Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Candidate Questionnaire

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we do not take any positions on candidates. And, we believe that our local government works best when voters are fully informed about the views of our candidates, so we will share your responses to this questionnaire with our community members.

A prefacing observation.

You ask a series of complex questions, reflecting the reality that the community faces complex issues. A reflection of that complexity is that your eight core questions (#s 2-9) range in length from 34 to 68 words, with an average of 55; i.e., roughly 1/3 of the length of the answers you’re looking for. 

That limit certainly makes it difficult to offer answers that accurately reflect the complexity of the issues, much less the nuance often involved in addressing such issues. This is made worse by the fact that these questions and the format you’re using basically require candidates to force complex, interrelated issues into narrow siloes and soundbites.

If you repeat this effort for the general election, and if I am fortunate enough to still be in the race, I hope you’ll make two changes:

  1. Give candidates a chance to talk about their vision for the community

  2. Give candidates a chance to talk about how they will go about making decisions about the issues that will arise, not those that have already come and gone (or those that are scheduled to be decided before the next council is sworn in). 

To me, as voters try to judge among candidates, these topics are far more revealing and important than short responses about any one individual issue. 

One final thought. Issue-based questions such as the ones you ask give the incumbent a decided advantage, as s/he will have spent years dealing with the nuances of these complex questions, while the non-incumbents cannot hope to be as well-versed on the entire range of issues facing a particular elected body. As a result, the non-incumbents are often reduced to offering platitudes, something I’m sure you’re as eager to avoid as your members are.

1.  Please introduce yourself.

For 25+ years, my professional life has focused on studying and helping Jackson Hole. I’m running because I now want to give back in a different way.

I have two specific motivations. First, Jackson is heading into a critical period. Second, during this period the Jackson Town Council will be the most important governmental body in the region.

My platform is Economy, Environment, Experience.

Jackson Hole’s economy can never be healthier than its environment. We cannot take either for granted. Economically, we need to begin preparing for the inevitable recession. Environmentally, as we grow, we need to be great stewards of our ecosystem.

Experience has two legs. First, decades of studying Jackson gives me a singular depth and breadth of knowledge. Second, I served eight years as an elected trustee of St. John’s Medical Center. Combined, these experiences will allow me to quickly become an effective town council member.

2.  The Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan’s vision is to “Preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem in order to ensure a healthy environment, community and economy for current and future generations.” What does “preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem” mean to you, and what are three specific actions you think our community should take in the next four years to work toward this vision?

The Vision Statement is audaciously powerful, recognizing that preserving and protecting our ecosystem requires thinking beyond both the current generation and local political boundaries. 

Arguably, the Vision Statement is so powerful and audacious that it has paralyzed local government from taking similarly powerful and audacious actions to support it – creating a roadmap for something that’s never been done before is a daunting task. To break this logjam, steps I advocate include:

  1. Increasing the resources local government puts into supporting the vision; 

  2. Creating an Ecosystem Commission, analogous to the Planning Commission;

  3. Using the government’s bully pulpit to bring together the ecosystem’s many stakeholders to create a roadmap; and

  4. Actively developing a baseline understanding of our ecosystem’s health, without which we have no way of assessing our progress (ideally, this will build on related efforts my Charture Institute has initiated over the last several years). 

3.  The County recently adopted the Wildlife Crossings Master Plan, which identifies wildlife- vehicle collision hot spots and offers suggestions for mitigation measures, like overpasses and underpasses. What do you see as the next steps for this Plan and how would you prioritize implementing wildlife crossings among our community priorities?

Six thoughts.

  1. If we are serious about the Comp Plan’s vision, we need to put more thought and resources into preserving and protecting our environment. 

  2. The region’s growth is clearly affecting wildlife. Traffic-related issues are one symptom of this; so are concerns such as habitat degradation. 

  3. Global warming will likely cause disproportionate harm to the area’s ecosystem in general, particularly wildlife.

  4. Elected officials can’t know everything. They can, however, use government’s bully pulpit to gather together environmental experts and stakeholders of all sorts, and ask them to develop a comprehensive, systematic plan for preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem.

  5. Based on this plan, elected officials can allocate public resources to the most important and efficacious measures. 

  6. I assume wildlife crossings will rank high. If other, more cost-effective measures produce similar results, though, they should be considered. Outcomes are what matter.

4.  Our community established a goal through the Comprehensive Plan of housing at least 65% of our workforce locally. The recent Housing Action Plan identified a need of 800 units over 10 years just to “catch up” with the existing workforce housing deficit, and 2000 more to “keep up” with employment growth. How would you use tools including mitigation, zoning, and incentives to balance commercial growth with workforce housing?

Housing cannot be considered independently of traffic, the environment, etc. In the 2017 Jackson Hole Compass, I outlined my approach to this complicated web:

  1. Identify key wildlife habitats and migration corridors. Protect them from development.

  2. Evaluate our transportation infrastructure’s capacity. Develop a community consensus regarding acceptable traffic levels. Combine to determine how much traffic we can handle.

  3. Use this information to determine how many people we can comfortably fit into the remaining private land; i.e., develop a sense of our ultimate build-out.

  4. Determine commercial needs etc. of this population.

  5. Examine these results in light of property rights, legal limits, common sense, financing, etc.  Adjust as necessary.

  6. Build-out target in hand, ask the private sector to build as much affordable/workforce housing as possible.

Finally, Jackson Hole is special, but not unique: Every nice place has an affordable housing problem. What can we learn from them?

5.  It has been six years since the completion and adoption of the Comprehensive Plan, and we have since hit the 6% growth trigger that signals the need for its review. What would your goals be with a review and would you consider any changes to the Plan? If so, what?

To honor the Comp Plan’s integrity, we need to act on its built-in trigger (even if that process might be painful).

My goal for a review is simple: develop a thoughtful process for assessing how well the plan is working, focusing on its strengths and shortcomings. The process should include developing recommendations for bolstering that which is working, and fixing that which is not.

Clearly we’ll need to address the parts of the plan that are not working well. Absent a comprehensive review, though, it is wildly premature to say what those are. Equally problematic is suggesting changes without considering how one proposed change might affect other, related elements of the plan. The first word in the plan’s title is “Comprehensive” – no one piece of it stands alone.

The most successful approach will be thoughtful and deliberative, drawing upon the experience and expertise of the entire community.

6.  Snow King recently released a new development proposal to expand the resort boundaries, build new chairlifts outside the existing footprint, and add new amenities and additional condos. What do you envision for the future of our Town Hill, and what role should the Town Council/Board of County Commissioners play in achieving that vision?

Three thoughts.

  1. I hope this race will focus on issues facing the next Town Council. Snow King’s expansion is not such an issue, because it is scheduled for a vote in 2018. The only way my opinion will matter is if the vote is delayed until 2019. Ditto the other non-incumbents.

  2. If it is delayed, I won’t want to vote on it until I am comfortable with the proposal’s details, especially the inevitable changes. This is a complicated issue, and it does a disservice to everyone who cares about Snow King’s future to pass judgement without a full understanding. I don’t have that understanding now, but will have it should I ever vote on the issue.

  3. If I do vote on it, I will use the Comp Plan’s vision as my filter: How does this proposal affect preserving and protecting the area’s ecosystem?

 7.  The County is in the process of updating our Natural Resource Protections, and Town will update theirs in 2019 – this includes new Natural Resource Tiers, regulations to prevent bears from getting into garbage, and protections for rivers and streams. What would you like to see included in this update?

Two foundational thoughts.

First, we should filter any policies, regulations, and the like through the Comp Plan’s vision: preserve and protect the area’s ecosystem.

Second, I am not an expert in this area. No non-incumbent is, and it’s likely that not even the incumbents know enough right now to make specific recommendations.

What I can say is that, if elected, I will approach new natural resources protections the same way I have approached learning about other facets of the community for the past 25+ years: reaching out to experts and involved citizens; learning from them; then using my best judgement to decide how to proceed. This approach has served me well in my research and writing, as well as in the many efforts I’ve initiated and led to help Jackson Hole address its challenges and seize its opportunities. I believe is will also serve me well as a councilmember.

8.  Our community has also established the goal of residents and visitors being able to safely, efficiently, and economically move within our community and throughout the region on foot, bike, and transit. What specific projects, programs, and policies from the Integrated Transportation Plan should we prioritize over the next four years to continue on our journey toward this goal?

Effective governance is not about having the answers, but about hiring a knowledgeable, highly-competent staff, asking the right questions, and charging them with getting the job done. 

I don’t know enough about transportation to prioritize our next steps. I do know three things:

  1. We have big city transportation problems, but a small town population and budget; 

  2. We have a strong Integrated Transportation Plan;

  3. We have a lot of smart people working hard to execute that plan.

If elected, I will do all I can to support out community’s plan and our team of transportation experts.

I also will ask the community two fundamental questions:

  1. How much traffic congestion are we willing to bear?

  2. How much are we willing to pay to address our transportation issues?

Absent a consensus on these two questions, successfully addressing our transportation issues will be even more challenging.

9.  What is your vision for the future of our Teton County federal lands, and what is your perspective on the ongoing region-wide effort to transfer control of our federal public lands to the states?

  1. Our public lands belong to the public. Period.

  2. Our federal land agency employees are exceptionally high-caliber. We are lucky to have them.

  3. For a variety of reasons, it is madness to transfer federal lands to the states. Chief among them: States don’t have the resources to properly steward public lands. As a result, if the state ever does take control of local federal lands, our economic health will be jeopardized.

  4. In creating our parks, forests, refuges, wilderness areas, and other public lands, America entered into an eternal contract, promising future generations they would be able to experience these lands the way our forebears found them. We have a legal and moral obligation to honor both the letter and spirit of those contracts. This means not just keeping public lands in public hands, but funding them adequately so they remain both intact and healthy for future generations.