JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. \u2013 A local nonprofit group representing business owners in Jackson had an unannounced meeting with a state legislative committee where they aired their complaints against Jackson\u2019s high housing mitigation rates. Local politicians didn\u2019t care for it but organizers say they did nothing wrong.\r\n\r\nThe popup parley, dubbed a \u201cLunch and Learn\u201d by the organizing group Jackson Hole Working, was viewed by some as inappropriate and smacking of the kind of special interest group pandering that gives politicking a bad name.\r\n\r\nMembers of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee say they took no action and drafted no bill after hearing out JH Working while meeting in Jackson on September 16.\r\n\r\nSeveral bills introduced last session were viewed as targeting Jackson and Teton County\u2019s affordable housing program by restricting its funding mechanisms, including one that would have stopped entirely any exaction fees for affordable\/workforce housing. That bill (HB277), introduced by Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Goshen, passed through committee 6-3 but failed to make it to the House floor in time for a vote. Rep. Duncan announced plans last week to again bring similar legislation to the 66th Legislature.\r\n\u201cNo one did anything wrong, but everyone was a little short on being right, too,\u201d said State Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Teton. \u201cYes, we get invited to all sorts of free parties during the session. It happens every single day. But to have a meeting, then break for lunch and a group comes in and the next day a representative says based on the testimony heard she\u2019s going to prepare a bill. That\u2019s a set up job. I think that legislator came with that idea of that legislation in hand.\u201d\r\nIn a statement provided to Buckrail by JH Working, the organization says they talked about the same things they\u2019ve discussed to town and county officials for four years now.\r\n\r\n\u201c[We] used this opportunity to talk about a host of issues we have been working on for the past several years including increasing professional job opportunities, housing, businesses and families leaving the valley, challenges to growing businesses, early childhood education and childcare. [We] have never taken a position on legislation. At no point during Monday\u2019s lunch did Jackson Hole Working bring up a specifi\u00adc bill or advocate for it one way or another,\u201d said the advocacy group.\r\n\r\nRep. Andy Schwartz, D-Teton, stopped short of calling it a clandestine caucus but pointed out that it\u2019s rare for the committee to meet in Jackson as it is so expensive to do so. And a topic like housing would certainly be at the top of the list for things to talk about in Teton County.\r\n\r\n\u201cBut there was no mention of the issue on the agenda. Tyler [Lindholm] didn\u2019t offer anything other than to say anything could be brought up during public comment,\u201d Schwartz said. \u201cLook, this Jackson Hole Working is made up of all developers and architects and builders. It\u2019s not hard to see what they are angling for. They should run for office if they have something to offer. Kelly [Lockhart] has never run for anything. And I suspect if he did, the no-growthers would vote him down.\u201d\r\nJH Work-around or Cheyenne knows best?\r\nAs far as the nature of the meeting, all agree wine-and-dine events are par for the course with state legislators. It was more the sting of \u2018discovering\u2019 a housing topic discussed right in electedss backyards without then being aware or asked for more robust participation. The \u2018sting\u2019 worsened, no doubt, following a handful of housing unfriendly bills of last session and a perceived end-run around county land regulations by organizers of a local private school in Jackson.\r\n\r\nJH Working also reminded that they do not wish to undermine local lawmaking efforts and are not opposed to affordable housing per se.\r\n\r\n\u201cJackson Hole Working is not against housing. Our board members have contributed greatly to the valley\u2019s housing supply and supported commonsense policies that would remove roadblocks to building multi-family housing units. We know \u00adfirst-hand the challenges facing small businesses in providing housing for our valued community members, neighbors and friends. And we are committed to being part of the solution,\u201d the organization stated. \u201c[Our] mission is to fi\u00adnd balance in protecting our valley\u2019s natural resources, wildlife and unique community character while ensuring this is a place where working people can raise their families and run a business.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to local parties taking their beef to Cheyenne instead of settling here in-county, Sen. Gierau didn\u2019t see any similarity between last year\u2019s SF49 that cleared the way for the Classical Academy to build in South Park and JH Working\u2019s pressing for a different housing tact in Jackson.\r\n\r\n\u201cTo me, the issue last year with SF49 was different. A decision was made on a flawed rule-making ability concerning mainly a 10,000 square foot cap for a building. Pretty hard to justify that when you have a 30,000-square-foot clubhouse across the street (3 Creek) that will soon be expanding to 45,000. Watch that pass on gossamer wings,\u201d Gierau said.\r\n\r\nBut still, Gierau said Teton County is better suited to fix its housing issue than the state.\r\n\r\n\u201cHousing is an issue that\u2019s been going on for 30-plus years here. The exaction rates are a tool in the toolbox and, while they might be overapplied in this case, and personally I think they are, it\u2019s a work in progress. We can pare it back if it doesn\u2019t work,\u201d Gierau said. \u201cBut I'm upset. I think they went too far with this.\u00a0The community is trying to work through our housing problems and it doesn\u2019t need legislation to blow it up.\u201d\r\n\r\nRep. Schwartz agreed, saying he will do everything he can to kill the bill.\r\n\u201cLet locals try it out. This should be something we take care of here,\u201d he said. \u201cLook, Shelly [Duncan] is great, she\u2019s a good legislator, but she\u2019s a realtor and, in my opinion, this comes from ties she has with the real estate community here.\u201d\r\nAddressing the shortage of available and affordable housing in Teton County isn\u2019t an easy task. The Jackson\/Teton County Affordable Housing Department headed by April Norton has revamped and doubled-down on its efforts to put workforce housing on the ground. The high cost of building, coupled with exorbitated land values in Jackson Hole, has hampered the department at every turn. Turning off a key funding source in exaction rates could cripple housing efforts entirely.\r\n\r\nNorton did not respond to multiple calls for comment.\r\n\r\nJH Working also sees no easy solution but its members prefer more carrot and less stick.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhen it comes to housing solutions for Teton County, there is no silver bullet. Jackson Hole Working hopes to see a robust plan that includes incentives, the return of zoning tools responsible for much of the affordable housing in our community; Town and County leadership on large scale housing projects; and the inclusion of innovative private-sector solutions,\u201d the group said. \u201cJackson Hole Working has been pleased to work with our county commissioners, town councilors and staff for the past four years. While we have not always seen eye-to-eye, we have appreciated our working relationship and look forward to continuing this dialogue and collaboration into the future.\u201d\r\n\r\nMayor Pete Muldoon also entered the fray, responding to a letter submitted to the town by Jackson Hole Working.\r\nMuldoon wrote to the group: "In my humble opinion, the wrong way to do it is to take the case to Cheyenne where it will be decided in an afternoon or so by folks with no real understanding of the nuances of the subject...If that can\u2019t be done, I fear we will poison the debate we should be having here in our community, and the repercussions will echo throughout future elections and policy decisions."\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nJackson Hole Working is comprised of members of the business community including Ted Staryk, Kevin Kavanagh, Kelly Lockhart, John Carney, Anna Cole, John Stennis, Sadek Darwiche, Tyler Davis, Jenn Ford, and Joe Rice.\r\n\r\nThe Corporations committee will meet Nov. 18-19 in Cheyenne to discuss bills it intends to introduce into the 66th Legislative Session.