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Legislative housing task force member denies conflict of interest

Appointed to represent local governments on the regulatory reduction task force, former Jackson mayor says that was not his job.

Former Jackson Mayor and Teton County Commissioner Mark Barron at the elk antler auction in 2013. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.)

by Angus M. Thuermer Jr., WyoFile

A member of a legislative housing task force who has plans for an accessory housing unit on his own lot says he doesn’t have a conflict of interest — even after recommending the state strip local government control over such developments.

Former Teton County Commissioner and former Jackson Mayor Mark Barron voted last year to remove local control over accessory residential units, essentially making their construction a state-guaranteed right. In an interview Wednesday, Barron said his personal development plans do not amount to a conflict of interest.

Barron said his advocacy for the reduction of local regulations is an effort to pave the way for more affordable housing, including in the form of smaller, second dwellings on lots with pre-existing homes. 

Yet removing such developments from local control would eliminate mitigation fees imposed by the town of Jackson to help pay for community affordable housing projects.

“There is no conflict of interest,” Barron said. “You don’t give up your citizen rights to enhance your living opportunity within the rules or the laws of where you live because you’re serving on a public board.”

In its 2023 iteration, the task force housing subcommittee included Barron as the “member representing local governments.” He agreed to serve on the task force, he said, at the request of Gov. Mark Gordon, whom the Legislature empowered to appoint members.

“You don’t give up your citizen rights to enhance your living opportunity within the rules or the laws of where you live because you’re serving on a public board.” MARK BARRON

When the task force formed a housing subcommittee last March, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association asked for “somebody from local government” to be on that panel. The committee agreed to a “representative” of local governments and gave Gordon authority to appoint one; he named Barron.

But Barron did not represent local governments, the former mayor and county commissioner said. “I was not appointed to represent towns and counties,” Barron said Wednesday.

Committee rejects local reps

A legislative committee Wednesday rejected a request by town and county governments to have their individual representatives on the task force. The panel could become permanent under Senate File 131 – Regulatory reduction task force-2.

In its 2023 iteration, the committee recommended taking control away from local governments to reduce regulations. Wyoming Association of Municipalities representative Bob McLaurin, who served for decades as Jackson’s town manager, asked the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday for the two additional members.

“Sometimes we have differences of opinions on issues,” McLaurin told the committee about the occasional conflict between the two categories of local governments. In seeking two separate representatives, he said, “Ideally we’d like to be consulted about who we put on.”

The committee balked at McLaurin’s proposed amendment to the task force bill because he had not discussed the change with sponsor Sen. John Kolb (R-Rock Springs). Committee member Sen. Affie Ellis (R-Cheyenne) recommended the amendment be pursued on the floor and said Barron had represented local governments well.

The Barron/Petroff lot in Jackson where the couple have plans for an accessory residential unit. (Teton County GIS)

“Mr. Barron would have that unique experience of having worked on the local [town] side and the county commissioner side,” she said.

Local governments last year pushed back against a recommended task force draft bill stripping local control over accessory residential units, warning it would upset planning and zoning rules set to ensure appropriate services and accommodations addressing water, sewer and parking, among other things. That recommendation and draft is not currently being considered.

Barron said he had no problem including the additional two members on the panel, a move that would expand it to 18 members.

He and his wife, former Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, had submitted plans to build an addition to their home in Jackson and also had a pre-application conference with town planners in 2022 for a different development — construction of an accessory residential unit — on their home’s lot.

Construction of the accessory unit would have subjected Barron and Petroff to mitigation fees imposed on free-market housing and intended to offset their impact by subsidizing less expensive units, frequently for local workers. County records show no pending, issued or closed applications for the Barron-Petroff lot and no construction is underway there.

Jackson Hole’s housing dilemma

Asked whether he saw a conflict of interest in Barron’s service, Sen. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), who was co-chair of the task force housing subcommittee, said “I don’t think so … no.”

Task forces cannot write legislation, Gierau said, even though a recommended draft bill emerged from last year’s work by the panel. “There isn’t anything he could do that would directly lead to him not paying his fees,” Gierau said of Barron.

Gierau touted Barron’s 16 years in local government and success as a businessman. Barron also explained his frustration at Teton County and Jackson’s challenge in providing housing for workers.

Mitigation fees have led to the community’s construction of hundreds of units earmarked for affordable housing for workers. Those community developments, Barron said, are supposed to be a stepping stone to ownership of “an inexpensive market home,” in the free market.

Barron has supported a purported solution; landowners’ plans for large, high-density free-market subdivisions that would not be subjected to mitigation fees. One proposal would gift some land for affordable housing in exchange for waiving mitigation on the larger balance of the development.

Critics say there’s no guarantee free-market subdivisions would solve the community’s housing challenges, especially considering the national, if not international, desire to own a piece of Jackson Hole. Barron said an increase in supply would drive home prices down.

“We’ve denied that [stepping stone] opportunity by not allowing market homes – starter market homes,” he said. In Teton County, “we’ve piled on regulations in anticipation of worst case scenarios by ‘evil developers’ that have resulted in average citizens not being able to get a permit or taking months — eight months — to get a building permit, or longer.

“And we’ve piled onerous fees on top of those American families that want to … enlarge their homes or add a home or add an [accessory residential unit],” Barron said.

He traces community problems to those regulations.

“One thing you can’t deny is the fact that we have 10,000 commuters running in and out of Jackson Monday through Friday,” he said of community workers. “One of the efforts behind the restricted housing — affordable housing — was to keep our traffic in town; live, work and play in town. And we’ve done just the opposite.”


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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