Former PC Commissioner Grills Incumbents

By Bryce Cornatzer
5 Aug 2014

A Park County Commissioner forum was led by former and incumbent commissioners.

The Park County Republican Women hosted Monday night's forum with questions ranging from budgets and salaries to audit issues and public land use.

Former commissioner Dave Burke was hearkening back to his time on the board, taking a stab at the incumbents for hiring a Montana ecosystem contractor.

“This is an enormous waste of taxpayer money,” said Burke. “In the last five years Park County and some of Fremont County have sent ERG $991,000 of taxpayer money that's gone from this state. It will never create jobs; it will never maintain any buildings; it will never help anybody's payroll.”

Ecosystem Research Group of Montana provides comment on federal land management plans on behalf and in the interest of Park County.

Burke advocates that instead of paying an out of state firm to handle such important issues, Park County should be investing its money in local experts.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf sees some problems with that proposal.

“First of all, there aren't local groups, even statewide, that are qualified,” said Grosskopf. “Second, they provide scientific, detailed information. They're experts at writing comments. They're used by  the Wyoming and Montana Game and Fish, the Forest Service themselves, the state of Wyoming—other state use them.

“When they provide comments, the BLM plan, for instance, was 2,000 pages long. By the time we got done with our comments, they were 775 page long. None of the counties or cooperators have the manpower or the knowledge to write 775 pages of very detailed explanations.”

Commissioners Joe Tilden and Tim French agreed that ERG brings the expertise needed to lead on complex land issues.

Burke kept the iron hot by criticizing the incumbents for their handling of Park County's landfills.

“Landfill issues, we didn't seem to have too many when I was a commissioner,” said Burke, “but things sure went south in a hurry over the past several years. I've yet to figure-out why. That's one reason why I wanted to become a commissioner again is so we can rebuild a landfill system that works for all of Park County.”

Commissioner French says that the old county 11 rivalry, not mismanagement, is what led to decreased participation in the county landfill.

“Years ago we had Cody, Powell, Meeteetse, and Park County all in the same room when this landfill thing started,” said French. “I said all the landfills have to be closed. We've got the lined cell that we're going to build in Cody. What can we do to help the second major town in this county.

“We all agreed to have a meeting, talk about it, and come back to the commissioners with a recommendation. They had one or two meetings and got crosswise.”

In closing statements, Commissioner Joe Tilden took a last jab at Burke, hinting at multiple thousands of dollars in travel expenses during his last six months in office.

Candidate Jo Walker answered questions with a heavy emphasis on accountability and local control.

Candidate Pat Slater expressed an intimate knowledge of the board through his time serving on the Park County Recreation District Board and an eagerness and ability to learn.

Candidates Dona Guelde and Gina Sowerwine were both absent.

Paul Lanchberry withdrew himself from the race.

Absentee voting is underway. The GOP primary is August 19.

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