A newly formed committee that’s looking into local law enforcement’s relationships with the public and human service providers met for the first time Tuesday and laid out the goals for the group.
According to notes provided to the News&Guide, the members introduced themselves to each other, talked about how they will work together and voted to form a five-person subcommittee that will try to recruit two new members from the Latino community “given a desire to expand committee membership to be more reflective of the community at large.”
The idea for the committee came up over the summer after the Teton County Board of County Commissioners heard public comment from residents who advocated taking money from law enforcement budgets and allocating it toward human services, advocacy efforts known as defunding the police.
The decision came after a sustained campaign organized by activist group 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.
After receiving several applications from members of the public and conducting interviews, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted to commit $14,000 to the project and appointed five people to the committee.
The citizen members of the committee are Ivan Jimenez, Katie Mannen, William McPeak, Ben Read and Babbs Weissman.
Other people on the team are government officials and heads of nonprofits.
The press requested to attend the three-hour, publicly funded meeting on Tuesday to provide context to the community about what the committee’s goals are, but was denied access by Teton County Administrator Alyssa Watkins.
She said it was so the team could maintain a “sense of safety.”
Notes were provided instead, which said the topic of open or closed future meetings would be discussed again at the next meeting.
The closed-door nature of the first meeting was problematic for some.
“I am uncomfortable with the exclusion of the press,” Sheriff Matt Carr said after the meeting on Tuesday. “We are using taxpayer dollars here, and it’s quite a lot of taxpayer dollars when you include the public servants’ time in this.”
Others, according to the provided notes, felt as if they could talk freely only if the media wasn’t watching.
“This raises suspicion and causes division,” said Wyoming lawyer Bruce Moats, who specializes in public access and has represented the News&Guide on occasion. “It’s poor practice. I can’t imagine why people whose salaries are paid by the public would not give the public access to what this task force is doing.”
Moats said given the public interest in the topic, the meetings going forward should be open.
According to the county’s notes, committee members were asked during the meeting to explain their “hopes for the interplay between law enforcement, human and social services, and public safety response to community incidents and individuals in crisis.”
Responses varied and are anonymous in the notes.
They range from “have the community feel safe in calling for emergency services” to “more focus on education between topics” and “restore community confidence that law enforcement is well trained for all situations.”
The $14,000 is paying for Leadership at Play, a firm helmed by Allison Bergh and Kat Smithhammer, to facilitate the meetings.
The information or recommendations decided by the committee will be formed into a request for proposal for another stage of assessment.
“Once drafted,” an Oct. 20 staff report reads, “the initial vision is that Teton County or another more appropriate government or community entity would release the RFP and contract with a respondent to accomplish the goals and tasks outlined therein.”
Requests for interviews with the committee members weren’t returned by press time.