Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 27

Miss the headlines this week? Catch up on the new local mask mandate, statewide redistricting and next steps for Northern South Park.
There are many options currently on the table as Northern South Park gets slated for development. (Screenshot/Opticos Designs)

by | Aug 27, 2021 | News

Masks are Back 

Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell issued a face covering order Thursday that will be in effect until Sept. 4. That decision followed a 48-hour comment period as required by state law, and the order only pertains to indoor areas, with some exceptions. The Teton County School Board also voted to require masks at the start of this school year, which kicks off next week, while the area is either in the Red (High) or Orange (Moderate) COVID-19 risk levels. Community transmission currently puts Teton County in the Red, and the local hospital started to fill up with COVID-19 patients this week, according to data from St. John’s Health.

Meet Informally with your Local Electeds

Jackson Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson and Vice Mayor Arne Jorgensen held the first of a new series of informal conversations with the public on Wednesday. Morton Levinson described her vision for the “Chat with Council Members” to the audience, who participated via Zoom due to COVID-19 precautions.

“When I started on the council in 2012, Mayor Barron used to have his brown bag lunches once a month,” Morton Levinson said. “So, that’s my eventual goal is to have kind of an informal, get to see everyone kind of thing. Obviously, Zoom makes it a little more formal since we can’t be having lunch together, but we are doing the best we can in the times we are in.” 

While the chats won’t be official public meetings, Morton Levinson and Jorgensen heard concerns from community members Wednesday on a wide range of topics, including the housing preservation pilot program, pollution and mask mandates. 

Not everyone agreed on the issues discussed, but the town leaders said they’re grateful for the feedback. One resident also thanked the council members for the chance to hear from folks with different perspectives.

“I appreciate hearing what people are saying that are outside of my bubble. And so, this I think is great because I am definitely hearing perspectives that I haven’t heard before,” the resident said. 

Future chats are expected to be held on the third or fourth Wednesday of the month moving forward, with rotating participation by different town councilors and either the mayor or vice mayor.

Redistricting Process Begins 

Following the release of updated, more localized 2020 U.S. Census numbers last week, Cowboy State lawmakers have another item on their agendas: redistricting. Wyoming’s population grew only slightly since 2010, lagging behind other Mountain West locales. However, numbers within the state’s borders shifted more dramatically. Notably, more urban areas surrounding Casper, Cheyenne and Jackson grew faster than the state average, while many rural areas such as Carbon and Sublette counties actually shrank.

That means the lines that define Wyoming’s representative and senate districts will need to shift, which was exactly the subject of a webinar last Thursday that featured State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne). 

“The cities are growing. The rural areas are continuing to lose population. And so that rural representation will be strained regardless. I’m just trying to find the best map that fits,” Zwonitzer said. 

Zwonitzer chairs the House Corporations Committee, which will be in charge of actually drawing the lines. Lawmakers approved a set of guiding principles last week for redistricting, which favor keeping districts within county boundaries as much as possible, as well as grouping “like-minded” people together. One of the principles Rep. Mike Yin (D-Jackson), who was also in attendance last week, is following, is simply making sure all of the districts have a similar amount of people. 

“So, ‘One Person, One Vote’ basically comes from the 14th Amendment. [It’s] the equal protection clause in the constitution, and it is meant to make sure that each person in the state has equal voting power when it comes to our representation,” Yin said. “So, to do that, you want to make sure that the population of each district is generally the same.”

“One Person, One Vote” has not always been a given in Wyoming, and in fact, at least one lawmaker proposed shrinking the senate to one person per county, no matter the size. That was shot down quickly, however, and an independent commission will likely move forward with a redistricting proposal, featuring public input, in the coming months.

Statewide Student Proficiency Dips

The Wyoming Department of Education released the results of statewide student assessments in English Language Arts (ELA), math and science from the 2020-21 school year Tuesday. This was the third time the Test of Proficiency and Progress, also known as WY-TOPP, was administered. The test was not given during the 2019-2020 school year and at the height of the pandemic. Overall, student proficiency slightly declined statewide in all three subjects last year compared to the year before COVID hit. However, Executive Director of Communications and District Services for the Teton County School District Charlotte Reynolds said local results look a little different.

“We are pleased to see that in most content areas and grade levels our students surpassed the Wyoming averages, which is really good news for our students,” Reynolds said. “We did see a few dips in a couple of places, which we’ll be analyzing closely, but for the most part we did not see learning loss that was concerning to us.”

Among the dips in question, Teton County high school students appear to have struggled more last year compared to their younger peers. 10th graders, for example, performed below the state average in ELA, math and science. But Reynolds said parents should remember the results are just one piece of data reflecting student progress and that the district will be working hard to meet students’ educational needs this year.

Next Steps for Northern South Park

After months of planning, deliberation and community feedback, the Northern South Park Neighborhood Plan has taken another step forward. In an open house on Aug. 20, town and county officials and several private consultants introduced several options for what the future development of the 225-acre plot south of Jackson may look like. Senior Long Range Planner for Teton County Kristi Malone said she looks forward to members of the public studying the different alternatives presented to them and providing their opinions on what might be one of the final major opportunities to develop smartly in Jackson Hole, according to many community members.

We’re asking you to review these plan alternatives and compare projected outcomes, all the while understanding that tradeoffs are unavoidable, as with any large-scale project,” Malone said. “The plan alternative with lots of housing units gives us more dedicated, affordable workforce homes. It also creates more neighborhood transportation needs that could increase traffic. It’s important to remember that these plan alternatives were intentionally developed as a spectrum of options to which the community can react.”

Diving into the alternatives, one looks more like a rural area with larger plots and a decent amount of market-rate homes, though there still would be plenty of deed-restricted properties in this scenario. On the other side is a plan with more than four times the total units, four times the affordable units and much more workforce housing, with obviously a ton more density. It’s now up to the public, elected officials, landowners and every other stakeholder involved in the massive plan to decide which direction to go in. More information, including video presentations and more detailed looks into each alternative, is available here.

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