15 Questions You Were Embarrassed to Ask.
15 Questions about County happenings that you were too embarrassed to ask.
With all the public meetings, consultants, and staffing changes, the recent events in Teton County can be confusing and hard to follow – even for those of us who attend every meeting! So here are the most basic answers to your most basic questions.
(Click on the hi-lighted links to reveal sources of information.)
#1. Who are our County Commissioners?
Teton County, Idaho has three elected County Commissioners serving from the Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia districts. Our current commissioners are Sid Kunz (Victor, Republican, 2 year term), Kathy Rinaldi (Driggs, Democrat, 2 year term), and Chairman Kelly Park (Tetonia, Republican, 4-year term). As for their individual values and opinions, check out their recent mid term interviews.
#2. What’s all this stuff I read in the news about the County Commissioners debating the Comprehensive Plan?
After 4,000 public comments, 1,800 citizen volunteer hours, and 2+ years of work, the previous administration of County Commissioners (Commissioners Park, Rinaldi, and Benedict) voted to unanimously adopt the Teton Valley 2020 Comprehensive Plan on August 24, 2012. This Plan establishes our community’s road map for future growth and economic development. It is not law, but rather, a policy document. Now, the County’s zoning and development regulations must be re-written to implement this new Plan. Most of the recent debate involves the process (or lack thereof) for drafting of this new zoning and development code and whether the County Commissioners will use the new Comprehensive Plan as the framework.
#3. Why is the zoning and development code so important anyways?
Look around you. Everything you see (homes, roads, pathways, city centers, starry skies, farms) and everything you don’t see (billboards, light pollution) is the product of local zoning and development regulations. These are the rules for how private lands can be used and developed in Teton County. Good zoning reduces risk and promotes economic investment. By contrast, poor zoning is what enabled the recent speculative real estate boom in our community, which resulted in over 8,000 vacant subdivision lots. Zoning is not just about rural housing densities and preserving open spaces. It also addresses many other uses of land (tourism industries, recreation industries, manufacturing) and determines how large, intensive, loud, bright, or odorous those uses can be.
#4. So who is writing the new Teton County zoning and development code?
Good question! Teton County, Idaho was recently named the pilot project for a HUD “sustainable communities” grant which included $313K of grant money to craft a new zoning and development code throughout the 4-county region of Teton County, WY and Madison, Fremont, and Teton Counties in Idaho. Through this grant, Code Studio (an Austin, TX based planning firm with 25+ years of expertise) was hired to come to Teton County beginning this past spring to collect public input and craft this new code. However, this April, the County Commissioners instead hired “special projects planning consultant” Mr. Stephen Loosli (in less than an hour with no interviews or job description) to craft the new code for Teton County at the price of $50/hr for his work. Mr Loosli does not yet have a planning degree, but was the Fremont County planner from 2010 to 2013. Both Code Studio and Mr. Loosli are drafting new County codes.
#5. Does this mean we are going to end up with two sets of code, one written by Code Studio and one by Mr. Loosli?
Possibly. As per the HUD grant, Code Studio will be producing a model code to cover the entire county, regardless of the code being written by Mr. Loosli. The County Commissioners maintain that Code Studio will work on writing regulations for the impact areas around the cities and highway scenic corridors. Mr. Loosli will craft the zoning and development code for the most fragile and remote areas of the county: wetlands, waterways, foothills, and agricultural lands. It remains to be seen if this division of work will ring true; both consultants are clearly taking different approaches to their work. (See question #9 below.) Code Studio is starting with public input, basic concepts, and designs. In addition. By contrast Mr. Loosli recently submitted this working memo to the County Commissioners which states that he is already formatting and drafting his new code. Code Studio has focused their work on Victor and Driggs for now, and will not begin their work on county areas until this upcoming Fall – right about the time Mr. Loosli estimates he will already be done writing his new code.
#6. So what is all of this back and forth debate over Mr. Loosli’s scope of work?
Mr. Loosli is a public contractor being paid with public funds. His scope of work is critically important because it determines (1) deliverables, (2) deadlines, and (3) debt. That sounds simple enough, but unfortunately, the County Commissioners have failed to ensure any financial accountability for Mr. Loosli’s work: For months, Teton County paid Mr. Loosli’s invoices with no scope of work. In response to growing concerns from every member of the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) that his work duplicated Code Studio, the County Commissioners directed Mr. Loosli to meet with P&Z and hammer out a plan. Thus, in June and July, Mr. Loosli met with P&Z and finalized a scope of work with dates and deliverables that was deemed acceptable to all. The County Commissioners formally adopted this scope of work on July 22nd. Mr. Loosli’s first deliverable was a legal analysis of the county code due to the County Attorney by August 1st. That date came and went with NO analysis submitted. Then, with no mention of being 12 days past due or any indication that those deliverables are even being worked on, Mr. Loosli met with the County Commissioners and said he had received lots of “public comment” from “property owners anxious to take advantage” of an abbreviated subdivision procedure. He asked if he should prioritize this work instead. Kunz and Park said yes, while Rinaldi said it should be done holistically with the schedule that he already committed to.
The next day, P&Z Chairman Dave Hensel submitted a formal letter to the County Commissioners stating that Mr. Loosli was already in breach of his contract. Two days later, the County Commissioners met again, and with no discussion of holding Mr. Loosli accountable for his work, Commissioners Kunz and Park voted to adopt a new 5-sentence scope of work instead which stated that Mr. Loosli can work on anything he wants with no deadlines, budgets, or specific deliverables.
#7. But isn’t that essentially spending public funds on a contractor with no fiscal oversight?
Yeah. It is. On September 9, during the Commissioners' Morning Open Mic session, VARD program director Anna Trentadue asked the County Commissioners for transparency in Mr. Loosli's code writing work for the County. Turns out, the Commissioners don’t really know what Mr. Loosli’s work entails, but they have been paying his invoices since April. (To listen to the entire dialogue, go to minute 23:30.)
#8. Is that even legal?
It’s potentially illegal and definitely irresponsible. Our County Commissioners have a fiduciary duty to look over public funds and exercise reasonable care when hiring contractors and paying their bills. They must act in the public trust, meaning that they have a duty of loyalty to the public and must use their office to further the public interest and not personal interests. It must also be said that the manner in which Commissioners Kunz and Park introduce brand new topics and documents at county meetings (such as Mr. Loosli’s new 5 sentence scope of work) and make Board decisions without any debate or discussion heavily suggests that these decisions are being made in advance, outside of open public meetings.
#9. So what determines the content of this new code?
Ideally, it should be based on the Comprehensive Plan, Idaho Law, and public input. Code Studio came to Teton Valley this summer for a week of open houses and work with city and county officials upon which to base their work. Mr. Loosli has been working independently and has done no formal public outreach. However, Mr. Loosli's work memos indicate what's coming: In his opinion, the scenic corridor, wetlands, floodplain, hillside, and natural resources overlays are illegal and should be eliminated. He also suggests maximum housing densities in the rural county of 60units/100 acres. That's a 300% increase over current maximums.
#10. What will the new code cost?
Who knows? The work being done by Code Studio is covered by the $313K set aside in the HUD grant. Mr. Loosli's work is paid ($50/hr) out of County funds. The Commissioners have not set a price limit, but have budgeted 23K for this fiscal year, and 72K for next year.
#11. What is the County Planning & Zoning Commission’s role in all of this?
Ideally, the P&Z should be intimately involved in the drafting and refining of the new zoning and development code. However, to date, they have had no involvement. The code is being written by Mr. Loosli and will be unveiled to P&Z in October or November.
#12. Who is serving on P&Z right now?
In order to “balance” the P&Z, the Board of County Commissioners met with the P&Z this March to discuss potentially removing some members. Instead, the County Commissioners made 4 more P&Z appointments of “North End” valley residents. This brings the total up to nine members, six of whom now reside in the North End. There are no Driggs or Tetonia residents on P&Z. Only one Victor resident serves on this new P&Z, and there are no residents from the Impact Areas surrounding the cities either. As outlined in our recent OpEd article, we encouraged the Board of County Commissioners to not just use these appointments to appoint “large landowners” (their term, not ours) or people who support one ideology, but to instead focus on diverse and fair representation
#13. Can’t the County Planning Department staffers do this work?
They could. Normally, code writing is the kind of work that could be done by a competent planning staff. However, with the firing of County planner Curt Moore and the resignation of County Planning Administrator Angie Rutherford earlier this year, the Planning Department is now down to only Wendy Danielson, the land use services assistant. The office hours are reduced to Mon-Thurs 9-4 and Fri 9-noon. The Commissioners are in the process of interviewing new county planner candidates. In the mean time, all building permits, lot split applications, etc., must be approved by the Commissioners at their bi-monthly meetings. This has led to permitting delays of several weeks. Ms. Danielson has reported to the County Commissioners that the workload is more than she can accomplish as a single staffer.
#14. What is VARD doing about all of this?
We are an educational resource for citizens, elected officials, business owners, land owners and developers. We attend all county meetings and advocate for fair, predictable decision making. We report on what happens at these meetings and try to distill down these complex issues for you because fair and consistent public leadership is the most important ingredient to building a strong community.
#15. What can I do?
Positive change in the decisions being made by the Board of County Commissioners starts with YOU. Stay engaged!Read the papers.Talk to your friends and neighbors. Your elected Commissioners serve you—so write them and hold them accountable: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come share your thoughts and comment in-person directly to the County Commissioners at their “Morning Open Mic” session starting promptly at 9am on Tuesday, Oct 15th at the Courthouse in Driggs.
We also encourage you to attend County Commissioners’ Town Hall Meeting from 7-8:30pm on Tuesday, October 15th on the first floor of the County Courthouse in Driggs.