Town Council: Election

Though the Council Chambers are rarely as full anymore as they are in this photograph from March 13, 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (most Town Council business has gone online), an election is going on and four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Town Council. You can read more about their positions below.

There are four candidates running for two seats on the Jackson Town Council. Read more about them and their positions here. You can vote for two candidates. Early voting is open now. — Billy Arnold

Jessica Sell Chambers 2020 mug

Jessica Sell Chambers

JESSICA SELL CHAMBERS

Occupation: Political/educational consultant

Years living in Jackson: 11

Age: 39

Lives in: Karns Meadow area

Why are you running for Jackson Town Council?

Talking to thousands of voters fuels me to run. Knocking on doors is my preferred mode of campaigning, which is why I know the magnitude of many’s struggles. I see and hear it firsthand. COVID-19 worsened an already bad situation, and many families who never needed assistance before are seeking it. Towns and counties will be responsible for responding to and repairing the social and economic damage done by COVID, but we’ll have the least amount of funding to do so. With that in mind, our town’s already strained budget is about to get worse. Alarmingly, a couple of male candidates did not take the threat seriously. One  misleadingly stokes fears that ‘if we pass the seventh cent we could end up at twelve cents,’ even though the state caps the sales tax at 7%. Jacksonites need an advocate that knows better. Finally, we need more women electeds: Diverse voices mean smarter choices.

What is or was your occupation, and how has it prepared you to be a town councilor?

Before my family moved to Jackson 11 years ago, I worked in international affairs and journalism. I have a Bachelors in International Studies, Culture and Communication, which included sociology and political science. It prepared me to be an open-minded problem-solver and cultural liaison, or go-between for people from different countries or socioeconomic classes, for example. I also have a Masters in Education for Social Science and urban education. I have been a teacher and educational consultant in the valley and with the University of Wyoming’s political science/international studies department. I’m fluent in French and I know what it’s like to be a second language learner; and I’m conversant in Spanish, which has obvious benefits in our community.

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Jackson

1. COVID-19

2. Human services funding

3. Affordable/workforce housing

What does this miss? Water quality is also important but not up there.

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

1. Government

2. Employers

3. Free market developers

Explanation: Really it should be collaboration, but building affordable housing is not profitable.

Mitigation for commercial and residential development: Support — We need to curb job creation and build housing for the workforce already in existence.

Seventh penny tax: Support — It is irresponsible and reckless to not pass it. We can’t go beyond a seventh cent sales tax per Wyoming law.

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

My immediate objective is stabilizing the housing situations of our community members who have been and will be affected by COVID-19, and then we can think about the long term. Our essential workers are disproportionately low-wage workers, Latinos and women. Addressing their housing needs must be a priority. They keep our town running and have the least amount of support or resources to care for their families. Like so many important things in our valley and state, we need steady and dedicated funding sources for affordable housing but also for things like property tax refunds for our seniors on fixed incomes who are fighting to stay in their homes. Big picture: We need to include rentals and options for our seniors and our vulnerable populations living on the lowest incomes.

What does “private property rights” mean to you?

We all know what private property rights are. I have them, and I respect them. Food for thought, though: Many people and families have never been able to own property, which makes private property ownership inherently inequitable. More and more people in Jackson aren’t able to own property — does that make those residents less than property owners? Owning private property seems more like a privilege that comes with responsibilities, such as taxes to ensure those who don’t have property have services and access to public property. I cringe a little bit when we talk about private property rights because we never talk about property as land that was taken generations ago from Indigenous peoples. All of this should be part of a discussion about private property rights.

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

COVID-19 complicates everything, but we need expanded START bus service to Rafter J, Melody Ranch, over the pass, and into the national parks, and carpooling must be incentivized. To be clear, I’m not in favor of expanding roads, but if it happens we need a dedicated bus and/or high-occupancy-vehicle lane. My magic wand scenario: building a car storage facility south of town where residents can leave their vehicles longer term (not boats or RVs) while they are getting around town on foot or alternative transit. When they need to take longer excursions they can get their vehicles. This will also reduce the need for parking spaces at new housing developments, increasing the square footage for housing. But all of this must be done in conjunction with a more robust START operation.

Pete Muldoon

Pete Muldoon

PETE MULDOON

Occupation: Current mayor of Jackson, works in construction and as a musician

Years living in Jackson: 20

Age: 47

Lives in: East Jackson

Why are you running for Jackson Town Council?

I believe that the council still has a lot of work to do and that I have the experience, competence, compassion and integrity to help with that work. I’m not afraid to make the hard decisions, and I bring the experience of a renter and blue collar worker to the job every day.

What is or was your occupation, and how has it prepared you to be a town councilor?

I’m currently the mayor of Jackson. I also work in construction and as a musician.

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Jackson

1. Climate change

2. Climate change

3. Climate change

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

1. Government, free market developers and employers

2. x

3. x

Explanation: Our entire community is responsible for ensuring our workforce can continue to live here.

Mitigation for commercial and residential development: Support — We need to improve our regulations to make sure all sectors of the economy are pulling their weight.

Seventh penny tax: Support — We are becoming unable to meet even the basic needs of residents, much less community goals.

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

I will continue to fund workforce housing through our housing department, support and improve our housing mitigation rules for new commercial development and for large second homes, and reduce barriers to workforce housing — like onerous and unnecessary parking requirements that contribute to our traffic problems.

What does “private property rights” mean to you?

It means the legal authority for a legally recognized owner to use a piece of property within the parameters of the law. Property rights are important, but they are not absolute and have never been in the history of this country.

Property rights are regularly restricted, for reasons good and bad. The town of Jackson, for example, will not allow you to build a 60-story building in East Jackson or to build a home without including two parking spaces. You can’t use your town lot as a hazardous chemical dump, and you can’t build a small grocery store in an East Jackson single-family residential neighborhood.

Some people take a very ideological view of property rights as absolute. But that is unworkable, and we need to use common sense and fairness when we approach this topic.

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

I believe we have [to] change the way we manage and require parking.

The town alone has over 100,000 on-street, off-street, public and private parking spaces. If we build more parking and then offer it for free, more people will drive cars to those spaces and our traffic will continue to get worse. We are incentivizing people to drive.

We have over $100 million in parking assets in Jackson, and we give it all away for free. This incentivizes driving and ensures that all of the spaces are full, while leaving taxpayers to pay for its upkeep.

We require new workforce housing to have excess parking spaces, even though those spaces are expensive and push the price of housing out of reach — or ensure it doesn’t get built.

We must leave behind last century’s theories of parking.

Jim Rooks

Jim Rooks

JIM ROOKS

Occupation: Retired educator

Years living in Jackson: 49

Age: 49

Lives in: Snow King area

Why are you running for Jackson Town Council?

My great-grandmother Genevieve Van Vleck was elected to the Petticoat Rule, or first all-woman town council, in 1920. I have a 2-year-old niece named Genevieve, who is a sixth-generation native daughter of this community. I will trust the voters of Jackson to know what Jackson Hole means to me. I also happen to think that I am uniquely qualified for a seat at the Town Council, given my background in governance and politics. I am a nonpartisan candidate for a non-partisan local office.

What is or was your occupation, and how has it prepared you to be a town councilor?

Teacher, principal, athletic coach, executive director of the Wonder Institute. I have 25 years of successful professional experiences that directly relate to government and politics. I have decades of experience managing large multimillion-dollar budgets and federal and state grants. I can build teams and unite people of diverse and partisan backgrounds. I have over a century of history in this town and plan to first work toward protection of our land, water and wildlife, as well as the people of Jackson Hole.

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Jackson

1. COVID-19

2. Human services funding

3. Climate change

What does this miss? As we saw during the presidential debate, we are a deeply divided nation. We cannot allow those national divisions to divide our local community.

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

1. Free market developers

2. Employers

3. Government

Explanation: Free market development will not solve our housing crisis, but it should be first to help.

Mitigation for commercial and residential development: Support — I do think commercial and residential require different approaches.

Seventh penny tax: Support — I reluctantly voted for it, for seven reasons. Watch the [Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club of Jackson Hole] forum for details.

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

Unity is the answer. If we can’t build large bipartisan support for common sense and practical solutions, then we become paralyzed during hyper dynamic times. I have 25 years of experience building teams of diverse people and forging common, middle ground on controversial issues. Pick a topic — water, housing, tourism, transportation, etc. Known solutions exist, but we continue to miss opportunities that aren’t perfect, but are progress, because we cannot unite. I am not naive, I understand the difficulties associated with unity, but know that I can push the pendulum to a centrist and action-oriented local government.

What does “private property rights” mean to you?

Forgive the government teacher in me, but “property” is found within the Fifth and 14th amendments of the Constitution. Governmental action, local land zoning, water and mineral rights, and development rights commonly impact private property. And I say this as a member of a family that lost 80 acres and two family cabins on Jackson Lake to an executive order from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. I strongly support property rights, but no right is absolute.

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

I would dive into transportation on multiple levels, but my first initiative as an elected official with limited resources would be to pick the low-hanging fruit. I have driven through this town for 35 years. I have a list of a half-dozen improvements that could be done with little cost or implementation. Examples include law enforcement or qualified traffic guards at busy intersections during chronic traffic areas, such as the junction of Scott Lane, Snow King Avenue and Maple Way. My “other” first initiative would be to support START and its newly revised transportation plan.

Devon Viehman Mug

Devon Viehman

DEVON VIEHMAN

Occupation: Realtor

Years living in Jackson: 29

Age: 38

Lives in: East Jackson

Why are you running for Jackson Town Council?

The decisions made in the next few years will impact our community for generations. I care deeply about our community and want to see it grow in a smart, sustainable way that creates a high quality of life for all ages, all income levels, and all abilities. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Here I am trying to be it!

I believe that I have the practical skills to help our town make progress on our large issues. And I have the willingness to listen and to learn from others along the way. I don’t want our community members to feel disenfranchised because of the way some of our elected officials speak to and about them. I want everyone to feel heard and considered, and at the very least, respected.

What is or was your occupation, and how has it prepared you to be a town councilor?

I began my career as a realtor 15 years ago and my passion for helping homeowners led me to serving on local, state and national boards in various positions including president and later on treasurer for a multi-million dollar budget.

For over a decade I have lobbied at the state and national level for home ownership rights, tenant protections and fair housing laws. Currently I chair a national committee with over 60 members from across the country.

I know how to manage a large budget and govern. On a more practical, day-to-day level: I know how to mediate. My job requires mediation between multiple stakeholders on a daily basis. Mediation requires good listening skills, patience, empathy, civility and creativity. I am certain I will use all of these skills as a town councilor.

Top 3 most pressing issues facing Jackson

1. Affordable/workforce housing

2. Human services funding

3. Preserving open space/wildlife habitat

Who is responsible for developing affordable housing? Please rank in order.

1. Free market developers

2. Employers

3. Government

Explanation: All three of these groups are responsible. The government must step in to fill the gaps.

Mitigation for commercial and residential development: Support — Commercial rates need to be adjusted so they don’t prohibit local entrepreneurs.

Seventh penny tax: Support

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

I want to explore both the private and public sectors collaborating to get housing developments to the finish line. This may require mediation and compromises, but we must ensure housing developments, like in northern South Park, include all housing types and that represent all income levels from deed-restricted through free market.

I’d also like to see transitional housing implemented so that no individual or family experiencing a housing or financial crisis needs to worry about becoming homeless.

Lastly, in July, I approached the Teton Board of Realtors about developing a public housing fund that would be used for directly helping members of our community. We aim to have the fund completely set up by the end of the year.

What does “private property rights” mean to you?

Private Property Rights include the right to use one’s land how one sees fit within legal statutes, the right to earn income from one’s property, the right to transfer one’s property to another and the right to enforce one’s rights. That is the definition, which isn’t up for much debate.

What does that mean to us as individuals though? Simply put, it is the American Dream for many people to own a home. I will continue my fight at the state and national level to preserve those rights that are at the foundation of our constitution.

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

Getting people like me to stop parking downtown! Our downtown employees take up many parking spaces, and the shuffle around the three-hour spots certainly adds to congestion. Some people even see our parking tickets as “cheap paid parking.” I would like to explore avenues on how we could have a tiered fine structure to disincentivize this.

Additionally, I will support countywide initiatives aimed at reducing traffic such as a high-occupancy-vehicle lane and expanded START bus service (that was delayed due to COVID-19).

Contact Tim Woods at 732-5911 or town@jhnewsandguide.com.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.
.
As of Oct. 18, 2020, the News&Guide has shifted to a subscriber-only commenting policy. You can read about this decision on our About Us page. Thanks for engaging in the conversation!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.