 percent. Lee moved here in 1996 to work in the construction industry.
On the other end of the spectrum, Tabatabai has said he supports keeping the housing mitigation rate at 15 percent because a higher rate would stymie development and actually result in the creation of fewer housing units. Tabatabai has also been the most vocal critic of the town’s approval of massive planned mixed-use developments and has said he supports reducing the allowable building height to 35 feet. Tabatabai, who works for Teton County School District No. 1, has spent 12 years on the council.
Comprehensive plan critical
The second overarching issue in the race has been planning, particularly Jackson’s place in the revision of the comprehensive plan.
Obringer has focused on the need for more community dialogue about the comprehensive plan, often saying he does not believe there is adequate public participation, understanding and consensus about how the plan will affect Jackson. If he wins the seat, it will be his fourth consecutive four-year term on the council.
Jackson Planning Commissioner Greg Miles is running on a platform of incorporating smart-growth principles into town land-development regulations. Smart growth calls for focusing mixed commercial and residential development around existing infrastructure in an effort to preserve open space and create walkable communities. Miles has lived in the valley since 1978 and worked in construction, as a ski patroller and as a climbing guide before he began to acquire and develop rental properties.
Louise Lasley has focused on how the planning process will affect natural resources within town limits and in the valley in general. Lasley has said that the revision of the comprehensive plan has shown that a concern for the environment and wildlife is the most important thing to valley residents and should be incorporated into every council decision. Lasley has lived in Teton County for 24 years and works as the public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.
John Bickner Jr. has said the town needs to balance development and housing and the needs of visitors and locals as Jackson grows.
He has often attended council meetings as a member of the public to speak in support of the rights of property owners and remind the council of valuable wildlife habitat surrounding Flat Creek.
Bickner has said he believes councilors can improve communication with their constituents. He moved to the valley in the 1970s with his family.
Tim Sullivan is running for a spot on the council for the second consecutive time but has admitted that he has not been able to focus much effort on the race. Sullivan spent 18 years as a building inspector with the Town of Jackson and has lived in the valley for 22 years
No one has filed to run against Jackson Mayor Mark Barron.
Barron announced in April that he will run for re-election to a fourth consecutive term at the helm of the Town of Jackson. Barron, a businessman who owns Blue Spruce Cleaners and High Country Linens, is running on a platform of continuing initiatives that he has helped put in place during the last six years.