Flood of complaints prompts removal of Teton Co. mask violation page

JACKSON — An online form that people could use to report possible violations of Teton County’s mask order was taken down this week after people trolled the form.

The Teton County Health Department made the decision to shut the Google Form down after some members of the Teton County Board of County Commissioners questioned its purpose. Commissioner Greg Epstein called it a “complete overreach of the government” and the Cowboy State Daily, an online news source, reported on the board’s debate. The form was then flooded with false complaints, Director of Health Jodie Pond told the Jackson Hole Daily.

“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this has gotten out of hand,’ ” she said. “So I called them and asked them to take it down.”

Some of the false complaints were sassy: Like a commenter telling the Health Department that they had seen their neighbor in their house without a mask and were reporting them.

Others, Pond said, were “bad,” though she was on vacation for the week, hadn’t been able to review what came in, and wasn’t able to provide specifics.

The point of Teton County’s form, Pond said, was not to tattle on your neighbor.

Instead, officials said the complaint form was intended to free up the dispatch center, which received numerous calls last summer from people reporting other people or businesses not complying with the mask order in effect then.

“It was enough calls that it was very distracting to our dispatch crew,” Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr told the Daily.

If the Health Department received enough complaints about a business that was not complying, officials said the department would have first given them a call. If they received more complaints, law enforcement may have visited.

But that visit would likely not have led to enforcement or citations. Health officials and law enforcement both said their focus in responding to complaints about the mask order is “education,” rather than more punitive measures.

“We’re not interested in issuing citations,” Pond said.

Carr said he appreciated the Health Department setting up the form this go around, and said dispatchers have “thankfully” not yet received the number of calls they received last year.

Before Carr explained the purpose for the form during the county commission’s meeting this week, Commissioners Mark Barron and Epstein questioned the need for it.

Barron said he didn’t see it as a “positive step forward.”

Other commissioners expressed skepticism before hearing from Carr later in the meeting, and the board did not revisit the issue after hearing from the sheriff.

State law recently changed, requiring approval from local elected officials like the county commission and Jackson Town Council to extend health orders such as mask mandates beyond 10 days.

Both boards did so in recent weeks, extending a mask mandate originally issued by Teton District Health Officer Travis Riddell through Dec. 31.

The Town Council was unanimous in its decision, with Councilor Jim Rooks absent. Commissioners voted 3-2 for the extension with Barron and Epstein opposed.

When Carr came into the Tuesday meeting, he and Epstein tangled over the form’s purpose.

“Sheriff, I understand your concerns with dispatch being overwhelmed but I’m not sure if this is the best alternative,” Epstein said.

The commissioner added that he felt the complaint form was “creating an environment of mistrust” and “pitting people against law enforcement unnecessarily.”

Barron told the Daily that he was comfortable with the purpose of the form after hearing Carr’s explanation, but said that “comfort” was “not to be confused with [being] in favor of” the form.