Campaign talk turns to long-term planning
Debates about specific developments dominated past county races but likely won’t this year.
By Cara Rank, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: June 30, 2010
In recent years, county commissioners have been elected in the midst of some of the most controversial development applications.
Snake River Associates, Grand Targhee Resort and Teton Meadows Ranch are a few that dominated past election seasons and races. Yet candidates say this election could be different, as the recession slowed development proposals and replaced those stresses with shrinking revenues.
“I don’t think anyone has to look too hard to see that the world of high-priced real estate speculation and large development plans isn’t the same anymore,” said Republican candidate Scott Anderson, 47. “I think that many of the growth problems we were experiencing or felt like we were experiencing have sort of gone the way of Lehman Brothers.”
Voters will decide Aug. 17 which candidates progress to the general election in November, but they’ll only have a choice on the Republican side. Each party can send three candidates to the November general election.
Democrats put up only two candidates, incumbents Hank Phibbs and Ben Ellis.
Anderson joins incumbent Paul Vogelheim, Capt. Bob Morris and attorney Peter Moyer.
Because there are no immediate development pressures, candidates say this election will focus on long-term planning and fiscal accountability.
“We almost have a time-out right now because the pressure is off, where you can really have a much better shot doing long-term planning,” Moyer, 62, said.
South Park an issue
Republican candidates agreed that they are running to help shape the Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan, a draft of which should reach the board this fall.
Morris, who campaigned for one post or another in the past eight elections, is running on the issue of planning South Park alone.
“Just as SRA was the overriding issue of the last decade, the development of Hereford Ranch and Lucas will be the overriding issue of the next,” he said.
If elected, Morris said, he would promote clustering of development along High School Road, not by upzoning but in accordance with the 1994 plan, so that the southern 85 percent of Hereford Ranch and the Lucas property may be preserved as perpetual open space.
Anderson has a different outlook.
“Much of South Park is zoned rural,” Anderson said. “I think a lot of people like that character. I think as time goes on, there may be a need to take a look at South Park and see where some potential growth should go.”
At the same time, he said, there’s likely not going to be too much development pressure in the county because of the economy. Anderson is manager of Chaparral Broadcast, which has 11 radio stations in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Hawaii.
Fiscal responsibility in focus
The South Park issue is one close to Vogelheim, 54. In particular, he’s interested in protecting the swan habitat east of Flat Creek from High School Road to just north of Rafter J.
“The reason I jumped in [to the commission] initially is protection of wildlife and the scenic vistas and balancing that with where we want growth to occur,” he said.
His record has shown dedication to that platform, he said. Vogelheim was appointed to a seat on the board in 2008 after Bill Paddleford died.
For example, Vogelheim said he’s been working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation as it plans expansion of Highway 89 to the south to ensure the route contains “world-class wildlife crossings.”
His record also shows dedication to reducing the county’s budget without raising taxes, he said. In the spring, it appeared his board was headed toward sending an additional penny of sales tax to voters. Vogelheim staunchly opposed the increase and swayed some commissioners, he said.
“One commissioner, I had to spend seven hours driving to Cheyenne and seven hours driving back with, and at the end, he said ‘uncle,’” Vogelheim said.
Fiscal accountability will continue to be a critical issue as revenues are expected to continue shrinking, he said.
His challengers agree.
Moyer said he wants to shore up the budget process. After working on St. John’s Medical Center’s board, he said, he brings that fiscal experience to make hard decisions.
“I think it really needs help in terms of very strict fiscal analysis,” he said. “It’s really hard for politicos to control costs, so you really have to sort of think of critical ways to get that done in the interest of the county. Right now, the county has got a huge problem that has to be solved.”