Park County Commissioner Candidates Discuss Economic Development & Housing at Cody Club
Written by Andrew-Rossi on June 20, 2022
Candidates running for Park County Commissioner in the upcoming election attended a public forum to share their experiences and opinions on how to handle the challenges facing the county.
The Cody Club held an open forum for the candidates running for Park County Commissioner on Monday, June 20, at the Holiday Inn in Cody. Each candidate was invited to give a three-minute introduction followed by a question and answer period.
Six candidates “attended” the forum: Dossie Overfield, Llyod Thiel, Ken Montgomery, Matthew Scott, and Park County Sheriff Scott Steward. All candidates attended the lunch forum in person except Angie Johnson, who submitted her information remotely.
Meeteetse Town Clerk treasurer Angie Johnson sent in her biography, which was read by County Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tina Hoebelheinrich. Johnson emphasized her extensive civic experience in Meeteetse – she has been employed by the City of Meeteetse in many capacities since 2000.
Dossie Overfield, a county commissioner since 2018, said Planning and Zoning has been her biggest priority since taking office. Once the ongoing Park County Land Use Plan is completed, she hopes to follow up by revising outdated rules and regulations to modernize county processes.
Lloyd Thiel, also elected in 2018, said he works to make Park County a great place where his three grandchildren can grow up. Public Works is Thiel’s strong suit. He works to ensure he saves the county money in these areas wherever and however he can.
Both Overfield and Thiel expressed their desire to see the Park County Land Use Plan through to its completion in 2023.
Matthew Scott discussed the long legacy both sides of his family have as educators in Park County, where he was born and raised. He holds degrees in business and finance and owns Great Scott Construction in Cody.
Ken Montgomery is a new Park County resident but was “born a Wyomingite” and has “the conviction of the converted.” His concern is that county businesses cannot reach their full potential due to hiring issues, and the county must do more to attract families and “young folk” to live here. Where these young people and families will live was a point of concern during the lunch.
Sheriff Steward discussed how 31 years with the Park County Sheriff’s Office have given him an understanding of how all the other county agencies work. He also mentioned that the Sheriff’s Office employs one-third of all Park County employees.
There was only time for two questions, but they covered the most critical issues facing Park County: economic development, housing, and employment.
Wyoming House Representative Sandy Newsome asked the first question: “what is the county’s role in economic development?”
Thiel’s answer was simple – “government stays out of the way.” Government shouldn’t stand in the way with regulations, nor should it help with irresponsible subsidies.
Scott said it’s a balancing act. The county must encourage and support business owners but do so responsibly.
Montgomery echoed Thiel’s sentiments on staying out of the way but stressed the importance of laying a foundation, saying, “either private property rights matter or they don’t.”
Overfield discussed the letters of support commissioners routinely receive for various projects. For her, logistics – especially water and resource usage – determine her response as a commissioner.
Steward had a more practical idea. He believes taxpayer money can be well spent by sending commissioners to national conferences to attract new businesses to Park County to boost county revenues.
The next question came from Chamber Executive Director Hoebelheinrich regarding affordable housing as a solution to many challenges in Park County.
Steward said the issue is vitally important, citing his struggle to hire staff due to the increasingly high price of housing in Cody and Powell. He added that “law enforcement will be a struggle in five years” for that reason, folks cannot afford prices in the area – especially home prices.
Overfield said the county’s municipalities don’t have much infrastructure to work with, making hiring personnel difficult. She also mentioned how AirBnBs (primarily owned by out-0f-state persons) are removing potential affordable housing from the market. In one case, seven out of ten homes on one city block are AirBnBs and only occupied during various parts of the year.
This is the paradox of Park County’s current situation. City officials and leaders want to attract young talent and new families to the area, but no one knows how to find them housing or adequate compensation.
Montgomery said the issue is as much about wages as it is housing. He cited his view that the City of Cody’s recent decision to approve raises for higher-ranking officials is part of the problem impacting the county’s economic disparities. These raises for elected officials did not include wage increases for lower-level or entry-level employees.
In Scott’s perspective, it’s a “bottleneck:” increasingly high demand for employees but an increasingly low supply of people for those jobs. He suggests encouraging Northwest College to expand its trade school programs to create a local pool of trained employees for trade jobs.
Thiel pointed out that it’s not just a local issue. The economic conditions impacting Park County are similar in Billings, Jackson, and Bozeman (and all over the country). Once again, he said the answer should come from the private sector, and the county should make it easier for private companies to find their own solutions.
*This story was written by Andrew Rossi with contributions from Caleb Nelson