After 18 years on the job, Park County Commissioner Tim French says he will not seek re-election this year.
“It was a tough decision, because I had so many people all across the county say, ‘Please run again, will you please run again,’ which ... is really humbling,” French said Monday.
However, “I think after 18 years, it’s time to move on,” he said. “Somebody else can jump in.”
When French’s current term comes to a close at the end of the year, he’ll depart as the longest-tenured commissioner in Park County’s history.
The Heart Mountain-area farmer says that during his time in office, the county modernized — such as by creating an IT department — started up a buildings and grounds department to maintain the county’s facilities, overhauled the Park County Fairgrounds, built new bridges, upgraded roads and socked away millions of dollars in reserve accounts.
“The county really is in good shape — and it’s the people of Park County that make it great — but I’m proud of my part in helping that along,” French said.
Born and raised in the Powell area, French said he “absolutely advocated for Powell” during his time on the commission.
“The job is county commissioner, so I’m proud of representing everybody, but I think sometimes the Powell area people think they haven’t been represented,” French said. “I’m here to tell you I’ve fought for Powell for 18 years, and I’m proud of that fact.”
With his pending departure from the commission, French says the board needs someone with a connection to agriculture.
“Somebody from the ag community kind of understands this area, I think, a little better than somebody who’s not in ag,” he said. “But if you have somebody who’s really dedicated to representing everybody in the county it shouldn’t matter.”
He did add that “I think it would be healthy if somebody from this [Powell] direction was in office.”
French said he’s enjoyed the vast majority of his time on the job, though he quipped that “I want to go back to the farm screaming” 25 percent of the time.
An outspoken advocate for private property rights, French said it’s been frustrating to have people who feel they can force the commission to block proposed developments by applying public pressure during the planning and zoning process.
“As it’s reviewed, it should go through if you’ve met all the rules and regs,” French said, adding, “But so many people feel that if they come en masse to the commission, they’ll change their mind ... and throw the rules to the side.”
The longtime Republican commissioner also didn’t like it when people got in his face for no reason or told him off.
“Sometimes when people get in my face, I take it for so long and then I’ll get right back in their face,” he said, adding, “Over the years, if they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to vote for me. But generally I try to be on my best behavior.”
Working with the federal government on land use issues — such as winter snowmobiling and East Entrance access — brought “a lot” of frustration over the years as well, but overall, “the good outweighs the bad by 10-fold,” French said. “Most of it’s good.”
He called it an interesting job that allowed him to meet “a lot of really nice people.” Helping local residents with problems, including by guiding them to and through the right government agencies, was a highlight.
It always felt good to get a thank you, French said.
Being a commissioner, “literally every waking hour you’re thinking about it,” he said. You drive down a county road and might think it needs to be graded; you might walk into the courthouse and see a spot that needs fixing up; you might be at a store and have someone want to talk to you about a county issue.
“That’s the job,” French said.
Since becoming a commissioner back in 2001, French said he worked hard and took the position very seriously.
“It’s been a real honor and privilege to serve the people of the Powell area and Park County,” he said.
Now 64, French plans to take a couple years off and focus on spending time with his family and on his farm.
“That will give me a chance to kind of catch my breath,” he said.
But French plans to jump back into politics, saying he intends to run in 2020 for the state Legislature and Senate District 18. The seat is currently held by longtime Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, who has said he won’t be seeking re-election.