Pulse on Politics: Mayoral maxims

By on October 1, 2014

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – As the general election draws closer, Planet Jackson Hole broke fast with candidates for mayor Sara Flitner and Mark Nowlin at Persephone earlier this week. Both had plenty to say on how they view Jackson’s direction for the next few years.

Planet Jackson Hole: What struck you about the primary results? Anything surprise you? Where did you spend that night and how did you hear the news?

Sara Flitner

Sara Flitner

Sara Flitner: I was in the Gill Addition at a friend’s house. I was getting texts from friends at the county building and they were giving us numbers live. We had three or four people tracking different sources. I really wasn’t surprised. The only thing that really surprised me was the low voter turnout. We worked really hard to get the younger demographic out and it didn’t happen. I do think it was an extraordinarily weird summer. Primaries are always tough but that was a disappointment. We are really working hard to make sure more of our base turns out [for the general election].

Mark Nowlin

Mark Nowlin

Mark Nowlin: I was happy about how I turned out on primary night. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in the public arena. To get that close to the top contender was very encouraging.

I was home. I stopped by the courthouse and thought, “That doesn’t look like a happy situation in there. I’m just going to go home and Skype with my grandson in South Carolina.” It wasn’t really until the next morning I found out I made the top two. And then I found out I was really close and that was even better.

PJH: You could also have a voice in town by running for town council. Why mayor?

Sara: I was asked. I had several people ask me, actually, but the one that I can remember the most vividly that got me thinking was Scott Anderson. He asked me in a way that I was hearing how it wasn’t about me. It was about a community leadership mesh.

What I realized is, it is important at this point in time to have a certain skill set in the leadership seat, the mayor’s seat. I really, really love this community and I feel like we are doing a lot of things well in terms of keeping Jackson real. We are not perfect but we are doing things well. My bias is we should have a really strong skill set leading the way into the next era and I have that.

The mayor can set the tone. And that was what was most important to me. As you know, I was in the race for a long time alone. Many, many months. So it really isn’t about others, it’s what do I think will work for the town? As the mayor you can set the tone and I want to do that.

Mark: I’d been on the town council and I know that the mayor has a certain one-upmanship over the town vouncil people in sort of directing what is coming up on the agenda. Admittedly, he’s only one vote but he does that with leadership. Why didn’t I jump in earlier? There were days I’d come home from work and drive past the town council and see them having a meeting and think, “Oh gosh, there is one of those not-so-friendly meetings. I’m glad I don’t have to stop by there this evening.” But then there was no challenger for Sara and I thought, “Well, that’s not really a race.” I was still thinking, “Nah, you should just lay low at your age and enjoy life.” Then I thought, “What the heck, let’s see what happens.”

PJH: The mayor chairs the meeting and as such, does have a chance to influence the vote with his or her opinion. Usually, though, a good chair will wait until everyone on the board has had their say before sharing their thoughts. Sometimes, though, the mayor will lead with his or her opinion if it’s something near and dear to his heart. What will be your style in a meeting?

Sara: My expertise is definitely collaborative. I also have a lot of experience serving on boards and commissions. I fundamentally believe you get a better decision when you get input from everybody. That being said, I’m not afraid to be decisive, and when it’s something that really matters, I won’t be shy about shaping the discussion. If it’s something I know really matters to the constituents then I’ll trust my gut, but by nature, I know it to be true that you get a better decision when you listen to people and get their input rather than run over the top of them.

Mark: You have to be judicious about it. You have to be respectful of all people at all times. When I was on the council, the discussion went around the board. Everybody had their opinion on the issues and the mayor was the last one to say anything. That was just consistently done and I think that’s the way the public will know how their councilors and mayor are thinking in every situation. Being on the bench, sometimes you have to bite your tongue a lot. There are meetings where you swallow a lot of pride because you can’t say things that are your gut feelings about what some people are trying to do to the town. You have to be very methodically even-keeled about the whole process.

PJH: Let’s say, though, you and the staff and everyone on the council was of the same opinion on a certain project but public comment came out in overwhelming opposition. How would you handle it?

Sara: I’d listen to the data. If their input was, ‘You can’t do this because it’s going to result in puppies and children suffering’ or some validated reason, I’d listen. But I’m a big fan of data. If the staff has done an analysis and the council has [made the findings], that’s different data than ‘I don’t want this because I just don’t like it.’ I’m not afraid to stand up against that kind of opposition. I can‘t wait for that first scenario, by the way.

Mark: I would hope that we would all be strong enough in our decision-making process that if there was a crowd in the room that says, ‘No, thank you,’ we can say, ‘That’s nice, but we are going to stay our course, and thank you for your input.’

PJH: Speaking of staff. How do you like the players? Bob McLaurin, Tyler Sinclair, Audrey Cohen-Davis, Larry Pardee?

Sara: I really admire the staff. I’m so impressed. I’ve worked with most of them over the years. I’ve been really involved with the issues. They are just hardworking, true professionals. I can tell you, because I am more a vision person, if Bob McLaurin weren’t so skilled, I would have been much less interested in running for mayor. He’s incredible. He’s so talented. That gives us the opportunity as a community to really talk about where Jackson should be 20 years from now, when he and the staff are making sure the potholes are filled and [taking care of other day-to-day stuff]. They do it beautifully. They really do.

Mark: Larry [Pardee] is the only one I haven’t met. The town runs very well from what I can see. Ongoing maintenance – replacing sewer and putting down new sidewalks – the town looks good. They seem to be on-task for getting things done which is how you balance the amount of staff you have and the projects you need to have them busy. Keeping a good staff is tantamount to having a good town.

PJH: Campaign spending has been an issue. Sara, you outspent all candidates in the race by a wide margin. Mark, not so much.

Sara: I’m as proud of the support and the diversity of that support in my campaign as any other thing. Let me flex my history here. I came here as a waitress with the money I got from selling my college textbooks in my pocket. That’s it. I did not come with a silver spoon. I did not come with big connections.

I knew one person in this town.

So, 20-something years later,

I write a Christmas card to some people from my husband and myself, with pictures of my kids.

I sent it out to about 200 people.

I got 135 or so immediate responses and people are still sending money. It’s humbling.

I think it says I am good at building relationships that are authentic. And when people see that kind of leadership they want to invest in it. Don’t get me wrong,

I was blown away by the support. If I’ve collected funds to run a great campaign, I’m going to run a great campaign. I’m going to do everything I can to execute at a level that shows people what I’m capable of doing.

Mark: Raising money is not my favorite thing to do, and it’s not my favorite thing to spend. When people came to me and said, ‘Oh, [Sara’s] got a very large war chest and you’ll have to raise tens of thousands of dollars,’ I said, ‘You have to be kidding me. Can’t I just donate that to Old Bill’s Fun Run?’ But people have been very generous and have kept me one check away from overdrawn on the checkbook, which is good. And people have been sending me money even though I have not solicited. I didn’t send out a general flier to more than a couple dozen people. I’ve been negligent in the fundraising aspect but I feel confident that the money will show up when I need it. The universe takes care of people that way.

Later this month, look for our two mayoral candidates to talk about their experience and how they would handle the hot button issues facing the town today like the Budge slide and housing.

About Jake Nichols

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