They’ve picked a planner. In less than an hour, with no interviews, the Board of County Commissioners decided to enter into contract negotiations for the county’s new part-time planning position with Stephen Loosli.
Eleven applicants from as far away as Ireland and as close as Victor and Driggs sent in their qualifications for the position.
After returning from executive session the commission chairman Kelly Park made a motion to enter into contract negotiations with Loosli “with the contract to be determined.”
“I will vote with this even though I voted against both of the other positions to try to support what you guys are trying to do. I will say, probably not the most qualified of the applicants, but I know that you guys are trying to do something different,” Commissioner Kathy Rinaldi said.
Rinaldi said in an interview that her top choice for the position was an applicant from California who had more than 25 years of professional planning experience. He also stated in his application that his great grandfather Rudolph Hochstrasser was one of the founding members of the community in the 1890’s. His grandfather and father grew up on a dairy farm in Tetonia he said, and are buried in local cemeteries.
Rinaldi told the TVN that it was the first time she had been through a hiring process where the person had not been selected for their qualifications, but that the decision was not about filling a position.
“Think if we can get trust with our farm people back and if [Loosli’s] the right choice, we’ll know,” Park said.
Angie Rutherford current planning administrator, understands that sentiment.
“Our large land owners trust him and that’s not a bad thing,” she said.
Loosli has spent most of his career as a developer and builder. According to his resume, he was Planning and Building Administrator for Fremont County from Aug. 2010 to Nov. 2012. He is currently the president and CEO of Computer Lab Solutions, LLC, in Idaho Falls and the founder and CEO of Okoshpare, a consulting firm, that submitted a bid for the ambulance services for the county. He is currently completing his master’s degree in Managing Rural Development from the University of London.
Loosli said that he had met with Teton County residents last year and again this year earlier in the spring. He had been asked to explain the work of Code Studios in relation to the county’s new Comprehensive Plan at a meeting in Tetonia.
“There was a lot of confusion in the market place and some distrust with Angie,” he said.
Loosli impressed Bonnie Reese, a large landowner and member of the comp plan agricultural heritage committee who had attendeda recent meeting with Loosli.
“I thought he was really sharp,” Reese said. “It seemed like he was a planner and he really knows what he’s talking about.”
Reese did not remember who had organized the meeting. She said she attended simply because she had been asked to go.
Loosli should be able to explain the work of Code Studios well. He helped win the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Communities grant that is paying for the consultants to write a new development code that Teton County could adopt. He was the manager of the $1.5 million grant until he left Fremont County in November of last year.
In his new position, Loosli believes he will be closely involved in writing a new devlopment code.
“I’ve been asked to come in and help the county achieve a balanced and successful process of taking the comp plan into a revised development code,” he said.
Loosli said that at the request of the commissioners he would be at the special meeting of the BOCC with Code Studios scheduled for Friday.
“I think it’s appropriate that he’s here if its part of the scope of work. It would be nice if he could at least hear the conversation,” Kunz said at Thursday’s BOCC meeting.
No contract is official yet, though. The commissioners have not yet approved a scope of work for the position. County Prosecuting Attorney Kathy Spitzer will have a draft ready for the BOCC at their next meeting on Mon., April 22.
In order to for Kunz to keep his promise to save the county money by reorganizing the position, Loosli’s compensation will have to come in under the $20.50 an hour plus 30 percent additional in benefits that County Clerk Mary Lou Hansen said former planner Curt Moore had been paid. Kunz has also said that he wants to keep the position limited to 20 hours a week.
Loosli said that Park called to notify him that the county wanted to negotiate a contract with him and that Kunz would be handling the negotiations.
Kunz did not respond to requests for comment.
Loosli is no stranger to the members of the BOCC. Approximately a year ago, he asked the Teton County BOCC to help support another grant application. He also said that he has had phone conversations with Park during his years a commissioner. Kunz said he met him only recently, however. Loosli said that about two weeks ago, shortly after he had submitted his application, he reached out to Kunz and the two met over sandwiches.
Loosli also has controversy surrounding his past actions and ideas.
A permit Loosli was also involved in caused a lawsuit for Fremont County. The Island Park News reported on May 10, 2012 that a May 2 judgment from Judge Gregory Moeller remanded a permit for a gravel pit for Stoddard Brothers, because Loosli and two of the county commissioners had acted with “bias, conflict of interest, and ex parte communications.”
In 2010, Loosli had voted in favor of allowing the gravel mining operation while a member of the Fremont County Planning and Zoning Commission. Residents adjacent to the proposed pit opposed the permit. Loosli never revealed his business ties with Stoddard Brothers, according to court documents.
“The record establishes that Stephen Loosli had a significant business relationship with Depatco, a sister company to Stoddard Brothers, when he served as a member of the Fremont County Planning and Zoning Commission on June 28, 2010. It is undisputed that Loosli owed Depacto $4, 714. 24 on the day of the hearing. It also appears that DePatcto maintained a recorded lien in the amount of $210,046.36 against Falls Crossing, LLC,a company managed by Loosli,” the Island Park News cited the court ruling.
In August of that year, Loosli became the Planning and Building Administrator for Fremont County and the gravel pit received a permit.
Loosli said that he had had been asked by the commissioners at the time to serve on the Fremont P&Z on the condition that he step away from real estate dealings. Realizing that the real estate market had crashed anyway, he left the management of Falls Crossing, LLC to serve on the P&Z. He also said that he did not, at the time, know that Depatco and Stoddard Bothers, Inc. were related companies. He said the commissioners then hired him as Planning and Building Adminstrator when they fired the previous administrator.
Park said that he was not aware of the lawsuit involving Loosli.
“I feel if you look at everybody that looks at planning and zoning there’s gonna be a conflict of interest they’ve done somewhere,” Park said.
An earlier lawsuit against Fremont County involved an idea of Loosli’s.
In 2007, Fremont County Smart Growth Coalition sued their county over changes to the development code. The citizen group asked that the “Loosli Amendments” be repealed stating that they were illegally adopted.
According to Pat Sturm, one of the first board members of the coalition and a farmer and landowner, the amendments would have increased building densities on farmland in the county and made it much easier to divide land. The group also objected to the changes because the Fremont County Commissioners adopted them without going through the proper channels.
“It was a sort of instantaneous change in policy and code without any input, without anything from the P&Z,” Sturm said.
Sturm said that a group of farmers who wanted to develop land were in favor of the code changes. Loosli said that the amendment he had proposed removed use of the Land Evaluation Site Assessment tool which he said affectively directed development to outlying areas near the National Forest and disadvantaged less wealthy landowners. He said that the amendment went through the P&Z but the commission did not recommend it for approval. However, the county commissioners approved the Loosli Amendments after public hearings and subsequent work sessions. Loosli said that the courts repealed the amendments on a technicality because of how the change was noticed. They were never again adopted.
Loosli also wrote the development code currently in place for Fremont County. The code received accolades from the Sonoran Institute for its open space requirements.
“The most significant outcome was the new requirement that subdivisions protect 65 percent of the most sensitive land on the property,” Luther Probst, executive director of the Sonoran Institute wrote on the organization’s website.
However, Loosli’s replacement, Tom Cluff is working to revise it. His current efforts are focused on the application process.
“Some of our application process needs to be simplified,” he said. “We’re getting feed back that the process is burdensome and difficult to understand.”
Jan Neish, who is the communications director for Fremont County Smart Growth Coalition attends the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission meetings and has also witnessed frustration with Fremont County’s current code. At Tuesday night’s P&Z meeting she said that Cluff called the code “exceptionally burdensome” and a “monstrous liability.”
However, others fully support the work of Loosli.
Ryan Lerwill, a real estate agent in Fremont County who grew up in Teton County and whose family still owns land and actively farms in the area, praised Loosli.
“I’m a friend of Stephen. What he’s accomplished under incredible odds, in my humble opinion, Stephen has always held true to his ethics and did great things for Fremont County,” Lerwill said.
Loosli received funding for the master’s degree program at the University of London from the HUD Sustainable Communities grant he was managing. The grant includes a component to support education. Loolsi said he has been looking for a way to give back to the grant process which motivated him to apply for the position in Teton County.
The county commissioners will discuss Loosli’s contract on Mon., April 22.
TVN en Español
En menos de una hora, sin entrevistas, la Junta de Comisionados del Condado decidió entablar negociaciones de contrato para la nueva posición de planificación a tiempo parcial con Stephen Loosli. Loosli ha pasado la mayor parte de su carrera como desarrollador y constructor. Según currículo fue el administrador de planificación para el Condado de Fremont desde agosto de 2010 hasta noviembre de 2012. Actualmente es el Presidente y Director Ejecutivo de Computer Lab Solutions, LLC, en Idaho Falls y el fundador y CEO de Okoshpare, una consultora, que presentó una oferta para los servicios de ambulancia para el Condado. Actualmente está terminando su maestría en gestión de Desarrollo Rural de la Universidad de Londres. Es un figura de conflicto. Fue reñido por el juez Gregory Moeller en un litigio por tener un conflicto de interese en dar un permiso para una mina de grava. También escribí reglas de construcción para Fremont County que unos grupos les gustan mucho y otras creen son un desastre.