Nowhere does the title and meaning of Randy Newman’s tune “Big Hat, No Cattle” ring truer these days than in our Jackson Hole.
Can you imagine the expressions on the faces of vintage Wyoming residents as they discover their Legislature is ignoring important business to gallop off for a heroic intervention that benefits a personal family ego battle championed by the disgruntled candidate they just voted against in the gubernatorial campaign?
Then again, the predictable electeds’ activities in Cheyenne shouldn’t surprise anyone from or concerning Teton County.
In case you’ve missed the latest intrigue, consider current Exhibit A: Senate File 49, handcrafted to circumvent the Teton County master plan’s restriction against a scheme by Foster Friess family promoters to fit a Nordstrom-size private school into South Park.
Why on earth would South Park neighbors be upset with such proposed strong-armed abuse?
Our newly minted District 17 Wyoming Senate member Mike Gierau’s introduction of this Cheyenne spot zoning bill adds a scurrilous flavor to potential commercial disruption by an imposing private school. In this situation some Teton County residents are getting far more government than they deserve, or need, and for which they are paying.
For as long as I’ve known Mike, he’s relished performing both as a ’49ers fan and a professional Democrat, neither brand of which transports the average person far in all-red, Denver Broncos-crazed Wyoming. So far Mike’s sourdough pancakes, affability and hard work are pluses.
What disappoints me is retracing Mike’s elected office background that began when we served together on the nonpartisan Jackson Town Council before his move to the county commission. His true elected life began by contributing to the two bodies that remain the most effective and responsive political subdivisions alive in this country. Compare town and county governments to state legislatures and Congress and you’ll immediately recognize that local jurisdictions overall are where beneficial projects happen, constituents are served and giant debts don’t occur.
For years it was a challenge for municipalities to pry any sort of pure home rule away from Cheyenne. Wyoming still does not allow any of its 23 counties to adopt charters, therefore general law prevails. But the state constitution now allows cities and towns to adopt charter ordinances. Of Wyoming’s 99 municipalities only seven (Green River, Douglas, Powell, Cody, Jackson, Gillette and Afton) have charter ordinances and thus maintain home rule powers.
From my first days in Wyoming in 1973 as the editor of the Jackson Hole Guide, it was curious that during scheduled January legislative sessions an unusual transition came as many former locally elected folks won state seats and migrated to Cheyenne. In the process we who remained behind often became a sometime inconvenience and often were treated as we no longer knew what was in our best interests. Cheyenne-ists knew better.
Senate File 49 is the latest token of bad judgment that sailed through the sieve-like Senate, championed by none other than former Senate President Eli Bebout. It is paradoxical to me that Eli, whom I met and learned about on a pre-Jackson Hole One Fly float fishing trip, is yet another gubernatorial casualty whose own Republican Party members ousted him in favor of a more favorable Democrat. Still upset about a primary election party crossover, candidate Friess blames Democrats for ruining his election plans. But Eli had it worse when some of the state’s leading Republicans urged their party supporters to cross over and support Democrat Dave Freudenthal.
This could lead some to surmise why both battered losers — Eli and Foster — currently make up this mutual admiration society, with South Park residents being collateral damage.
As SF 49 migrates to the House Education Committee it is time to let the members know how residents, not just from Teton County but statewide, feel about maintaining local control in matters of land use authority. Exempting private schools from county zoning plans is a much greater arena than arguing over a monument to a prominent family in South Park. Let the Legislature know your feelings.
You certainly know mine.
Big boat, no paddle
Teton County officials appear to be the only stand-up ones in the crowd willing and sturdy enough not to ignore (like U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Forest Service) and enforce unpermitted berms, bridges, ponds and levees erected by the recent Snake River Sporting Club evolution. Such misdeeds came to public attention last spring when boaters recognized vast quantities of rearranged fill and increased property elevations visible from the river.
As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s deja vu all over again” as new boots, cowboy hats, golf clubs and river encroachments continue with this reinvented-again golf course, country club and land development along the Wild and Scenic Snake River between Hoback Junction and Palisades Reservoir.
Starting in the early 2000s the Canyon Club, an extension of the Riverbend Ranch, was the developmental device for a project-driven tycoon yearning to rub shoulders with famous golf course designers while thinking his resources and insights could outflank an almost free-flowing, meandering river with uncontrolled tributaries bulging with snow runoff.
Each new Sporting Club iteration ostensibly introduces Jackson Hole to a savvy real estate mind with exceptional marketing alchemy. But with the environmental odds stacked against maintaining a status quo, this is a monumental challenge.
Thank you, Teton County, for keeping our playing field level.
Big head, no brains
“Who are these individuals who think they are bigger than the beautiful environment we live in?” questioned my friend Sarah last fall. She and her neighbors had just been treated to the new and changing face of Jackson Hole when a new homeowner in her subdivision near Hoback River Road did the unthinkable.
After construction was complete the newbie celebrated Christmas by mowing down willows and limbing the area’s pines so he could have a clear view of the river. Disrupting fauna and natural landscapes within 150 feet of river frontage is, reportedly, against county regulations.
Despite neighbors’ outcry this time the county apparently did little to thwart the behavior or appease the offender’s neighbors.
Facts are that as Jackson’s resounding cachet continues to soar, an often less-than-endearing class of entitled characters will arrive. Without experience in generous local customs this group will overstep longstanding community prerogatives, to the disgust of longtime residents.
To clarify and explain this behavior, I’ll recount what is known as the Vincent Study on the Madison River. A young biologist named Richard Vincent discovered after repeated stocking of hatchery-raised rainbow trout fry and fingerlings to Montana’s famous Madison River that larger and older native fish abandoned the stocked area. The hatchery trout survival rate couldn’t sustain the natural river and fishing statistics plummeted.
Vincent’s findings convinced his superiors and wildlife biologists nationwide that conserving healthy wild trout populations required appropriate regulations, habitat protection and an end to blanket stocking.
I view quality trout populations and quality residents as similar.