Coordinating two government bodies and keeping all parties informed is no easy job. The next mayor’s leadership will be key in determining the future of the town and county’s increasingly intermingled relationship.

Without strong leadership, joint ventures such as housing and transportation can become convoluted and drastically hinder the outcome of necessary projects.

The four nonpartisan mayoral candidates running in the primary election offer their thoughts on working with the county.

The primary election will take place Aug. 16, when the field will be whittled to two, and the general election is set for Nov. 8. For the first time the elected mayor will serve a four-year term.

Stephen McDonald

A longtime blue-collar worker in Jackson, McDonald said he is running for mayor to combat large-scale developments that are transforming Jackson and making it a more expensive place to live in.

He is strongly in favor of joint town and county ventures — anything to bring Jackson closer together as a community, he said.

“I think the current relationship between town and county works well,” McDonald told the New&Guide. “A major benefit is that we all love and care for the community. I’m open to combining the police and sheriff’s department and think the town should have a bigger say in the operation of START bus.”

While he universally supports joint ventures, McDonald strongly opposes the creation of the new joint housing board. Not because of it bicameral structure but because he believes any government housing project is inherently flawed.

“The Grove debacle proves that government should not be in the housing business,” McDonald said. “Government housing … segregates poor into districts, decreases surrounding homeowner value, promotes a low-paid transient population, encourages fraud and always has an increased police response.”

Sara Flitner

Elected mayor in 2014, incumbent Flitner has largely focused on housing and transportation.

With four more years in office and new sources of funding raised through tax initiatives, she believes she can safely and effectively lead the town into the next decade.

A large part of her plan is creating a strong relationship between the town and county.

“The town and county prioritize working together, and I have seen that firsthand since stepping into the job as mayor,” Flitner said. “Obviously, any consolidation we can realize means efficiency of time and resources and a better bang for the taxpayer’s buck.

“We learned we can save money,” Flitner said. “We’ve learned that the best structure is one that provides a single boss instead of dual reports to both administrators.

“I give credit to my town and county predecessors, along with local residents who asked for joint programs, for having the foresight to work towards joint ventures that serve the community better.”

Flitner said the two will continue to benefit from working together, “since decisions made in vacuums and without cooperation rarely last, nor do they work.

“From a practical aspect the biggest challenge is just finding enough hours in the day to get our work done, provide the services we are privileged to offer and communicating well with each other,” she said.

“What works best for me is to stay focused on the fact that we all have good intentions and want to serve the community.

“We all agree that we serve smart, committed, passionate people, and believe this is the best place anywhere.”

The new joint housing department, she said, will force cooperation that should streamline the development process and allow elected officials to combine financial as well as strategic plans.

“The best thing about the new structure is the fact that it demands a joint plan, joint efforts and functional as well as practical collaboration,” she said. “Two ways I will continue to work for improvement: (1) working to get the right resources in place so we can get some housing redeveloped, built or improved, and (2) staying out of day-to-day minutia and focusing on who we are trying to house so that Jackson is still a community 30 years from now.”

Mark Obringer

With 16 years of experience on the Jackson Town Council, over 20 years of experience as a renovation contractor and 28 years as a Jackson resident, Obringer intimately understands the town political process.

He so fully supports joint town and county ventures that he hopes the town and county can one day work as a single entity.

“Being separate entities isn’t really that much of a challenge in my mind because we have worked so well together for so long it has just became second nature to cooperate with each other,” said Obringer. “The county is better at issues dealing with the natural environment whereas the town deals better in the built environment.”

He added that joint departments have worked well.

“I have learned that the most effective way of running the business of Teton County is to have one governing entity, maybe some day,” he said.

“There is always the issue of the county only being able to do what the state allows them to do,” he said. “The town, on the other hand, can run its own business.

“I see no specific benefit to having two government entities in Teton County. Wouldn’t it be great if people in the county could vote for the Town Council?”

Obringer said relationships can always be improved: “Nothing is perfect,” he said.

Despite his fervor for joint ventures, Obringer said he has yet to make up his mind on the new joint housing department.

“I do not believe that we have given the new housing group, the housing enablers, enough time for us to critique that group,” he said. “I still believe the first step for any housing group is to create a single, unified, regional housing plan that is tied to future transit plans.”

The new housing department has yet to do so.

Pete Muldoon

Muldoon is a longtime Jackson resident, musician, small-business owner and blogger for Planet Jackson Hole, where he fine-tunes his political opinions.

While he supports furthering town and county cooperation, he believes joint ventures need to be better thought out and better explained to the community before being instituted.

“There is obviously a lot of jurisdictional overlap and some management redundancy,” he said. “The different entities are confusing to a lot of voters, and that complexity makes for a less functional democracy.

“It causes governmental gridlock when the town and county can’t agree on a course of action. While getting it right is important, getting it done is important too.

“These are structural problems,” he said, “which means the solution is restructuring. It’s not clear that the benefits of restructuring outweigh the costs. Nor is it clear how to do that in a way that makes sense, yet that doesn’t run afoul of state law. I think we have bigger fish to fry at the moment.”

Like many of his fellow candidates, Muldoon is unsure of the new joint housing department. Before he can judge its performance, he said, the town and county must first secure funding to work with.

“I think the jury is still out on the effectiveness” of the joint housing department. “But if we don’t start properly funding housing solutions, it’s really not going to matter,” he said.

“The Housing Trust has a great shovel-ready affordable rental development that’s being postponed because of lack of funding,” he said, “and that postponement means we will pay more later and people will stay homeless.

“For that to happen in the richest county in the country and in a town that faces an existential threat from a lack of affordable housing is unfathomable.”

Contact John Spina at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

Cody Cottier covers town and state government. He grew up with a view of the Olympic Mountains, and after graduating Washington State University he traded it for a view of the Tetons. Odds are the mountains are where you’ll find him when not on deadline.

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