BIG PINEY – Candidates for the Sublette County Board of Commissioners met at a forum on Monday, Oct. 22, to discuss where they stood on issues of importance to county voters as the Nov. 6 election approaches. Courtney J. Skinner, Democrat, Joel Bousman, Republican incumbent and Douglas Vickrey, Republican, will be on the ballot for two open seats.
Skinner said he is a candidate who represented a “different variety” of party politics as the only Democrat running for a board of commissioners with all seats filled by Republicans. He added that the commissioners have “served the county well,” and that he plans to listen closely to the concerns of residents without any “predetermined positions.” Skinner is a District IV water commissioner in the county.
Bousman said that the “customs, culture and economic wellbeing of our county” are driven by federal and state agencies that control 80 percent of the land area. He listed his experience as a county commissioner who worked with the National Association of Counties to enact policies giving Wyoming “primacy in hydraulic fracking.” He said he plans to work with federal agencies to “protect and enhance” grazing on public lands as an economic necessity for the county.
Vickrey told the audience he had 50 years of experience serving on volunteer and elected boards. He described himself as a “conservative Republican” who “believes in the wants and needs system in county government.” He explained that commissioners must recognize that “not everybody gets what they want, while some get what they need.”
What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Sublette County?
Bousman said county commissioners must “be more effective in dealing with federal agencies” like the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
“We have an opportunity with (the Trump administration) that most of us haven’t seen in our lifetime to get something done,” he said.
He added that the Forest Service should expand logging operations to “actively manage our timber” and create jobs, instead of spending most of their operating costs on fire suppression.
Vickrey said that the top challenge is “keeping our county afloat (financially).” Sublette County was “very fortunate” with strong revenue growth, he said, but commissioners must be “responsible” with the revenue they have in order to prepare for a time when revenue is scarce. He added that the county needed to “look down the road” and be “progressive” when planning for the future.
“We don’t want to be the county that said ‘I wish we did’ but the ones that said ‘we did,’” he said.
Skinner responded that the Roosevelt Fire was a challenge the county experienced and met head on with resolve and teamwork.
“We saw a great thing happen even though the fire was devastating,” he said. “The county pulled together to help people in that crisis.”
Skinner said the county’s ability to “come together and work toward the future” during the past weeks demonstrates a strong community resolve to deal with challenges.
What is the role of the county commissioners in providing health care services?
Vickrey said that he did not believe the current proposal for a critical access hospital was the “way the community needs to go.” The county cannot afford the project now or in the future. He suggested the county should consider designating the existing clinics as “critical facilities” so they could receive reimbursement for services.
Skinner said the county commissioners had a “major role to play” in the “formation and direction” of health care and must play a role, as the commissioners have, in “paying” for the critical access hospital. He responded to criticism that the proposed critical access hospital was too large and not modest in scope. Sublette County’s proposal was not for a “major hospital” like those in Jackson or Rock Springs, he said. Instead, the proposal was for a small facility, “mandated by the state” to have only six beds with an average patient stay of 48 hours.
Bousman responded that the county had an elected rural health care board to provide for emergency health care needs. The USDA recently denied a loan to fund the construction of a critical access hospital because the proposal was “ill conceived” and “not the right way to go,” he said. In light of the recent denial, Bousman said that the county commissioners had an “opportunity to provide leadership to bring the community together and have a discussion about ... what the citizens of the county want and need in terms of health care and where to go from here.”
What will be the role of the county commissioners in providing broadband infrastructure to the county?
Skinner stated that the county must offer “a leading role in bringing broadband infrastructure into the county.” Broadband technology is crucial for businesses, individuals and education to flourish in the county, he said.
Bousman said commissioners are working on a request for proposal to examine how public-private partnerships might bring broadband to Sublette County. He planned to listen to all the options presented by private entities, and added commissioners do not yet know what a possible partnership would entail. The lack of broadband technology in Sublette County was an “important” issue, he said, one that many rural counties across the U.S. were grappling with.
Vickrey agreed that broadband technology was “what we need to sustain ourselves,” but added that he had a concern with technology “taking over our lives.” The county needs to “be careful with what we wish for” and “proceed cautiously” with adopting broadband technology, he said.
What decisions have the county commissioners made that you would like to revisit?
Bousman answered that the county needed to realize that “our economy is totally dependent on what happens on public lands” and had an opportunity 10 years ago to
be “more proactive” when dealing with the federal government. Otherwise, he stated he was unable to come up with a “specific example” of a “wrong decision” the county commissioners made.
Vickrey said that the community was “a little less frustrated with the communication network” 10 years ago, and was more of a “neighborhood” before texting replaced face-to-face interaction. He added that the county needed to avoid “frivolities” in infrastructure spending, but must also look toward a “vision” for the future.
Skinner staid that the county’s vision 10 years ago was the “same as it is today, to make our communities better, have the health care we need for our citizens and to move in a direction that is all of Sublette County as one.” He said he planned to look at what the county commissioners can do in the future rather than looking into the past.
How will you fairly represent all areas of the county?
Vickrey responded that he grew up around the oil and gas industry in the south part of the county and later opened a livestock operation in the north. These different experiences allowed him to relate to “a lot of different folks” and find a consensus among them.
Skinner said that his strength was “the ability to listen and bring people together.” He added that Sublette County had a lot of “wealth in talent” among its residents and his goal was to bring different industries together to create a “future of greatness for Sublette County.”
Bousman answered that a full understanding of the county’s economy was crucial to representing its people. The idea of a north-south divide in Sublette County was “malarky,” he said. He added that county commissioners from across the county were able to “work very well together” and listen to people “around the county.”
What have you done to prepare for the role of county commissioner?
Skinner stated that he started preparing 10 years ago by attending county commissioner’s meetings and talking to “thousands of constituents.”
Bousman said that “understanding the economic base of the county and learning to defend that economic base” prepared him to become a commissioner. This was crucial to operating and funding the county, he said.
Vickrey said his years of experience as a businessman enabled him to “understand what you need and what you just want.” As a member of elected boards, he said he learned to “hash out” budgets. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., several times to come to grips with the way the federal government worked or didn’t work. n