Like it grows on trees

“Eclipsing” even a Teton County spending spree.

Our local government is hard at it again: spending. Faced with what critical care and first responders claim is a virtual Armageddon scenario, town and county officials have been convinced to set fire to a hundred grand for the planning of the Great American Eclipse. The complete solar eclipse will take place in Jackson Hole at 11:35 a.m. on Aug. 21, 2017. It will last approximately 127 seconds. For that, elected officials are hiring a fulltime dedicated employee for $50,000, and dropping another 50-large on “preparations,” which basically amount to renting as many porta-potties as the county can get their hands on.

After studying the dire situation, Teton County Emergency Management Coordinator Rich Ochs assembled a team of 37 stakeholders including local law enforcement, park and forest officials, and medical personnel. They ran through a two-day Threat and Hazard Identification Risk Assessment training seminar for a solar event that will last two minutes. The horrors of it all is, according to Ochs, the fact that the event will be so popular it will (wait for it, and try not to gasp out loud) draw tourists to Jackson Hole. Perhaps as many as 40,000, according to some estimates.

The reasonable person might have two thoughts here:

  1. We are already a tourist destination hosting about 4 million people, annually. We’ve managed to survive this long.
  2. Planning for this event sounds like a job for Rich Ochs.

Ochs told town and county politicians he was stretched to max, especially during summer, and would greatly benefit from a new hire that could oversee the planning and coordination of handling MAYBE 40,000 visitors for one day in August. That bill would come to $100,000—$50k for the position’s salary and another $50k for his/her expense account.

Expected path of the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

It’s a waste of money, pure and simple. And for what? This event could end up being a bust. Town and county officials may be getting all worked up over nothing. SHJH managed to obtain the following email from town council member Jim Stanford who was the sole “nay” vote on the spending spree. Stanford addressing county commissioners via email wrote:


Below is a link to one of the major websites offering information about the eclipse. Note that Jackson is not one of the “best places” recommended.

I just spoke with a friend who used to live here and is a journalist. He is also an eclipse enthusiast who has traveled to witness total eclipses from Alaska to Asia, Africa and Australia.

The eclipse fanatics are dedicated but a relatively small and nerdy group, he said. We ought to be preparing for a few hours of bad traffic—the event will not be Woodstock but more like the 4th of July fireworks, he said.

What eclipse watchers value most are duration of totality and road access, which as this website makes clear is important for driving elsewhere to seek clear skies if necessary. As such, Jackson Hole is less desirable because of its distance from interstates. And the place with longest duration of totality is Missouri.

I remain opposed to spending $100,000 on this, given the current county law enforcement budget and the fact that the money could be spent on many other deserving programs.

For what it’s worth,



D2 worked out; cap imposed

Jim Stanford
Jim Stanford

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Town leaders got an earful from both sides but at the end of a 4-hour meeting the council held firm to District 2 land development regulations that recently added short-term commercial potential to 15 blocks of the downtown core. In addition, elected officials also decided to enact a numerical cap that leaders felt would better ensure high-end condo development didn’t get out of hand in Jackson. A 100,000-square-foot threshold of short-term rentals was established. It was enough to satisfy councilman Jim Stanford, but Don Frank became the sole no vote as the council moved to again makeover District 2 land regs and send the ordinance back to first reading. Second reading is expected to take place July 18.

The upshot is that while short-term rentals did sneak their way back into the LDRs for District 2, the 2.4 million square feet potential of such commercial lodging will be limited to 100,000 square feet—at which time, a new ordinance would have to be passed to allow for short-term rental development to go beyond this mark.

D2 Switcharoo

The following letter to the editor ran in June 27, 2016 of the News&Guide.

In case you missed it:


Dear Town elected officials,

Help us understand. Because this is all we know:

You saw and heard the public outcry. Roomfuls of sobbing residents convinced you to not add more commercial zoning in District 2. You agreed and were resolute, staff had it drawn up, and it needed only the formality of three public readings to become ordinance.

Then, when everyone went home and the room was empty, you pulled a fast one. In the days leading up to your last meeting two councilors were invited to lunch with an ex-mayor and other powerful hoteliers/businessmen in the community. A third was wined and dined by Think About It Jackson Hole. And the mayor was approached by a turncoat organization that once led the charge to house people rather than build Marriotts.

Suddenly, after working with a major hotel developer, the Alliance too was “bewitched” and asked you to change your minds and add more hotel rooms to downtown Jackson. Only Jim Stanford was not invited to taste the Kool-Aid. Is it because they know Stanford is “untouchable?”

You made a shady, last-minute, backdoor deal and added millions of square feet of allowable short-term lodging, which will exacerbate our housing and traffic problems. You waited until you thought no one was watching to pull your switcheroo.

Please explain how this is good government? You must know what everyone is saying. There is no transparency in Town government, no integrity. It was “Chicago politics.”

People want a livable community. You need to fix this at your July 5 meeting.

Thank you,

Save Historic Jackson Hole


Labor camps shot down

The town discussion on a potential campsite for temporary laborers derailed before it ever got going. Councilman Jim Stanford appeared to be the only one interested in exploring the idea but he was not joined by his colleagues.

Don Frank said, “I have to ask the philosophical question: Is it the government’s job to house employees…or private businesses that should take the lead to house their own employees?”

Both Frank and Bob Lenz had no appetite for using the Home Ranch lot as a temporary camping site. They said that belongs to parking guests of downtown Jackson.

Mayor Sara Flitner, on the verge of tears, said she feels for the families currently living out of their cars or on the brink of being homeless.

“I’m disappointed. I’m a mom. The backseat of a car is nowhere for a family to live,” Flitner said. “I know our community is facing pressure, but I am going to encourage this council to focus on permanent, longterm solutions for the people who are cleaning our toilets, cleaning our schools, [etc]…”

Flitner called some solutions well-intentioned (“Like the father and son who put the baby bison in the back of their Tahoe,” she said) but without sensibility. The mayor said she was particularly dismayed by a call she received last night informing her that one family in the valley may be asking their 15-year-old daughter to drop out of high school so she can get a job and help the family make rent on their studio apartment.

Stanford blamed online social media discussions earlier today for derailing the discussion before it could even get going.

“It’s unfortunate that before we could even have this discussion there was an online ‘arms race’ that seeks to distort this issue,” Stanford said.

He added that he was willing to “take the bullet on this” if that’s what it took to “show a little bit of compassion for folks being squeezed right now.”

The council decided to take no further action on the possibility of temporary camping facilities within town limits but did agree to let Stanford explore potential options with county leaders on possible suitable sites for temporary housing.