Weekly News Roundup: Friday, Aug. 13

Miss the headlines this week? Learn more about Teton County employee engagement, bison conservation and Jackson Hole's trash problem.
Jackson Hole voting rights rally
Teton County Democrats organized a rally for voting rights at Jackson's Town Square on Tuesday. (Will Walkey/KHOL)

by | Aug 13, 2021 | News


County Aims to Boost Employee Engagement

The Teton County Board of Commissioners held a workshop Monday to discuss the county’s ongoing struggle of maintaining an engaged workforce. The commissioners hired Activate Human Capital Group as a consultant in June to help develop a plan to address employee engagement. A representative for the group summarized some of her findings from recent conversations with county employees during the virtual meeting.

“Some of the comments I heard were around outside experts vs. inside experts–seeking that outside expertise before fully understanding what expertise we have in-house and people that have been working on this work for 15-20 years sometimes,” the consultant said. “[And] a lot of it was around visibility and they didn’t feel like the commissioners knew what they were working on and why to effectively champion for them.”

The latest survey data found that half of county employees are actively engaged in their work while the other half are about evenly split between being not engaged or actively disengaged. Some of the actions the consultant recommended to improve those figures include having commissioners maintain more of a presence in county departments and discussing the impact of new and existing policies with staff. Commissioner Mark Barron said those changes seem to make sense to him.

“This isn’t rocket science. This is communication,” Barron said. “Staff wants more input on flexibility, but everything else seems to be: Show up, listen, communicate, be available and champion some of [the] staff ideas that we agree on.”

The consultant also cautioned the commissioners that the worst thing to do after conducting an employee engagement survey is nothing.

Jackson Dems Rally for Voting Rights

People in cities and towns across the nation have been rallying over the past few weeks in support of voting rights legislation, and Jackson Hole is no exception. On Tuesday, about 20 people turned up to the Town Square for a demonstration organized by the Teton County Democrats with signs urging politicians across the country to pass the For the People Act, which would guarantee a slew of voting rights and ban bipartisan gerrymandering, among other things. 

Janice Harris was one of the demonstrators, and she said she thinks it’s critical to guarantee a fair democratic process even in a state like Wyoming, where it’s relatively easy to cast your ballot compared to other states.

I think any healthy democracy has a legitimate debate with strong people on both sides,” Harris said. “It’s in everyone’s interest, everyone in this state, to have healthy, open access. I can’t imagine why anybody would be against it.”

However, Harris also said she’s pessimistic that anything is likely to change given the partisan divide in Washington. Republican legislators in 14 states have passed laws this year making it more difficult to cast a ballot, according to the nonpartisan institution Brennan Center for Justice. That includes Wyoming, where a photo ID is now required for in-person voting.

Nonprofits Raise Funds for Bison Conservation

The regional nonprofit groups Yellowstone Forever and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have raised a combined $500,000 to match a commitment from Yellowstone National Park to expand its Bison Conservation Transfer Program. Executive Director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition Scott Christensen said the program helps preserve the lives of bison that migrate out of the park to the west and north into Montana. After a multi-year quarantine process, healthy bison identified through the program are relocated to select Tribal and public lands.

“This really does two things: It helps divert bison that have been, in our view, needlessly sent to slaughter for decades, and it also supports the goals of tribes in a larger bison restoration vision,” Christensen said.

KHOL also asked Christensen about the need for nonprofits to help fundraise for a National Park program.

“The simple truth is that our national parks, even in a time when visitation has skyrocketed, don’t receive enough federal funding. And I call on Congress and certainly our delegations representing our three states in [the] Greater Yellowstone [Ecosystem] to step up and rectify that.”

The newly-raised funds will now allow nearly three times as many bison to enter the conservation transfer program.

Teton County Overwhelmed With Trash

Teton County has had a trash problem this summer. The local waste and recycling center is breaking records and sending truckloads of garbage to landfills in Idaho. The county has a goal of diverting 60% of its waste–that is recycling it, sorting it or otherwise keeping it from the landfill by 2030. But Superintendent of Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling Brenda Ashworth said we’re not even close to meeting that goal right now. 

“[In] fiscal year ‘21, our municipal solid waste that we hauled to Bonneville County [Idaho] was up 10%. Construction and demolition waste was up 32%, and that’s what I mean by we’re heading in the wrong direction,” Ashworth said. “We actually had a decrease in municipal solid waste that was hauled to the landfill in 2017 and 2019. But now we’re back up to increasing those volumes instead of decreasing those volumes.”

Ashworth said that in order to turn current trends around, she needs people to sort their own trash using the county’s standards. That’s especially true for those working in construction and demolition, both businesses that have exploded recently with the growth of Jackson Hole. So many folks are dropping off heaps of scrap metal, concrete, wood and other materials in big, unsorted piles. To try and remedy this, she’s tried raising the fee for her employees to sort all that waste. 

“The sort fee really is intended to be a deterrent to people,” Ashworth said. “But we have found that in some cases they’re just using the sort fee as the cost of doing business.”

But that cost of doing business is costing Teton County in the form of damaged equipment, fuel, and wear and tear on workers. Most of all, it’s burying more and more trash in the earth, something elected officials and local residents have said they want to do less of.

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