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Three vie for two county commission seats

A trio of candidates — Republicans Bucky Hall and Lee Livingston and independent Pat Slater — are bidding for two seats on the Park County Commission in Tuesday’s general election.

Hall is a two-term incumbent who owns a foundry in Cody, Livingston is a North Fork outfitter and Slater is a Powell resident currently working as an equipment operator and landscaper in Cody.

During a recent candidate forum in Meeteetse, Slater pitched voters on his more than 30 years of public service that include 15 and a half years as director of the Powell Recreation District.

“I understand public monies and what’s required, the responsibility levels of what go along with administering public monies, and I truly believe that my service to Park County would be an asset,” Slater said. If elected, Slater said protecting Park County’s quality of life, promoting economic development that preserves the county’s current quality of life and maintaining county employees’ morale would be among his top priorities.

Livingston said he has the time and ability to get into public service and, “The county commission seemed like a great place to start.” He listed trying to “find a way to keep our kids here” with good education and jobs as a priority, along with “doing what I can as a county commissioner to maintain the lifestyle that kept me here and kept me wanting to raise my family here.”

Hall said he has the time to continue being a commissioner — a position he called a 24/7/365 part-time job.

“I think I’ve done a good job, try to be objective, try to help the county employees as well as help the constituents when called upon to do so,” said Hall.

Top priorities Hall sees for the commission include lobbying federal agencies on citizens’ behalf as the agencies set new rules for access to public lands and maintaining the county’s infrastructure “with what will ultimately be dwindling reserves.”

All three agreed the budget is their top priority and said tough decisions may be ahead.

In interviews this week, the Tribune also queried the candidates on some other issues the county faces.

Landfill management

Management of the county’s landfill has drawn a lot of county time over the years as it complies with new state and federal regulations aimed at protecting groundwater. The regulations led to the partial closure of the Powell, Clark and Meeteetse landfills. One controversial question has been whether — and how — the county should give rate breaks to users outside of the Cody area since only the Cody landfill is staying fully operational. The city of Powell and the county, in particular, have been at loggerheads over rate breaks and other issues.

“There’s blame to go around, there’s no question about that,” said Hall. He noted that two years ago, the commission chairman told Powell to negotiate a rate break directly with Cody.

“They never really followed through on it, and maybe it really shouldn’t have been pushed off on them the way it was,” Hall said. He’s looking forward to a facilitated discussion the county plans to have with all the landfill’s primary users — Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and the two private haulers — on Nov. 15.

“Hopefully out of that we’ll be able to move forward on this,” Hall said. He said that if the county needs to have a staggered structure with lower tipping fees for folks with longer hauling distances to the Cody landfill, “so be it.”

He’s also frustrated with state regulations that he believes have disproportionately affected Park County.

Livingston said landfill management is definitely an issue he wants to look at — “that’s kind of a no-brainer” — and has spent a lot of time struggling with “how to balance this stuff out and make it fair for Park County, because we’re all in this together. We’re all Park County.”

However, he said he doesn’t have any solutions right now.

“I would be fairly arrogant if I thought that I could walk into this deal and say I’ve got the answers to all these questions,” he said. “If there was easy answers, they’d already be answered.”

Slater similarly said he didn’t have enough information as a candidate to make any decisions and would need to do research if and when he’s elected.

He said the county’s general goal should be to “try to do the best for as many people as we possibly can” and be as economical as possible. He noted it’s an issue that affects every resident’s costs.

“It’s a tough thing,” Slater said. “I think that federally mandated EPA regulations are choking us all to death, and what happens after next Tuesday, maybe there’s relief if a new administration takes over in Washington.”

Planning and zoning

Planning and zoning tends to be one of the most contentious issues commissioners regularly deal with.

Slater was one of a number of residents in the Del Rio subdivision south of Powell who opposed a developer’s plans to add two more lots to their property. Most of the complaints, however, were about the developer having been a bad neighbor. County commissioners found the developer had met the legal requirements and approved it in 2011.

“Most of us (subdivision residents) have a pretty bad taste in our mouth from that experience,” said Slater. He thinks the county needs procedures that give consideration for negative impacts on existing subdivisions, as he felt the neighbors’ concerns were tossed out the window.

“To me, the letter of the law didn’t take into account the existing property owners’ rights, and I believe that needs to be addressed,” said Slater.

He said he would have a sympathetic ear to existing property owners in commission decisions.

Hall — who was one of the commissioners who ruled in favor of the developers — said he generally “would tend to err on the side of people being allowed to develop your property.”

Hall said some controlled development is nice, but it definitely needs to be balanced against private property rights.

“There probably needs to be a small measurable amount of protection for the public” through development regulations, he said, but it’s also “buyer beware” as the county can’t protect every landowner from every developer.

“I’m in favor of trying to have a reasonable amount of rules in place and actually, we’ve got decent rules in place now,” said Hall.

Livingston said that “First and foremost, I’m a private property rights advocate.” He said he believed people should be allowed to do what they want with their property within reason.

“I guess that’s kind of walking a fine line depending on obviously what the neighbors think, but I just have a hard time telling somebody what they have to do with their property — within reason,” Livingston said.

He added that “I don’t believe any issue — especially an issue that contentious — is black and white, but I have a hard time stepping on private property rights.”

Management

of public lands

Commissioners are also heavily involved in lobbying federal land agencies on local citizens’ behalf as the federal officials set land use restrictions.

As an outfitter on the Shoshone National Forest and a Bureau of Land Management Permit holder for 18 years, Livingston said he has a good understanding of their processes and working relationships that would “be very beneficial” to the county.

“I’m for prudent multiple use on public lands,” Livingston said of his philosophy. “I’m not an open-the-door and let everyone run wild i.e. industry, recreationalists, etc., but I’m also not a close the gate and throw away the key kind of guy because the key word there is public lands.”

Livingston said there can be energy development without forsaking wildlife, but he also said he definitely does “not have a sacrificial attitude” i.e. “we can sacrifice some of this for money.”

Hall said he’s had experience dealing with federal government as a business owner and on the commission.

“I don’t think we should be raping and pillaging by any stretch,” Hall said. “I think we can responsibly develop a lot of the public lands still,” he said, specifically referring to BLM lands.

“If we opened everything up, you still have to deal with a federal agency to get permit after permit,” he added.

Hall said that personally, “you can’t convince me we need more” roadless and wilderness areas.

He said he’s supportive of opening a dialogue about more ATV opportunities in the Shoshone if they’re not in pristine areas.

“It’s everybody’s forest,” he said.

Slater said he had past experience with the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation when working for local ownership of the Heart Mountain Rod and Gun club.

As for his philosophy on public lands, “the users are going to hopefully let us (commissioners) know what they want,” said Slater. “I’m for multiple use and as much access as possible, but I don’t want to see everything loved to death.”

Slater said we need wise use of resources. He gave the hypothetical inappropriate example of constructing a motocross track in the McCullough Peaks while sticking to existing roads shouldn’t be a problem.

“The right use in the right place is important,” he said.

Party politics

Slater is running as an independent because he believes the partisan primary system is broken. The life-long Republican advocates for making the commission non-partisan so every voter could vote for any candidate in the primary.

“The primary should not be the end of the election,” Slater said, noting that many times the Republican primary election determines the commission race. He said a non-partisan commission race would boost voter turnout.

“In Park County, the Republican name doesn’t mean anything because there’s so many RINOs (Republicans in Name Only),” Slater added.

Livingston said he’s running as a Republican because he believes in a majority of the values of the party. He said that affiliation is obviously important to Park County’s overwhelmingly Republican voters.

“They want someone in there with a certain set of values, and they believe that someone affiliated with that party is going to have their values,” he said.

Hall said he doesn’t consider his job as commissioner to be a partisan post, but “it’s in state statute, and to say that’s never going to change is probably the truth.”

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