Eight candidates — three Republicans, two Democrats and two independents — are vying for three seats on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Incumbent Mark Newcomb is running for reelection to one seat and two seats are open. Responses from candidates were compiled from a questionnaire distributed by the News&Guide.

Mark Barron

Mark Barron

Mark Barron

Party: Republican

Years in Teton County: 42

Lives in: Town of Jackson

Mark Barron served as Jackson’s mayor for 12 years, beginning in 2003. He won re-election five times.

He started working at Teton Laundry in 1975, then purchased the company and evolved it into his current business, High Country Linen Service, in 1981. He also helped found Snake River Roasting. He said his experience owning a business has taught him the value of goal setting, getting the job done, organizational development and leadership.

“I really feel like we need some leadership in local government,” Barron said, “and I have some experience that I can put to good use for the people of Jackson Hole.”

Barron’s focus is accountability in the county budget, private-sector housing solutions, government transparency and reducing the property tax burden. He said that as commissioner he would bring spending under control and ensure the tax base is not “treated as the county credit card.”

“I love this valley, as we all do, and value the pristine wilderness that surrounds us,” Barron said. “But it was the people who kept me here, who taught me the value of hard work and self-sufficiency, helping your neighbor and giving back. I want to represent these people who care so deeply and work so hard.”

Top 3 issues: 

1. Traffic

2. Privately built rental housing

3. Wildlife (protecting habitat, preventing collisions, etc.)

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support: “Revenue for START, pathways,  Fire/EMS and Parks and Rec, and we don’t pay it.”

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support. 

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Disagree: "The 65% figure was and is arbitrary and tracking it is suspect."

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of complete neighborhoods in the county, like Wilson and the Aspens?

Adding density for workforce housing.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

I worked hard for 12 years as mayor to support projects that would yield workforce housing, to partner with the private sector and build affordable housing, and to zone for the density that’s key to achieving private sector affordable rental and workforce housing. I will pursue private sector solutions working with fellow commissioners and the Town Council that will result in the rental housing that is so badly needed. Government can’t and shouldn’t develop housing; the private sector can and should with proper zoning.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

I would encourage the county commissioners to engage the Wyoming Department of Transportation to make Highway 22, between Highway 191 at Albertons and Highway 390/Teton Village Road, four lanes; add another two lanes to the Snake River bridge and make the 22/390 intersection a roundabout. That may be unpopular to some, but our workforce is not going to stop commuting over the pass anytime soon, and efficiently moving these vehicles over Highway 22 will help all of us. While the planning for that occurs I would encourage the investment of four compressed natural gas commuter buses for Teton Pass and Snake River canyon commuters, scheduled for early and late workers.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Open space.

Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron

Andrew Byron

Party: Republican

Years in Teton County: 33

Job: Fishing outfitter, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort employee, real estate agent

Lives in: Hoback

A Teton County native, Andrew Byron sees a need for members of the community to work together toward bipartisan solutions, and he wants to make a difference for his community.

“I really think the list is long with the work that needs to get done, and the issues are mounting every day,” he said. “It’s important that we take a level-headed approach in terms of tackling the issues and working across party lines to come up with solutions.”

Byron is a fishing guide, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort employee and real estate agent.

“Owning a small business in Jackson Hole has prepared me to be a county commissioner because I work side by side with the residents,” Byron said. “I see the challenges of finding housing for the workforce and know firsthand how hard it is to find employees to fill jobs. I understand the issues we face in day-to-day life and can work toward solutions.”

He served on the  Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation board, which prompted his interest in how citizens can make a difference in local politics.

For Byron top priorities for Teton County include conservation and private-property rights, maintaining a balanced budget and working toward the goal of housing 65 percent of the workforce locally. He opposes new taxes and believes in collaboration between the private sector and local government to find housing solutions.

Top 3 issues: 

1. Human services funding

2. Wildlife (protecting habitat, preventing collisions, etc.)

3. Traffic

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support: “The lodging tax is vital to the general fund and is a revenue source Teton County needs.”

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support. 

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Agree. 

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of complete neighborhoods in the county, like Wilson and the Aspens? 

Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

We must continue the work that we are already doing as a county. Additionally we need to work with the private sector to find solutions. There are great examples of the private sector stepping up to take care of their employees. We need to learn from this and allow the private sector opportunity to help with affordable housing.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

I would like to see Tribal Trails get completed in a timely matter.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Open space, which correlates with protecting our wildlife resources and natural beauty.

Seadar Davis

Seadar Davis

Seadar Rose Davis

Party: Democrat

Job: Musician and web developer

Years in Teton County: 14

Lives in: Hoback

Seadar Rose Davis is running to give back to the community. She is a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist with Americana band Screen Door Porch and a freelance web designer.

“Both careers have given me a lot of experience managing resources and time and have taught me how to successfully collaborate with different personalities and perspectives in challenging work environments,” she said.

Davis said her nontraditional background represents a fresh perspective for Teton County and will bring creativity, energy and diversity to the board. She is passionate about ensuring that the elected board serves everybody, including working-class residents.

“I want to make sure that all parties are represented at the table,” she said.

Davis serves on the START board and is interested in expanding service, finding more funding sources and rallying the community around using the bus. She’s also interested in balancing public and private housing solutions and fostering a healthy community.

Top 3 issues: 

1. Traffic

2. Mitigating human impacts on environment

3. Wildlife (protecting habitat, preventing collisions, etc.)

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support: “These funds are crucial to our community and to the success of our transit system.”

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Neither: Move forward with public process, include all users, and consider all alternatives.

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Agree. 

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of the county's complete neighborhoods, like Wilson, the Aspens or Hog Island?

Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife and reviewing appropriate options for housing in line with that character.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

It is going to take many different strategies and tools to tackle our affordable housing problems, including a balance of public and private-sector solutions that encourage a variety of housing types. I believe the largest need right now is affordable rentals, and that should be our focus. By utilizing new zoning and incentive opportunities for development we can ensure smart and measured growth of housing for our workforce.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

Public transportation is a large part of this puzzle. As a START board member I have seen the positive impacts that our transportation system has had on our traffic problems. I support the expansion of START bus commuter routes, especially to service workers outside the traditional 9-to-5 schedule, and an increase in START summer service from Stilson to Teton Village. Further, we need to add more outreach to visitors before their trip to highlight all of the alternative modes of transportation available to them.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Our waterways are being downgraded. Areas of Teton County have drinking water that is declining in quality. We can’t take for granted that because we are at headwaters our water is clean. We need to ensure we are protecting our waterways and that we address drinking water quality. Threats to our water sources affect the health of humans as well as the health of our animals, wildlife and aquatic species.

Wes Gardner

Wes Gardner

Wes Gardner

Party: Independent

Job: Owner of Teton Toys

Years in Teton County: 22

Lives in: Game Creek

Wes Gardner decided to run for the commission the day the town and county finalized new housing mitigation rules, which dramatically increased how much commercial developers must pay toward affordable housing.

Gardner sees the new policy as too extreme. He hopes to be a moderate, independent voice on the commission.

For Gardner, his experience running his own business — like managing staff, inventory and capital — will help him as a commissioner and has taught him fiscal responsibility and accountability.

“As a business owner I’ve dealt with a lot of conflict,” he said.  “I’ve dealt with a lot of budgeting, understanding money and how to use it, but, most importantly, engaging and solving problems.”

Gardner’s top issue in the county is transit. He’d like to see a bus stop or transit center south of town, a revitalized Stilson park and ride, and START service to the airport. He’s also interested in exploring opportunities to strengthen Jackson Hole’s recycling programs.

“I have learned to solve problems while interacting with them, as opposed to directing my staff to a solution and walking away. I feel government has a tendency to direct solutions to our problems from a distance. My strategy involves daily contact with an issue so that I can evolve with a solution as opposed to directing a solution.”

Top 3 issues

1. Traffic

2. Human services funding

3. Protecting wildlife and wild lands

Lodging tax: Support or oppose?

Support.

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support: "As a 35 MPH road, not a highway connector"

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Agree: "Good goal. We should recognize not all workers want to live in town or restricted housing."

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of the county's complete neighborhoods, like Wilson, the Aspens or Hog Island?

Both maintaining rural character and room for wildlife and adding density for workforce housing.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

We should further review our mitigation rates on workforce housing. We just lowered a couple of those rates, but we need to make sure that new housing is secured by the workforce at reasonable rates. The best way to create affordable housing is to build housing, publicly and privately. Finding a location for a dense apartment building would go a long way to reducing rent pressures on all of our housing options. The town and county must look to clean up their own unhoused-employee situations. One of the strongest arguments I heard against the new mitigation requirements dealt with the reality that the public sector refused to hold itself accountable to the same standards that it was applying to the private sector. Also, I would be in favor of allowing a new subdivision to be developed as long as it did not interfere with any wildlife migration corridors.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

As county commissioner my first task will be to develop a summertime park-and-ride option at the Stilson lot. Downtown businesses will provide incentives for their Victor-Driggs [Idaho] employees to park and ride from Stilson using the Downtown Parking Incentive Program. Buses will operate efficiently and consistently, leaving Stilson every hour at 40 minutes after the hour, depositing riders at Town Square, town and county administration buildings and the hospital just before the hour. In the afternoon buses will leave those areas of density just after the hour and operate expressly to Stilson. This solution will not only reduce commuter traffic on our overcrowded roads but also alleviate the pressure on downtown parking. I am working to implement this solution with START for this winter. It would help if I was operating as a commissioner instead of as an individual.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Maintaining wildlife corridors. Strategically placed wildlife crossings and conserved farmland serve as a conduit for the wildlife. If we could locate a property that is not a crucial part of a wildlife migration corridor, I’d like to see a new subdivision developed to reduce the housing stress in the valley. It is critical that we create a Wildlife and Wildlands Action Plan. There is not enough specificity in the 2012 comp plan about protecting and preserving our environment and critical species. It would help to create a plan so we could bring all of our conservation strategies under one umbrella, from eliminating plastic waste from the landfill to increasing ridership on START, from mitigating for loss of ecosystem as we develop to creating wildlife crossings, and, most importantly, so that we can develop strategies for dealing with continued pressure on our water and forest resources. I would endorse creating a position called “director of conservation” to serve the Board of County Commissioners.

Mary Martin

Mary Martin

Mary Martin

Party: Republican

Years in Teton County: 43

Job: Community development educator at University of Wyoming Extension

Lives in: Town of Jackson

As a community development education specialist for the University of Wyoming Extension, Mary Martin has had a hand in helping start projects such as the Senior Center of Jackson Hole and what are now the Children’s Learning Center and One22. She has been involved in community projects from Teton County hazardous fuels reduction to restaurant sanitation.

“I’ve been part of creating a lot of the fiber that makes Jackson what it is,” she said.

Martin teaches leadership, meeting management, strategic planning, facilitation, and board governance. As an expert in engaging groups of people and problem solving, she believes her experience as a community development specialist has prepared her for problem-solving in the county and making county meetings efficient.

As commissioner she would focus on “the people,” including looking out for children and seniors. She wants to support developing an adequate workforce housing supply, boosting morale among government employees and ensuring a vibrant business community.

Top 3 issues: 

1. Affordable housing shortage

2. Traffic

3. Human services funding

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support — "It allows for mitigation of tourism impacts and ensure a year-round economy"

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support — "We need redundancy in our transportation system"

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Agree — "People are integral to having a sustainable economy"

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of complete neighborhoods in the county, like Wilson and the Aspens?

Adding density for workforce housing: “Housing employees close to jobs can help traffic issues.”

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

The outcome that will be truly successful is one where our county houses a majority of our workforce to minimize commuter miles, creates a positive financial and personal commitment to the community  and provides safe and adequate housing. Our housing department is working diligently to do its part in addressing the issue. There’s no one solution to this issue. It requires a multifaceted approach and collaboration between public and private parties. The county government should support efforts to enhance housing inventory and effectively work to remove roadblocks. We also should include regional stakeholders in creating housing strategies that work.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

There needs to be several initiatives happening concurrently. What is causing the congestion? I believe a public discussion of our driving habits, why we are on the roads and how better trip planning on each of our parts could reduce the number of vehicles on roadways. I will recommend that with the consultation of our county engineer and the Wyoming Department of Transportation that we 

1. Assess the level of service on existing roadways. 

2. Determine the quickest, least costly method to raise the level of service on our roadways; redundancy is an important safety need in our road system.

3. Explore opportunities to acquire real estate in strategic locations for park ’n ride facilities to improve ridership on START.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

There are several: water quality, our carbon footprint and human impact on the public lands surrounding our county.

Mark Newcomb

Mark Newcomb

Mark Newcomb 

Party: Democrat

Years in Teton County: 51

Job: Self-employed economic consultant, county commissioner

Lives in: Kelly

Mark Newcomb, current board chairman and the only incumbent in the race,  is seeking a second term.

Newcomb is self-employed as an environmental economics consultant and has been a climbing and ski guide, which he said taught him about patience, vigilance, risk and listening to others.

“I am a commissioner that listens,” he said. “I am thoughtful and assess the risk of policy decisions, I appreciate dialogue, and I value every individual opinion.”

He wants to be a part of continued land development regulation efforts, like planning the county’s “complete neighborhoods” such as Wilson and The Aspens.

“I’m running to continue to pursue a vision for the county I’ve had for a long, long time growing up here,” he said. “That is a vision that tries to protect our rural character, our small-town feel, our wildlife values, our ecosystem values.”

Newcomb wants to ensure everyone in the county has a seat at the table to collaborate on solutions.

Top 3 issues: 

1. Mitigating human impacts on environment

2. Traffic

3. Protecting ranching and agriculture

"It's equally important that commissioners understand the tools to address issues. Some things are within commissioners' ability and some are not."

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support: "Results in fewer visitors than people think, and the funds support Fire/EMS, START and pathways."

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support: "It must be a neighborhood road, not a connector."

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Disagree: "I don't see how we can achieve 65 percent given recent zoning and mitigation outcomes."

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of complete neighborhoods in the county, like Wilson and the Aspens? 

Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

I would continue efforts to convert existing rural housing density in the form of large, high-end, job-creating and dispersed houses to workforce housing in already dense neighborhoods. Town is the best location for workforce housing. I support compensating private property owners to help effect that conversion. I don’t support upzoning Teton Village, The Aspens or Wilson. I support public-private partnerships such as Habitat’s efforts in The Grove and the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust’s efforts on Redmond Hall. I believe that combination of subsidy/compensation/public-private partnership is the right formula for building workforce, not high-end, housing while protecting historic character, open space and wildlife values  and avoiding character-degrading density.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

Existing policy is that some level of congestion is OK (on a level of service between A and F, we’ve chosen to live with a C/D). We need to recognize that growth won’t help and that we must continue efforts to decrease dispersed development and manage growth. I’ll continue support for transit that targets rush-hour, commuter traffic. That said I support the public process for Tribal Trail. We need to have the discussion as a community about neighborhood connectors. Those connectors have impacts. But despite down-zoning the county and the existing cap on growth, there are around 4,000 housing units that could be built today with just a building permit. Traffic’s going to increase. Without connectors, and given the beneficial but marginal impact of transit, roads will have to be widened.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Growth. But the arrangement of growth is also critical. Dispersed growth throughout the unincorporated county is the surest way to permanently degrade habitat and block wildlife movement. Based on private property rights, there is more growth in the pipeline. We should make every effort to prevent that growth from creating sprawl and more congestion. And it’s reasonable to ask and expect that growth to minimize its impact on important wildlife habitat.

Luther Propst

Luther Propst

Luther Propst

Party: Democrat

Job: Conservation and community planner

Years in Teton County: 10

Lives in: Indian Trails in the Town of Jackson 

Luther Propst has a background in law, conservation and sustainable planning in mountain communities. 

He has worked at the World Wildlife Fund and founded the Sonoran Institute, where he worked with communities like Jackson to manage growth and change while protecting public lands. He feels that experience has prepared him to balance county priorities of public lands, wildlife, housing, transportation and human services.

“It’s a balancing act to protect what makes Teton County unique,” he said, “which, at the top of that list, is our wildlife and conservation and public lands.”

Propst said he would like to see the county adopt an integrated conservation plan, spend more time on “big picture” problems facing the community and actively engage with federal partners on public land questions.

“I think my experience and my energy and action orientation can help this county meet its future more successfully,” Propst said.

Top 3 issues: 

"These issues are unconditionally intertwined. Ranking them undermines the integrated approach that is essential to improving our community."

Lodging tax: Support or oppose? 

Support: "The tax supports critical services. Killing it provides no relief from congestion."

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Oppose: “I oppose a roads first approach to transportation.”

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Agree: We should house a substantial resident workforce, even if percentage is arbitrary.

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of complete neighborhoods in the county, like Wilson and the Aspens? 

"Depends on the context."

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

This complex challenge vexes communities across the country. We must encourage creative ideas and respond rapidly to opportunities.  Four principles should guide our efforts: 1. Focus on both supply and demand.  In 2017, Teton County experienced 3.5% job growth; at that rate, the number of jobs doubles in 20 years. That rate of growth is contrary to my vision for Teton County. 2. Prioritize affordable housing rather than land use changes that create new jobs. 3.Foster housing partnerships among local governments, employers, landowners, lenders, and both private and non-profit developers. 4. Provide reliable funding to house county employees, especially critical service providers (which helps retain county talent and improves the overall affordable housing market).

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

Improve commuter bus service. My priority is to reduce congestion without adding more roads and more lanes.  Increasing the number of commuters who choose to ride the bus is: most economical, most consistent with protecting our community and neighborhoods, most friendly to wildlife, and most likely to reduce (rather than merely relocate) congestion. 

I would significantly increase the number of daily bus runs from Teton and Star Valleys and make it more convenient to ride the bus. This requires: buying new buses; a transit center at Stilson that includes amenities that make it convenient to ride the bus, such as day care, Zipcar type car rental, an all-weather place to wait, ski and bicycle lockers, secured parking for crew trucks; and bus garages in Alpine and Driggs.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

John Muir wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” With this thought in mind, rather than arbitrarily picking a single conservation issue as the most important, our community should address a wide range of conservation and social issues.  We should address many priorities simultaneously and vigorously, striking a balance among competing needs and priorities. Paraphrasing Aldo Leopold, the key is to act as if our county and region is a community to which we all belong, rather than a commodity which we lease for the short term.

Sandy Ress

Sandy Ress

 

Sandy Ress

Party: Independent

Job: Owner of Pet Place Plus

Years in Teton County: 20

Lives in: North of town

Sandy Ress has a background in economics and law and has owned several businesses,  including Pets Place Plus in Jackson. He feels that background qualifies him to serve on the board, along with “a passion for this community, common sense, relishing new challenges, problem solving and a desire to keep learning.”

Ress sees many issues, such as traffic and the affordable housing shortage, as symptoms of a larger problem: “There are simply too many people here.” He hopes to curtail growth and improve protection of the environment and wildlife habitat.

“I would like to work toward a goal of becoming sustainable at our current level,” Ress said. “I will vote against all impactful growth that is intended to deliver huge profits to the project’s developers and adversely affect the rest of us.”

However, he would support certain, necessary expansions, such as the hospital expanding its services or adding employee housing. He said he’d support efforts to increase the supply of affordable rental housing if they didn’t lead to further growth.

In a campaign to encourage patients to use the MRI services of St. John’s Medical Center, not a competing private company, Ress parked a “clunker” car with a sign in the parking lot of Teton Orthopaedics. His passion for the hospital stems from his experience with St. John’s doctors who helped cure him after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2017.

Top 3 issues

1. Human services funding

2. Commercial growth

3. Wildlife (protecting habitat, preventing collisions, etc)

Lodging tax: Support or oppose?

Oppose: "Would support if no funds were used to increase tourism."

Tribal Trail Connector: Support or oppose?

Support: "My answer isn't simply yes/no, but I lean to yes."

Do you agree with the community goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce?

Disagree: "An absurd number pulled out of someone's ***."

What should be the priority in upcoming rezones of the county's complete neighborhoods, like Wilson, the Aspens or Hog Island?

Maintaining rural character and room for wildlife.

What will you do as commissioner to make headway on our affordable housing shortage?

With the right restrictions (e.g., rental instead of ownership, an income that qualifies initially, and, thereafter, occupants whose work is beneficial to our community, getting our affordable housing units to the least fortunate among us), I support affordable housing that does not lead to unrestrained growth.

What is the first initiative you would work to put in action to ease traffic congestion?

We cannot solve our traffic issues by creating and widening roads, putting in more roundabouts, etc. We are overpopulated and over-touristed and that’s where we need to focus. Let’s start by not encouraging summer tourism.

What is the most important conservation issue facing Teton County?

Protecting wildlife habitat, open space and the Bridger-Teton National Forest from development, Grand Teton National Park and our rivers from over-commercialization, etc. There is no “most important.”

 

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

Allie Gross covers Teton County government. Originally from the Chicago area, she joined the News&Guide in 2017 after studying politics and Spanish at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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