Facing a call to recuse himself from voting on the Tribal Trail Connector, Teton County Commissioner Luther Propst says he doesn’t need to.
“I don’t want to disenfranchise people who voted for me,” Propst told the Jackson Hole Daily on Monday. “I feel that it’s important for me to represent the hundreds of people that are affected in a manner that’s similar to how I’m affected.”
Propst, the lone vote against the South Park Loop to Highway 22 connector in early June, is among the 100-some homeowners in the Indian Trails subdivision, which abuts Tribal Trail Road.
Traffic modeling indicates that the connector, if built, would bring more traffic through the residential neighborhood, bypassing the Y intersection.
Indian Trails residents, including some members of the stakeholder committee assembled to evaluate the connector, have been critical of the proposal.
Former Teton County Engineer Sean O’Malley, who retired in 2019, supports building the road. He said he was concerned about “potential bias” in Propst’s decision-making because of his home’s proximity to the project.
“I think there is a perception of or a concern about a potential lack of impartiality,” O’Malley said.
The two have exchanged emails about O’Malley’s concerns, which are attached to the online version of this article at JHNewsAndGuide.com.
Those emails show that, before he was elected, Propst asked a personal lawyer, Mark D. Sullivan, whether he would need to recuse himself from voting on the connector. Sullivan wrote in a 2018 memo that he wouldn’t and that the matter was “not a close question of law.”
That Propst is one of many Indian Trails residents was central to his argument.
Wyoming law, Sullivan wrote, recognizes the importance of elected officials’ “right to represent” their constituency and blocks officials from voting “only in clear cases of personal or private interest,” which has two statutory components: The interest must be “direct and immediate, as opposed to speculative and remote,” and must provide a public official “greater benefit or lesser detriment than it does for a large or substantial group or class of persons who are similarly situated.”
“You are but one of many residents living in Indian Trails,” Sullivan wrote. “Your interest is the same as, and no greater or lesser than, a large or substantial group or class of persons that are similarly situated.”
O’Malley told the Jackson Hole Daily that Sullivan’s opinion indicates “that [Propst] has no legal requirement to recuse himself from Tribal Trail matters.” But, he said, “I do believe that he does need to feel he can be impartial and make the best decisions for the county.”
Propst said he believed he could, and that he has made his opinion known on the connector since running for election. As a county commissioner candidate in 2018, he told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that he opposed the project and, more generally, opposed “a roads-first approach to transportation.”
“I’ve spent my whole life fighting bad road connections,” Propst said Monday. “As you saw when I torpedoed the comp plan update, I’m consistent about transitioning our society away from over-dependence on the automobile.”
Propst’s vote against a draft update of the 2012 Jackson/Teton County Comprehensive Plan — he opposed language calling for the east-west connector in northern South Park — was one of three dissenting votes that have kept the document from moving forward.
If Propst had recused himself prior to the commissioners’ June 2 vote on the Tribal Trail Connector, it likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Four commissioners voted to move the project on to the next stage. Three yea votes were required to do so.
But the Teton County Board of County Commissioners will need to vote on the project at least three more times in order to break ground.
Three yea votes will be required each time to move the project forward. If Propst chooses to recuse himself, and the commission splits 2-2, a vote will fail.