3 reasons to read this July 14th Board of County Commissioner Meeting Report
You really can’t make this stuff up.
If ever there was a VARD meeting report that was critically important to read – this is it! The dysfunction of the Board of County Commissioners has now reached a point where the Board is making decisions that can impact:
1) the public’s health and safety on our roads
2) inequities in how our tax dollars are spent
3) fundamental fairness in law enforcement
Please read below. Thank you.
July 14th Board of County Commissioner Meeting Report
Open Mic: The public rallies behind safe roads….
Jack Liebenthal: (Cedron resident, worked in nuclear systems safety) Urges the BOCC not to repeal their road standards. “It’s one of the most important responsibilities that you all have. You have a responsibility to make roads safe, whether it’s bicycles or farm machinery.”
Bill Leake: (County Commissioner Candidate, licensed engineer) “As the former manager of the 850 square mile Idaho National Laboratory site facilities and infrastructure, using road standards was never a question. To do otherwise would be fiscally irresponsible and show a total disregard for public safety.”
He then chastised the BOCC for how frequently they have reversed their votes, “wasting the public’s time and the county’s limited resources. ” He expected the Board to do their homework in advance of public hearings.
Commissioner Kunz then walked to the audience and plopped down a red plastic pail of gravel, which he says was taken from a county road.
“This is the standard for our roads. I just think there are some things that we need to work on.”*
Tony Goe: (Teton GOP Chairman and County Commissioner Candidate) Encouraged the board to look at what other counties have done with their roads before making any decision. He urged caution when spending tax funds.
Kunz then restated his position: “There are going to be some decisions made that people aren’t going to like. My goal is to bring every road up to a livable standard where people can safely maneuver down the road without 4WD.”*
Commissioner Rinaldi: “Do you have a good definition of ‘livable’?”
Rinaldi: “We have to set some type of measurable criteria, otherwise it’s pretty subjective.”
Isabel Waddell: (Driggs resident, business owner) Asks the BOCC to utilize its existing traffic and circulation studies. She then asked Commissioner Kunz: I don’t understand the bucket. “I don’t understand what that has to do with the public comments.”
Kunz then explained the significance of his red plastic vessel: “In the road standards that we have, we add dirt to our gravel to make it to spec.”*
Cindy Riegel: (County Commissioner Candidate, business owner) She thanked the BOCC for helping provide what she called government-supported entrainment over July 4th weekend with their financial support of the parades, balloon rallies, etc. “It is one of the busiest days in the entire year for business owners and that is important.” She then told Commissioner Kunz, her opponent: “One thing that you said when you voted against the Recreation Plan, it’s not the governments job to provide entertainment. But you did, and thank you for doing so.”
TVBDC: Big donors don’t support business development.
Later that day, the Teton Valley Business Development Center (TVBDC) asked the BOCC for $20,000 in funding for 2015, which is twice as much as last year. Commissioner Kunz now sits on the TVBDC board after County Attorney Kathy Spitzer was removed from their board for political reasons (listen at min 2:15) in March. Rinaldi said, “Sid sits on the board, and we did not budget twice as much.”
Kunz explained his reasoning for not doubling the county’s contribution: “It is important to me that we wean it off the public. That is something that as a Board, we have to work towards.”
Rinaldi asked to see a more aggressive private fundraising plan – the TVBDC is currently funded entirely from tax dollars. She asked TVBDC Executive Director Brian McDermott if their board members have fundraising requirements. He said they do not, and then explained that they rely solely on government funding because big donors generally do not support business development. (Listen to audio at min 8:30)
He reported that they have $14K left from the money given to the TVBDC from the State, Victor, Driggs, Tetonia, and the HUD grant. Kunz would like to see the cities double their contributions if the county is to do the same. Rinaldi wants to see concrete financial deliverables. Parks says they will get back in touch with McDermott if there are any changes to their allocation.
Code Enforcement: Call us before you call the Sheriff.
The conversation then turned to law enforcement. Chairman Park asked County Prosecutor Kathy Spitzer whether the BOCC should have any authority to reduce or drop county code violations against individual people. He cited a recent example where the Sheriff’s office was called to respond to an alleged theft of gravel from county roads by Ken Chambers to use in his private driveway.
This hit a chord with Kunz: “Before going to accuse someone of stealing gravel a cross the road, let us know.”
Spitzer: “So before I send the Sheriff out to investigate something you want me to check with you first?” (Listen at min 11:30)
Kunz: “I don’t want to know about every call, but when they’re – they’re –“
Spitzer: “So if a friend of yours is going to be investigated, you want to know about it first. Is that what you’re getting at? Because that’s what it sounds like.”
Rinaldi: “So if there is a complaint about stolen gravel, you want to be notified first?”
Kunz: “I would encourage courtesy. We don’t need to send the Sheriff out there. I mean, who ever noticed gravel being stolen?”
Spitzer: “For three years in a row, it was reported by the Road and Bridge Department.” She explained that the charges were dropped.
Rinaldi confirmed that no official policy changes were being made to require County staff to notify the BOCC before calling the Sherriff’s office to investigate county matters. Chairman Park agreed.
Public Works: Grumbles over gravel.
Then, Kunz questioned County Engineer Jay Mazalewski on the quality of gravel he displayed in his red plastic pail. Mazalewski explained that he was trying to get the county road “plasticity” up by adding more fines and clay materials. The gravel in the bucket was not yet a finished product. “This is the problem with our gravel pit; there is no clay in there….So that material is not to spec.”
Pointing to Kunz’s red plastic pail, Rinaldi said: “Did they claim it was to spec Sid? Because you said it was to spec when you showed us. When you showed everybody the pail, you said this was our standard.”
Kunz denied her allegation, and then quickly changed the subject by asking Mazalewski “Where does that spec come from?” *Writer’s Note: See Kunz’s quotes from Morning Mic above.
Mazalewski explained that it comes from the county’s spec pits, the US Forest Service, the Federal Highways Design guidelines, and consultation with other road engineers. Kunz countered that he talked to the surrounding counties and “nobody adds dirt to their gravel.”
Bill Leake then piped up from the audience: “I don’t think you understand road construction Sid. I’m sorry, but as an engineer, Jay is right. We need to listen to our engineer.”
To which Kunz quipped: “Appreciate your input Bill.”
Kunz then asked why PC Owen Corporation didn’t bid on the county’s gravel contract, and hypothesized that Mazalewski’s gravel standards were scaring away bidders. “With respect to engineer, none of this make sense.”
Bill Leake: “Hence we have piss poor roads in the county because we haven’t built our roads to spec.”
Kunz scoffed: “Piss poor! Did you make sure to write ‘piss poor’ into the record MaryLou? Did you get that?”
Rinaldi: “Sid, remember – courtesy.”
Mazalewski then asked Kunz to stop by his office and learn about where he gets these gravel standards. He further offered to give Kunz all of his reference materials and publications where he gets his professional standards from. Kunz does not reply.
County Road Standards: Kunz’s selective amnesia
The conversation then turned to repealing the county’s road standards. Chairman Park asks if the current standards are a feasible reality.
Mazalewski reminded the BOCC of the disclaimer in the county road standards, which was inserted at the request of the BOCC before they unanimously adopted it last spring. It provides a safety valve for the BOCC by stating that all roads do not have to be built to standard, in case the county lacked the resources to do so.
Park asks if there are ever complaints from bicyclists on the existing 23.5 foot wide roads.
Mazalewski reminded the BOCC that 8000S had 7 major accidents in 5 years including a cycling fatality.
Kunz countered: “You are accommodating a certain demographic of people.”
At this point, Dennie Arnold (Road Committee Member) jumped up and yelled passionately, “What about my trucks out there that can’t even pass each other out there!? This county is so screwed up!” And, then he stormed out.
Kunz then stated: “I’ll make a motion because I feel like you guys say we have to stick with the standards.” He moved to reduce all major collector roads to 26ft wide.
There was no second from Park. Rinaldi retorted: “Based on what?”
Kunz: “Based on the need to get as many roads as possible up to a livable standard.”
Rinaldi: (Exasperated) “But that is completely arbitrary. It’s based on what? What defines ‘livable’?”
Kunz: “26 feet is perfectly wide to handle to traffic.”
Rinaldi: “Based on what? What facts are you presenting that, that is safe and builds for the next 10-15 years? The last time I asked you that, you said it was based on your opinion because you got elected.” (Listen at 1hr. 8min)
Kunz boomed: “Livable standards!”
Rinaldi: “What defines livable? If you can’t define the standard, then you can’t stay consistent with it.”
Park asks about using Impact Fees on these roads. Mazalewski says Impact Fee money cannot be used to cover deficiencies, BUT it could be used to widen roads for increased circulation.
Park then said he was disinclined to change the road standards: “I don’t think this decision has to be done right now.”
Kunz countered: “I’ve said for the last month that we don’t have to change standards,* but obviously that doesn’t work for these guys.”
Rinaldi: “Who is ‘these guys’?”
Kunz: “You and Jay. You guys want to stick to an exact standard. I did say a month and a half ago that we don’t need to change the standards, just need a bit of common sense.”*
Rinaldi: “Then why have you been asking to put this on the agenda Sid?” (Exasperated.)
Kunz: “Because you guys fought with me over it. Because I didn’t think Cedron Road needed to be fixed.”*
*Writer’s Note: Kunz has repeatedly advocated for revamping road standards at the June 9th BOCC Meeting (Listen at 1hr and 5min), the June 23rd Town Hall Meeting (Listen at min 13:30), as well as in his June 26th editorial, and this June 11th article. He has advocated for changing the county road standards even though he voted to approve them last spring.
At this point, Isabel Waddell piped up from the audience. She pointed out that all of this debate is over the road plan that was already unanimously adopted by the BOCC.
What happens next:
Chairman Park then asked Road Committee Chairman Brent Robson his opinion on the county’s road widths. Brent replied that the Committee didn’t interpret that as being a part of their work directive, but they would come up with a recommendation by August 11th.
What YOU can DO:
Positive change in the decisions with the BOCC starts with YOU! Stay engaged! Read the papers. Talk to your friends and family about the state of affairs. Write editorials in the papers. You can also offer direct commentary to the BOCC during their “Morning Open Mic” at their bi-monthly Monday work meetings.
The next Morning Open Mic is Monday, July 28th promptly at 9:30am at the Teton County Courthouse in Driggs.