Although there has been a decades-long national trend of declining participation in local boards and community organizations, the Park County commissioners recently experienced some activity bucking the norm.
The commissioners recently received seven applications for a single seat on the Yellowstone Regional Airport board, and conducted interviews with the applicants at their meeting on Dec. 14.
It was his building experience that separated Shawn Warner, a Sletten Construction staffer and member of the Forward Cody board, from the rest for the commissioners, taking precedence over his lack of aviation experience. In his support for Warner, Park County Commissioner Chairman Lee Livingston mentioned how the Stampede Rodeo board has members with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, including some who do not work with livestock for a living.
“I really think it helps to have a diverse board,” he said.
The airport board is tasked with making small and large decisions regarding ongoing projects and day-to-day operations of the airport. YRA is at a critical juncture in its history right now, having recently lost summer service from Delta Airlines with its direct flights to Salt Lake City. The airport is also moving through its $18 million worth of CARES Act projects that must be initiated by 2024.
“There’s so much going on, it’s an excellent time to be there,” said Ray Lee, an applicant and former interim director of the airport. “The board does have to work forward in a decent fashion.”
Commissioners Dossie Overfield and Lloyd Thiel said they could not remember a time when there was this level of competition for a single seat on any board, let alone the airport board.
“It’s probably because of all the money we have received and maybe because of some of the publicized issues we’ve had in the past,” YRA board member Bucky Hall said.
To give some perspective, the 2020 election for two open commissioner seats, paying more than $30,000 anually each, attracted only four candidates.
Each airport board seat comes with a three-year term. Warner will replace Craig Wilbur, who has sat on the board since 2009.
Warner said his motivation for applying to the board is twofold – spurring economic development and a personal desire to challenge himself.
“If we can accomplish some things I would find it personally rewarding,” he said. “Where I can look back and say I had a positive impact on things.”
There was also interest, although more modest, for some positions on other boards. Two applicants sought one seat on the Historical Preservation board, and there were four applicants for three openings on the Parks and Recreation board, with all three incumbents approved by the commissioners.
Fred Bronnenburg joined the Park County Fair board unopposed, while Bob Ferguson, likewise, was chosen for the Park County Planning and Zoning Commission. Ferguson is also vice president of the Park County Republican Party.
“Just to get involved more with Park County and form and shape Park County for years to come,” Ferguson said of his desire to run.
Richard Jones was one of three incumbents re-appointed to the Buffalo Bill Dam Advisory board. Jones is a member on seven local boards, including a member of a handful of governing bodies throughout the county like the City of Cody and Park County planning and zoning commissions, the Cody Conservation District and the Park County Nordic Ski Association.
“Public service and public interests and having concerns in the community is what drives me,” he said.
Jones noted he has seen local participation go in the wrong direction when real estate and financial interests contaminate planning and zoning boards, special agendas take over school boards, and other biases take over hospital boards in other places, but added he hasn’t seen too much of this activity here.