The role local news plays in defining and resolving community challenges is best summed up by our cartoonist Rob Pudim in his interview last week that graced our Valley section cover. After decades of distilling small-town life into pointed sketches, here’s how Pudim sees local news:
“Someone once said, ‘A dogfight on Main Street is more important to people than a war in Europe.’ I believe that. Local newspapers write about what really counts to the people living around them. If solutions to our problems are going to be found, I think it will be found locally and spread from there.”
Building on Pudim’s take, the News&Guide offers this 2020 wish list of solutions:
Let it Rains worker housing: Let’s look at turning 5 acres of county land next to The Aspens, called the Rains parcel, into a “receiving area” for density so in the future critical open spaces can be preserved and housing density built where density already exists.
Hire a transportation director: Planning for transportation and development takes committed experts to execute a community’s vision. We need a transportation czar with education, experience and boots-on-the-ground time in mountain communities to move beyond gridlock.
Comprehensive plan refresh: Evaluate community priorities and needs, including transportation goals as outlined in the sturdy Integrated Transportation Plan. How well is the comprehensive plan achieving community goals? Let’s revamp what’s not working and reinvigorate what is.
Shelter the homeless: Elected leaders, in concert with the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, need to energize local efforts to research and build a family homeless shelter. In the wealthiest county in America with a philanthropic culture, we can create a safety net for homeless children and their families. We already have a track record of building great community assets, from our libraries to the Rec Center. Let’s prioritize taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.
Park and Ride: With Kmart going out of business and Albertsons working to keep its parking lot free for customers, it’s time for elected leaders and private businesses to work together on a multistory parking garage on the south end of town. Let’s also give alternate street parking a try in winter.
Respect local control: The Legislature needs to back off its continued attack on local control. Respecting local decisions provides far better representation of what our community truly wants and needs. Locally elected officials — who remain accountable to local voters — know our community’s issues better than legislators from elsewhere in the state who presume to know what’s best for us. Instead of taking away what few local tools exist, the Legislature should start researching ways to expand local control so we can fix more of our problems at home.
Protect commuters: Inexperienced truck drivers, often with overweight loads and inoperable equipment, and those looking to shave time, miles and money off their trips, continue to crash on Teton Pass. We need to do more than fix the broken arrestor. The Legislature needs to change the law to hold drivers accountable with higher fines and mandatory revocation of a commercial driver’s license for violating laws designed to make Teton Pass safe for all. While we’re at it, let’s look into adding show sheds like the rest of the advanced world has.
Expand Medicaid: Stop hemorrhaging in the state budget caused by turning down dollars that could make the difference between life and death for 19,000 uninsured Wyomingites. Expand and the state would spend $18 million in the first two years, while the federal government would pay $135 million. Expansion would improve Wyoming’s economy and healthcare for all residents.
Air ambulance reform: We applaud the Legislature’s efforts to make air ambulances affordable to rural residents. Let’s keep chopping away at these surprise — and often outrageously expensive — bills.
Chronic wasting disease: It’s a big problem, but small, concrete steps can make a difference. We needed to build a carcass incinerator yesterday to ensure we destroy the deadly prions that spread disease and otherwise linger in the environment. Tennessee already has a $1 million incinerator in the works to combat CWD in deer. A county will run the incinerator, which will be open to hunters and processors. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department also needs to work closely with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to make sure deer and elk carcasses are handled and tested (and someday incinerated) in a way that treats them as the biohazard they may become or already are.
Resist apathy: Solutions require civic engagement. Take time to be informed about community issues that matter to you and seek out viewpoints different from your own.
Get real: Put away the screens and focus on the people and relationships that matter to you.
As Pudim put it last week, “If you are not part of the answer, you are part of the problem.”
We will be part of the answer. In 2020, we will renew our focus on solutions journalism. Our reporters will look beyond our community to report on how other towns and counties are tackling struggles similar to our own. We’ll report back what’s working, and what’s not. We’ll stay engaged, and ask you to do the same. You can start right now. Pen a Letter to the Editor with your solutions and email it to email@example.com. Let’s keep the conversation going.
Eds. note: This article was updated to correct Rob Pudim's name.