Incumbent commissioners challenged

Posted 7/1/10

The 10 candidates in attendance did, however, find common ground on some issues, including harsh criticism of federal officials and policies.

Current Commission Chairman Jill Shockley Siggins of Cody and challenger Chad Miner of Powell did not …

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Incumbent commissioners challenged


Sitting Park County commissioners Tim French and Bill Brewer found themselves on the defensive at a Republican commission candidate forum in Cody last week.Eight GOP challengers — Ted Davey, Vicki Gibson, Karla Gitlitz, Loren Grosskopf, Fred Reynolds, Joe Tilden, Hank Whitelock and Bill Yetter — took aim at a number of county decisions over the past few years, from its purchase and management of the Park County Complex to its budgeting process.

The 10 candidates in attendance did, however, find common ground on some issues, including harsh criticism of federal officials and policies.

Current Commission Chairman Jill Shockley Siggins of Cody and challenger Chad Miner of Powell did not attend the forum, which was hosted by the Park County Republican Women at the Cody Holiday Inn on June 21. Lone Democratic candidate Faith Wicks of Powell was not invited.

All of the questions asked at the debate were provided to the candidates beforehand.

In his opening and closing statements, Brewer, of Cody, said it was a pleasure and honor to serve as a commissioner for the last four years and said he would like another term.

“I love the job I'm currently doing,” said Brewer, a former county sheriff.

Davey, of Meeteetse, said he was “really a Republican” and was critical of the “same old” officials who continue to be re-elected.

“It's like public welfare,” he said, adding, “I don't think the taxpayer's interests have been well represented the past four years.”

A retired health care manager, Davey said he is running for only one term as commissioner.

French, a Heart Mountain farmer seeking a fourth term in office, said he enjoys serving people with accessible government.

“I'm proud of the work I've done for the people of Park County,” said French, citing the commission's efforts for winter use in Yellowstone, for Wyoming's wolf management plan and the modernization of the county's computer system.

Gibson, who lives in rural Powell and works as the clerk/treasurer for the town of Byron, said she has “a passion for Powell, Park County, the whole area.”

She said her experience in customer service would help her serve county residents, and her time with Byron would help her be an advocate for county employees.

Gitlitz, a Meeteetse area rancher, said she was running on a platform supporting private property rights and limited government, citing concern with the negative impacts of the federal government's Endangered Species Act.

Grosskopf, a retired accountant from Cody, said he decided to run because it was time for him to give something back to the community. He promised that, if elected, he would never vote himself a raise and would spend taxpayer money like he spends his own — “Like it hurts every time you write a check.”

Reynolds, who currently is a Cody bus driver after work in law enforcement, said he ran because he sees government becoming more and more of a nanny state.

“I think our present government isn't working for the taxpayers; our taxpayers are working for the government,” he said.

Tilden, a South Fork ranch manager, cited a diverse business and public service background and his belief in the importance of giving back to the community as reasons for running.

He said he wants to make sure the county remains a special place.

Whitelock, a Cody construction worker, said he's running because of his deep concern for the direction of the country and said changes need to be made on the lowest levels of government — such as by giving up federal dollars.

“And if we have to make a few cuts, that's what being a Republican is all about — less government,” he said.

Yetter, a construction superintendent and municipal court judge from Meeteetse, said the county needs commissioners who bring real change, making decisions that aren't necessarily expedient, but based on a philosophy that will bring government back to the benefit of the county.

All of the challengers said they support the county switching to zero-based budgeting to promote fiscal responsibility — a process that requires officials to justify every expenditure, instead of just increases.

“It's the only honest method of budgeting,” said Whitelock, calling the way that government, such as the county, currently budgets “lazy at best and deliberately fraudulent at worst.”

Yetter said zero-based budgeting is an extremely useful tool to control the size of government, Gitlitz said it would help account for every dollar, and Gibson said it would improve communication between commissioners and departments.

“If you give government carte blanche over a pile of money, they're going to spend it every time and want more,” said Reynolds, supporting a zero-based process.

Brewer said he wasn't familiar with zero-budgeting, but he questioned whether the challengers understood the county's current budgeting.

“I think a lot of people need to be a little more familiar with the process,” he said. “We don't just hand out the money and (say) ‘You go spend it.'”

When asked about commission meeting attendance, Brewer said he missed eight meetings just this year when he was dealing with heart problems.

French said he has missed three meetings since first being elected in 2001, once for his mother's death, once when he was “sicker than a dog” and another time he couldn't recall.

Grosskopf said he had attended eight of the last 10 meetings, Whitelock said he had been to four in the last six months, while no other candidate had attended more than two meetings in the last four years. Gitlitz and Gibson said they had not attended any meetings.

“I work a full-time day job and I know they meet during the day, so I have attended zero,” said Gibson.

French said the county may not call it zero-based budgeting, but that they look at every line item. He questioned the worth of, say, making every position justify its salary every year.

All of the candidates agreed that the county needs to continue its support of the state's wolf management plan.

Reynold said it was an issue of state rights.

“I believe if the people want the wolf delisted in their state, that's what they should have,” he said.

Tilden said the county should continue its involvement for “however long it takes.”

Whitelock said the issue needs to be pursued aggressively, resisting out-of-state special interest groups.

Yetter drew the biggest laughs of the night in his response, saying the three most useless things in the world were screen doors on a submarine, smoke detectors in a mausoleum and federal wildlife biologists.

“The federal government has put the rights of animals over the rights of human beings,” said Davey.

French noted that the county has been one of the most active supporters of the plan in court.

“As a treasurer, my first thought is, ‘Can we really fight the government and win?' But we have to do something for our people,” Gibson said, citing the impacts.

Gitlitz said she supports the fight for the state's plan, saying she sees the damaging impacts of wolves on her cattle ranch on a daily basis.

When asked about the greatest threats to public access in the county, the candidates largely cited the federal government and policies like the Endangered Species Act, along with environmental groups.

The candidates were asked if it was appropriate for the county to lease space in its Park County Complex in Cody or if that created unfair competition with private business.

Whitelock, along with many of the challengers, said no, saying the county isn't designed or equipped to be in the rental business. He said the only exception might be if the revenue from rentals is creating a large enough return.

Yetter said the private sector is “quite capable” of handling leasing needs.

Brewer defended the county's action, noting that voters supported putting the Cody library in the basement of the facility and said the leases bring in a good income.

Davey said it was a mistake to purchase the facility, “but it's done now.”

“It was a sweet deal for Marathon (Oil, the building's former owner),” he said. “I'm sure there were a lot of high fives there with taxpayers footing the bill.”

French, who was instrumental in negotiating the purchase from Marathon, said nearly 60 percent of the facility is occupied by public entities, such as the library, Northwest College and the University of Wyoming. He also said the county has amounts of space that no one else can offer to companies such as Marathon, which is now a major lessor.

“It's a real asset to the county,” French said, noting that Marathon sold the building to the county at a price about half its estimated value.

Gitlitz said the county shouldn't be a landlord and shouldn't have bought the facility. Reynolds similarly said the county should not be in the rental business; Tilden also expressed concern with competing with private business, but said the facility is an asset.