Teton County commissioners have begun discussing how to spend the $10,000 set aside for an assessment of policing in the county.
What the scope of the assessment will look like remains to be seen. When it will happen is also up in the air. But the Board of County Commissioners started the conversation on July 27, trying to figure out who would be included in a task force that would guide a later assessment.
“We don’t know what we want to know yet,” Chair Natalia D. Macker said during the meeting. “We haven’t laid out all of those questions.”
The purpose of the task force, as discussed last week, would be to try to figure out what the community wants from the assessment. Commissioners approved money for the project during their final budget hearing on June 30.
The decision came after a sustained campaign organized by a new local activist group called Act Now JH that formed in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis. The group attended county meetings in force throughout the end of June, lobbying commissioners to defund law enforcement’s patrol budgets and divert those funds to social services.
The commission didn’t take any action on July 27. Instead, the board asked county staff to come back to it with a broad list of people and organizations that could be included in the task force. But commissioners did briefly tangle about who should be included.
Commissioner Greg Epstein asked whether representatives from the law enforcement community should participate.
Macker advocated doing so. Epstein and Commissioner Luther Propst agreed.
“If the primary task, or the first task we might be asking the stakeholder group to undertake, is to help in the development of ... the scope of work for the assessment,” Macker said, “then I think starting with a bigger list for inclusion seems better.”
But the question of whether to involve the town in the first stage of the process saw familiar stances from the town and county’s debates over land development spill over into the conversation about policing.
Commissioner Mark Barron advocated against involving the town in what he saw as an initial step: figuring out who would help determine the assessment’s scope.
“I look at this as an intermediate step to set up that group of people who are going to help us find a consultant or facilitator to move this process forward,” he said. “I don’t want to involve the town; I want to keep it simple and move it forward.”
Epstein agreed that it was too early in the process to invite the town but wondered whether not including it at this juncture could impact the process, especially with some people in the community calling for a merger of the Jackson Police Department and Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Will we not dig deep enough because the town or the town police department won’t be involved?” he asked.
Barron’s sentiment won out when he reiterated that this stage of the process was preliminary. Staff’s proposal should resurface in the next two or so weeks.