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Let’s Bury the Buzzwords and Blame

Newspaper: Teton Valley News and Valley Citizen

Ahhh. Spring is here, which means mud is on the ground, in my dogs’ fur, and flying in the papers. Campaign season is upon us!

I was quite surprised to find myself mentioned by name in Mr. Moeller’s campaign editorial, having never met him before.  I work for a 501C3 nonprofit organization, which means there are significant limits on my ability to speak about political issues or rebut election year accusations. However, I can at least tell you this: by virtue of my job, I have attended almost every single County Commissioner meeting over the last 7 years. In this election season, there are alleged wrongdoings and opinions being attributed to the Teton County staff that are unfounded and untrue. Teton County has phenomenally hard working and professional staff members who have a vested interest in their quality of work because they live here too – just like all of us.

However, I have personally observed that it has become increasingly commonplace for the current County Commissioner administration to disregard the expert advise of their staff, often to the detriment of taxpayers. For example, the Commissioners fired County Planner Curt Moore and hired unlicensed contractor Stephen Loosli against the advise of planning staff. That cost $10K of taxpayer dollars, when the county could have been taking advantage of HUD grant funds that had already been allocated to support land-use planning in Teton Valley. In return, they got unusable, plagiarized code from as far away as Tennessee. The Board also disregarded the County Engineer and Solid Waste Supervisor’s recommendation and hired Forsgren Engineering, whose work on the landfill cap is now estimated to top $430,000. And yes, they disregarded staff advice and formed a citizen road committee to oversee the incredibly complex road and bridge budget.

Unfortunately, it appears that political candidates have seized on this trend as well, promising to actively engage and work well with staff while also penning editorials accusing the County Engineer of “not performing his most basic responsibilities.”  You can’t have it both ways: publicly accusing staff (whom you have never met) of failing to do their job while also assuring the public that you will “spend time with and learn from all county employees themselves.”

In some ways, criticizing public employees is easy to do. Their work is monitored in the public forum and is ripe for second-guessing.  However, when candidates lob accusations at county staff or offer summaries of staff’s alleged opinions, this is truly an unfair fight, as the staff cannot issue a public rebuttal or clarification. Ultimately, public employees are at the mercy of their elected bosses.

Furthermore, it’s only April, but yet again, editorials from candidates include spooky veiled references about the secret influences of “special interest groups” and even direct attacks on my nonprofit organization, whom I am proud to work for. Teton Valley’s voters deserve well-informed political discourse between candidates who have done their homework. The time has come for elections in this community to be based on issues, not buzzwords, blame, or blind accusations.

Anna Trentadue

Program Director / Staff Attorney

Valley Advocates for Responsible Development


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