Halfway through its fall Swap Meet series, the Teton County Library is giving Jackson residents three more chances to engage with their elected officials.
On Wednesday, Teton County Commissioner Mark Newcomb will discuss COVID-related health mandates. Thursday, Town Councilor Jessica Sell Chambers tackles how unequal access to local government impacts affordability. Then the following Wednesday, Councilor Jonathan Schechter peers behind the veil of nonprofit boards.
Newcomb has heard the vitriol surrounding vaccine and masking requirements, and he is hopeful his 6 p.m. fireside will serve as a polite, fruitful antidote to the country’s current bitterness.
“I hope that folks show up who have views on both sides of the issue. And then we’ll see if we can maintain a civil discourse,” he told the Jackson Hole Daily, conscious of the emotional debate going on at the state Legislature’s special session.
Series coordinator Leah Shlachter said the previous four dialogues have been mannerly and insightful.
“I would say that what Mark Newcomb is asking for, like a productive conversation, has been achieved so far, and all of them have been really wonderful discourse and very meaty,” she said.
Each one has also been distinct in topic and tone.
Commissioner Luther Propst’s expert mule deer migration panel allowed people to ask direct questions; State Representative Andy Schwartz’s philosophical “cancel culture” discussion gave people a chance to describe their own relationships with power; a co-hosted presentation of wealth inequality by Representative Mike Yin and Commissioner Natalia Macker connected esoteric policy with tangible impact; and Town Councilor Arne Jorgensen’s focus on the senior population helped expand people’s definition of “community.”
Shlachter, the library’s adult programming director, is hopeful the remaining conversations will be similarly engaging.
“A couple people have reached out asking if we would record the sessions… but the answer is no,” she said. “We see it as: There is a spectrum of different ways that citizens can engage with their elected officials, from really formal on-the-record things like public comment at town and county meetings… to seeing them in the post office and asking them something off the cuff.”
At these after-hours events, “nothing’s on the record, so you can change your mind,” Shlachter said. “There aren’t a lot of spaces where we can do that.”
For her 6 p.m. Swap Meet this Thursday, Councilor Chambers chose an Ezra Klein interview with Vox reporter Jerusalem Demsas, who writes about homelessness and infrastructure. In the podcast, “How Blue Cities Became Outrageously Unaffordable,” they discuss Biden’s economic agenda and the tension between democratic ideals and policies.
“The phenomenon the podcast describes is very much present here,” Chambers said via text.
“We claim to want equality and justice but our system isn’t set up to achieve that. We have a long history of giving access to people with property, time, money, power exacerbating their outsized effect on governmental decisions and effectively hindering our ability to add housing or transit, for instance.”
On Nov. 10, Schechter hosts the final dialogue of the series, centering a 2015 article, "The Wall Street Takeover of Nonprofit Boards," published by his alma mater, Stanford University.
Having served as a St. John’s Health trustee and on several Jackson and regional boards, Schechter brings a personal perspective to the topic. He also runs the research nonprofit Charture Institute, whose board members include Stanford and Yale University professors, and Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
“I'm essentially going to chum the waters,” Schechter said. “You throw an interesting idea out there, and then you sit back and you see where it goes.”
The councilor is also doing his own research — compiling demographic data from several elected boards in Jackson, which he hopes will reveal trends like diversity shortages. The full findings might not be ready by next Wednesday, but he said his study will certainly factor into the discussion.
For links to all the articles elected officials selected, visit http://www.tclib.org/1351/Swap-Meet.