Nominations draw criticism from Commissioner Wilcox

Next month the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission will welcome new members for the first time since 2015, but at Monday’s meeting Commissioner Harley Wilcox called the appointments unbalanced.

Since the county’s massive land use code update started in 2013, the P&Z commission has been made up of nine members. The process continued for almost four years and the members who were in place at the time were re-appointed in order to maintain continuity. Commissioners Dave Hensel and Bruce Arnold have since resigned, and their positions were eliminated rather than filled. Now four of the seven seats are open; at the end of September, the terms will expire for Cleve Booker, who was appointed in 2012, and Marlene Robson, Pete Moyer, and David Breckenridge, who were appointed in 2013.

“First I should say, I really appreciate the current P&Z commissioners who have been serving a long time,” said Teton County Commissioner Cindy Riegel at the board meeting on Monday. “That said, I think we’re ready for some new commissioners, and we have some great applications.”

The county received applications from 14 people, including three incumbents (only Booker did not reapply), but as board chair, Riegel recommended appointing four of the new applicants.

She nominated Patrick McDonnell, a Tetonia business owner and carpenter; Bert Michelbacher, a retired mechanical engineer and project manager; Aidan Sullivan, who grew up north of Hatch’s Corner and now serves as program director for the Teton Regional Economic Coalition; and Erica Tremblay, a retired real estate broker.

Upon hearing her nominees, Wilcox accused her of not appointing a balanced board.

“Which one of those is a large landowner, an agricultural representative, which one is in construction?” he asked. “I would think you’d give some consideration to actually having some broad representation so that whatever comes out of P&Z might be well-accepted. If your goal is just to promote your agenda then I suppose you’ll deal with the consequences.”

“My goal is to get good, conscientious members of our community on the P&Z commission,” Riegel responded. “We had great applicants. There are a couple of them that I’d recommend for other boards.”

She added that she felt that appointing an equal number of men and women provided balance to the commission.

“I wouldn’t say this is unbalanced in any way, shape, or form,” Commissioner Bob Heneage said. “Is there a large landowner? No. But I don’t really think that’s a must. I want someone who can see all sides of a matter...I think you can have a point of view yet judge cases based on the facts at hand.”

Heneage seconded the nominations, and although Wilcox voted in opposition, the appointments passed.

“It looks like a pretty one-perspective P&Z, but you guys have the power, so it’s your prerogative,” Wilcox said.

County planning administrator Gary Armstrong invited the county commissioners to send a representative to an upcoming P&Z meeting to express the board’s appreciation to the outgoing members. He added that he had the utmost respect for the people who chose to serve.

“Planning and zoning is a tough spot,” Armstrong told the county commissioners. “You get the crap beat out of you from every direction and you do it as a volunteer. It’s hard and no matter what, somebody’s upset with you. Those who serve, serve well and out of love for their community.”

The four new members will serve for three years starting Oct. 1. Current commissioners Chris Larson and Jack Haddox’s terms will expire in Sept. 2020, while Sarah Johnston will finish her term in 2022.

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