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Teton Valley Feudalism?

Newspaper: Teton Valley News & Valley Citizen

Teton Valley Feudalism?

By, Anna Trentadue
Program Director/ Staff Attorney
Valley Advocates for Responsible Development

Women. Latinos. Realtors. Developers. Teachers. Service workers. Design professionals. Outdoor industry workers. Medical workers and professionals. These are all groups in our community that currently have NO representation on the Teton County Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z). That may soon change!

In order to promote diversity, the Board of County Commissioners recently voted to expand the P&Z to 11 by adding up to four more seats. Hooray for diversity! But wait – as reported in the newspapers, Commissioners Kunz and Park have consistently argued that these four new seats are needed in order to give “large landowners” their fair voice in government. What about all the other unrepresented groups? A fundamental principal of Democracy is that every citizen has an equal voice. Land ownership is not a prerequisite to government representation. To base political representation purely on land ownership is to bring us back to our own special brand of Teton Valley Feudalism.

And what about representative government? Because community planning affects everyone, our County Commissioners should focus on diverse and fair representation from the entire community. They should encourage genuine public participation from all viewpoints in the community and treat all persons equally in order to make decisions that benefit the community as a whole.

I suppose “fair” and “large landowner” are subjective terms, but consider this: 86% of all property owners in Teton County own less than 20 acres. Agricultural lands make up 80.9% of private lands, but generate only 7.5% of property taxes. Non-Ag lands pay 92.5% of property tax revenue. Looking to the makeup of the current P&Z, there is one recently retired large landowner farmer, and three of the seven commissioners own 10 acres or more – including farmland. There is only one city resident and one downtown business owner on the board. One seat on a seven-member P&Z equals 14% of the board. You do the math.

Although the P&Z is not as diverse as it potentially could be, I have observed the current board to be made up of seven thoughtful and highly qualified individuals. (Check out their colorful resumes on the Teton County website!) These folks dedicate countless volunteer hours to solving our community’s biggest challenges: fostering economic growth in diverse market sectors, preserving wildlife habitat and healthy streams, protecting recreational access to public lands and the private property rights of everyone.

There is a Catch22 here: Although diversity is critical to effective Democracy, an 11-member board is “bigger government” – which means more money and red tape. An 11-member board will significantly slow down the public process. Basic expenses for this larger board are budgeted at $9,240 for 2014.

Yet, if County Commissioners are intent on creating a P&Z this large, they should make it truly representative of the entire community. I encourage all interested persons to apply for these four new seats. 
You can send your letters of interest to commissioners@co.teton.id.us by 5pm on Monday, August 19th. If you need more information, go to tetoncountyidaho.gov.

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