The field of candidates for Jackson Town Council — three declared council hopefuls and two write-in candidates who are approaching the race very differently — will be narrowed to four for the Nov. 3 general election. That means the two write-in campaigns for Town Council might affect the race. Because the top four vote-getters will advance to the general, it is likely that either Jessica Sell Chambers or Jennifer Ford will end up on the November ballot, so long as both get the requisite three write-ins to be competitive. The election is nonpartisan, so any person who resides within town limits can vote for four candidates on Aug. 18. The council hopefuls are competing for two seats on the council: one held by Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson, who is running for mayor, and Councilor Jim Stanford’s open seat. — Billy Arnold
The mayor and a current councilor announced their intent to swap places in the upcoming election.
Jackson Town Councilor Hailey Morton Levinson, who has served on the council for seven years, will run for mayor. Mayor Pete Muldoon will cede the position and instead pursue a seat on the council.
Muldoon, 47, admits “there’s a part of me that likes being the head of government, and I like the title,” but he added that “that’s a part of me I should probably take and bury under a mountain somewhere.”
He knew Morton Levinson wanted the position. In fact, she said, she planned to either run for mayor or not run at all. So Muldoon decided that “what’s important is we have a good council and we operate as a team. It was important to me that we keep that team going.
“I think it’s my turn to give that support to someone else,” he said. “She brings a perspective to our council that we can’t afford to lose.
“I will work toward supporting Hailey as mayor, and continuing the good work the council has done,” he added. “We’re on a great track, we are starting to act strategically with a long-term focus. I think it’s important that we do that, and I’m the most prepared and qualified person that will run for council.”
Elected in 2016, Muldoon became mayor in 2017, and has since approved policies and developments intended to address the region’s housing and transportation challenges.
The mayor-turned-council candidate is a long-standing supporter of the seventh penny sales tax, which is on the ballot in November, and a staunch advocate for dense, affordable housing development. He reliably pushed for density at 440 W. Kelly Ave., the site of a town and county housing project that eventually became a town-led endeavor. More recently he has called for the town to take the lead on planning northern South Park, seeking denser development than that proposed by the Gill and Lockhart families, both of which are seeking upzones for housing developments.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Muldoon has emphasized acting quickly and decisively in support of Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell, who has pushed for enforceable health orders intended to slow the spread of the virus in Jackson Hole. At times that has meant getting out ahead of the state — a record Muldoon has been touting.
“The council clearly led the state on this,” Muldoon said during an Aug. 5 candidate forum. “We led the county on this and I’m proud for having gotten the council together on this very, very early.”
Most recently he has turned his attention to fostering a climate advocacy movement in Teton County, and the council has voted to become carbon neutral by 2030.
A fixture of Teton County’s education community will try something new this fall. Sort of.
Longtime educator Jim Rooks, a former Jackson Hole High School social studies teacher, Summit High School principal and Jackson Hole High School vice principal, is vying for a seat on the Jackson Town Council.
Now retired from teaching, Rooks is the director of community engagement at the Wonder Institute, where he is working to launch a new youth and teen center. He is a lifelong Jackson resident, and his great-grandmother, Genevieve Van Vleck, served on the town’s — and nation’s — first all-female government in the 1920s.
A century later Rooks hopes to honor her legacy as a compromiser.
“I just kind of want to step back to try and do the best I can do to bring our community together,” he said.
He added that there’s also a higher social and economic purpose for doing so.
“We need to get together to act together and respond to the pandemic,” he said.
A 2019 bike accident left Rooks with nerve pain in his feet and legs that made teaching difficult. He resigned at the end of the 2020 school year — “the hardest professional decision” he’s made, he said — but he hopes to stay involved with the high school’s team for “We the People,” a national challenge based on the U.S. Constitution.
What Rooks has learned from running the program is part of why he’s seeking office.
“I think it was the ultimate boot camp for me to be ready for politics,” he said. “If you know the history of our country, we’re founded on compromise. There’s almost always common ground.”
Rooks argued for that common ground approach as the community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The very most important pressing issue in front of Jackson Hole right now is our response to COVID-19 on an economic and social level,” Rooks said.
Our response, he thinks, requires rethinking spending.
Given the situation now, he is advocating that the town look at “every single line item” for appropriate places to cut. He also sees rationale for digging into reserves.
“We need to spend those monies because it’s a rainy day,” Rooks said. “I consider it an economic emergency, and I think we need to access any and all available funds.”
Rooks, declaring himself a fiscal conservative, has, however, been hesitant to support an increase on the spending side of the equation. He has said that whether the seventh penny sales tax on the November ballot is appropriate is a question for voters to decide.
Realtor Devon Viehman said she is seeking a seat on the Jackson Town Council to give back to the town she’s called home her whole life.
“I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I have something to give back to my community,” said Viehman, who grew up in Jackson and is now raising a family in town. “Our community has given me and my family so much, it’s time for me to give back to them.”
In an interview with the News&Guide, Viehman said the decision to get into the race this year more or less came down to timing.
Viehman said she wants to see Jackson “grow in a healthy, sustainable way,” but feels the opportunity to set it on that path is disappearing.
Viehman is a former president of the Teton Board of Realtors and a former treasurer and president of the Wyoming Association of Realtors.
Now Viehman, 38, is an associate broker at Engel and Volkers, where she produces the Jackson Hole Report with her father, David Viehman, and Luke Smith. She hopes to parlay her real estate experience to address the town’s housing issues.
“There is a way to have housing for all,” Viehman said. She asserted that communities on the East Coast, rather than in the Intermountain West, have achieved that goal, but didn’t specify which.
Viehman doesn’t have an exact “sweet spot,” as she described it, in mind for housing solutions, but she does have her eye on one of the town and county’s signature housing policies: housing mitigation rates, rules that require developers to pay for workforce housing or build it themselves.
Rejiggered and reapproved in 2018, the new rules increased the amount developers of commercial properties — restaurants, offices and the like — would have to pay or build, and did the opposite for developers of residential properties like multifamily units. The Legislature has advanced bills intended to block or end the program, and Viehman said that amounts to a “target on our back.”
She said she believes the issue is a local one, and “we can still make a good compromise for everyone.
“We just need to get a little more realistic and bring them down, which will actually create more affordable housing,” Viehman said. “We have an opportunity to create a more equitable balance with those rates so private developers can actually develop.”
The realtor-turned-candidate said she hopes to do so “before Cheyenne changes [the rules] for us.”
People should vote for her, Viehman said, because “I care deeply about our community and want to see it grow in a smart, sustainable way.
“I have experience, passion and a unique skill set to serve, and I am asking for this job.”