Guest Column

A tale of two counties

By Chris Lacinak,
Posted 4/11/24

Imagine living in a county where the law is applied unevenly, where some residents are held to strict standards and others are allowed to bend or even break the rules based on their status, …

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Guest Column

A tale of two counties


Imagine living in a county where the law is applied unevenly, where some residents are held to strict standards and others are allowed to bend or even break the rules based on their status, connections, or contributions to the community. This selective enforcement would erode the very fabric of justice and equality, creating a society where laws lose their meaning, and trust is lost in the institutions meant to protect and serve all citizens equally.

Zoning regulations are laws, and just like the scenario painted above, selective interpretation and application of them undermines the integrity of planning, development and property rights.

Just as there shouldn’t be one set of laws for the wealthy and one set of laws for everyone else, there shouldn’t be one set of zoning regulations for the wealthy and one set of regulations for everyone else. And that doesn’t change no matter how generous a person is, how much economic benefit they may provide, or how much they stand to impact the lives of decision-makers and those charged with enforcement of the laws and regulations.

I’m sure if someone went through Pinedale doing 60 mph, it wouldn’t matter to County Sheriff K.C. Lehr if they are in an expensive sports car or an old beat-up pickup truck, they are going to get a ticket. If someone gave a boatload of money to a Sublette County cause that County Assessor Laila Illoway personally cares deeply about, I’m sure she’s not going to handle their tax assessments any differently than someone who gave nothing to that cause. And if our public servants and elected officials did otherwise, over time these actions would cause an erosion of trust in the offices they represent and ultimately result in the breakdown of the laws and regulations they are charged with administering and enforcing.

Achieving a desired outcome that requires decision-makers to overlook or violate zoning regulations, even with the best intentions, undermines the very foundation of those regulations and the property rights they're designed to safeguard. By prioritizing criteria outside of the zoning regulations over the criteria provided within the regulations in making a decision about zoning matters, the integrity and purpose of zoning regulations are compromised, ultimately affecting the rights of Sublette County citizens. The desired goal of the decision makers may be achieved, and it may in fact provide some benefits, but the zoning regulations and the property rights they protect are turned into sacrificial lambs causing long-term damage.

Imagine if County Fire Chief, Shad Cooper decided to create a policy for the Sublette County Unified Fire that prioritized calls from areas of the county with greater wealth. In this hypothetical scenario, Chief Cooper believes that protecting these areas will help make Sublette County more attractive to wealthy people, bringing more of them to the area, and therefore improving the economy in the county. When alarms sound, the fire department responds more quickly to emergencies in the wealthy areas, while less wealthy areas experience slower response times, based on the rationale of maximizing economic benefit for the county.

While the fire department's intentions might be to safeguard the county’s economic health, this practice undermines the core principle of equal service that the fire department is founded upon. Firefighting services are essential for the safety and well-being of all citizens, regardless of the economic status of their neighborhoods. By prioritizing responses based on economic considerations, the department not only compromises the safety of those in less wealthy areas but also erodes the trust in public services. This approach creates a two-tiered system of emergency response that sacrifices the principle of equal protection under the banner of economic benefit.

To be clear, I can confidently say that Chief Cooper would never do something like this. I only use this imagined hypothetical scenario to bring the larger point home and to say that I fear that Sublette County is at risk of veering down this path with regard to planning and zoning. The selective enforcement of zoning regulations under the banner of achieving desired outcomes not only sets a precarious precedent but also sends a message that the rules can be flexible for certain individuals or projects, diminishing the overall trust in the regulatory framework designed to ensure fair and sustainable development. It also fails to fulfill the promise of executing on the Sublette County Comprehensive Plan – the primary goal it is intended to achieve. At the end of this path is a breakdown in the social contract that binds the communities of Sublette County together.

In the same way that justice must be blind to ensure fairness, zoning regulations must be applied accurately and consistently to protect the county’s collective interests, ensuring that property rights are protected and that development is balanced, sustainable, and in harmony with the established vision for the future of Sublette County.

Please send your thoughts and comments to Chris Lacinak at

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission, Sublette County Board of County Commissioners, or Sublette County Planning and Zoning Office. The information provided in this series does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.

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