SPET Showdown Garners Large Audience, But No Adams

By on April 27, 2017


JACKSON HOLE, WY – The only empty chair in the Elks Club Wednesday was the one reserved for Justin Adams, co-founder of Save Historic Jackson Hole.

Town Councilor Jim Stanford invited Adams to the club to debate the SPET ballot, about which SHJH has published a series of critical ads.

But Adams didn’t show. Instead, Jackson Hole Tea Party board member Bob Culver battled a passing kidney stone to offer his thoughts.

Culver declined to comment on exactly how he planned to vote, or how he suggests other people vote on specific ballot items. Instead, he explained the Tea Party’s five criteria for considering SPET worthiness, as outlined in his weekly newsletter “Hole in One.” He noted the size of this year’s proposed ballot—projects total $68.5 million—and encouraged people to consider the implications of tying up tax dollars for five years or more. How many projects, he asked, should the town and county actually be responsible for, and how many are government overreach?

“I am not supporting it, I’m not opposing it, I’m merely giving you the information on which you can make an analysis, to decide if you want to support it or oppose it,” Culver said of the Living Center at St. John’s Medical Center. Such was his attitude about each ballot item. His goal, he said, was to give the public tools to cast an informed, rational vote.

Stanford, meanwhile, defended the ballot in its entirety. Each item was rigorously vetted, he said, and reflects community priorities. “This has been a routine source of government funding … for every municipality and county in Wyoming going back to 1985,” he said. “We’ve built school districts, built the library, the Rec Center, the pathway network.”

Stanford identified housing and transportation as the two highest priorities in the eyes of town and county electeds. But other projects, like a Central Wyoming College campus and St. John’s Living Center, are community-identified needs, and are historically well suited for SPET funding, he said. “We’re trying to follow through on community priorities. This has been, traditionally, a source of funding for those sorts of projects.”

Stanford pointed to the many services the government offers, and that taxes pay for. “What are you gonna cut?” he asked. “Everybody’s for less government … but was anybody calling for less snow plowing this winter? Less law enforcement? … Everybody thinks they’re for less government until they show up at the library and it’s closed, or they show up at the Rec Center and the program they need is full.”

“I’m not proposing to cut anything,” Culver responded. “I’m proposing that we be careful voters.”

One audience member asked why language on the ballot focused so heavily on START when the scopes of the projects are actually much larger. The fleet maintenance facility, he pointed out, serves snow plows and law enforcement vehicles. And the housing project there is only related to START because of the location—it is not specifically for START employees. Branding all projects as “START” related or adjacent, he said, could deter people from voting in favor of projects that also benefit other community sectors.

Such misunderstandings, Stanford said, are exactly why he wanted to host the event: “So we can get accurate information out there” and encourage “robust” community conversation. Taking care of the buses and maintaining START services, he said, have consistently been a community priority.

Culver responded by holding up a ballot. All 11 ballot items, he pointed out, fit on one page. He agreed that labels are perhaps misleading, but acknowledged that space is prohibitive. That is also why Culver has taken it upon himself to encourage voters to read up.

Throughout the debate most questions came from audience members, and there was never a shortage of people waiting with their hands raised.

Adams’ absence did not go unnoticed.

“There were some … negative ads in the newspaper,” an audience member observed. “So what does it say about [Save Historic JH] that that person didn’t even show up?”

Stanford said he did all he could to encourage Adams, or another SHJH representative, to come. “Personally, I’m disappointed too,” he said.

Later, he emphasized his desire to include such criticisms of local government in public conversations. “Community dialogue is much better than attack ads that are designed to scare people,” he said. “A lot of those words ring hollow.”






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