This is my unedited Q&A with John Spina that formed the basis for his “Town Candidates See Value in County Ties” article in the 7/27/16 issue of the Jackson Hole News and Guide:
John Spina: This week’s round of questions is about town and county cooperation. What are the challenges of being separate entities? What are the benefits? Can the relationship be improved, if so how?
Judd Grossman: The challenge of being separate entities is dealing with overlapping interests and jurisdictions, and the disenfranchisement of County voters from Town decisions. The benefit is that Town voters enjoy a government that is close to the people and can respond to their unique concerns. Keeping the separate entities respects the integrity of Town as a real town, not just an administrative area within the county. I think that’s very important.
I’ve seen a lot of friction between the Council and the Commission. It seems that the two elected bodies have different styles of doing business and often suffer from poor communication. Enhanced transparency of decision making deliberations, and enhanced communication among electeds and with the public will help make sure nobody is blindsided.
The relationship between Town and County is important, because we need to work together to make sure that the county can stay as rural as possible and that new development is focused into the walkable urban commercial core of Town. Neither entity can make that happen by itself. It will take close coordination.
John Spina: How do you view the relationship that’s being forged with the joint housing department – how effective is this new structure? How would you work to improve it?
Judd Grossman: I think the new joint housing department makes sense. The Housing Authority needed reigning in. It was making big time money decisions without the accountability of being elected. I would like to see the newly restructured department go balls to the wall on enforcing the affordable housing deed restrictions. Lax enforcement has allowed terrible gaming of the system. Even one deed restricted home that is occupied by someone who shouldn’t be there costs the community hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted subsidies. The folks who are cheating on the deed restrictions are demoralizing the hard working taxpayers who are making enormous sacrifices to live here. In order to keep strong public support for deed restricted housing we need to have a zero tolerance policy on cheaters.
John Spina: How well have past joint ventures (parks and rec, START) worked and what did you learn from them?
Judd Grossman: I’m concerned that the joint planning department is overworked and unable to focus effectively on the needs of Town. We need to take a look at getting more dedicated attention from staff on Town planning, so that we can get our LDRs done expeditiously, and so that development projects aren’t hung up by unnecessary delays.
In general some of the joint ventures are a bit unwieldy in that both entities fund them, but only one entity manages any given department. I’m uncomfortable when Town money is spent without vigorous Town oversight.
I think decentralized power in the form of distinct local political entities are a good thing for democracy. The focus should be on working together rather than combining.