SWEETWATER COUNTY– Tuesday’s Sweetwater County Commissioner meeting turned into an interrogation as the commissioners questioned why Rep. Clark Stith voted in favor of Senate File 49, which exempts private schools from county zoning authority.
Previously, all the county commissions in the state had the authority to regulate and restrict the location of use of buildings and structures, as well as the use, condition of use, or location of lands for residence, recreation, agriculture, industry, commerce, public use, and other purposes in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The board of county commissioners does not have authority over incorporated cities and towns and mineral resources. However, with the passing of SF49, private schools are no longer under the county’s authority.
Not About Schools, It’s Circumventing Local Control
Commissioner Randy Wendling said the bill is not about schools. He said he supports options and alternatives for education, but this bill boils down to “circumventing local control”.
SF49 came out of Teton County, and Wendling believes it only benefits Teton County’s interests, not Sweetwater County’s interests.
Wendling said Sweetwater County Representative Clark Stith was the only Sweetwater County representative who voted in favor of the bill. Stith was in the audience at the meeting, as he was planning to update the commissioners on some legislature he helped pass during this legislative session.
Wendling asked Stith why he supported a Teton County bill that does not serve the interests of Sweetwater County. Commissioner Wendling talked to several Sweetwater County leaders, as well as the county’s planning and zoning department and engineers, and they all said it was “not a good bill to support”.
“Why is it that I sense that it’s more important to support another county’s interests? Why are we supporting other counties rather than our own?” Wendling asked Stith.
Sweetwater County Deserves an Explanation
Chairman Wally Johnson added that the commissioners and other county leaders gave the Wyoming legislators a “thumb down” on this particular bill, and Stith should have paid more attention to that.
“If I was a legislator, I would look at that because that group of people, including us, represent everyone in the state of Wyoming,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that he believes Stith was wrong on this particular issue.
“Sweetwater County needs an explanation for this,” Johnson said.
Fairness Between Public and Private Schools
Rep. Stith explained that his decision was based on fairness between the government and the private sector.
“I voted for it because I think it is fundamentally unfair for the government to be able to do one thing and for the private sector to not be able to do that same thing,” Stith said.
Stith admitted that SF49 does come with some loss of control to the county commissioners, as they no longer have authority over the zoning of private schools.
However, he said the real loss of control came in the 1980s when, according to Stith, the Attorney General’s Office and the State School Facilities Commission decided counties could not issue zoning regulations for public schools.
He added that he supports counties having authority over both public and private schools, and that further legislature may need to be brought in to accomplish this. He said he believes “public and private schools need to be zoned the same.”
The Issue in Teton County
Representative Stith explained the situation in Teton County that put this bill into place. According to Stith, Teton County has a zoning ordinance that says a structure that is built cannot have a footprint that exceeds 10,000 square feet.
He believes this ordinance was created so the extremely wealthy could not build excessively large structures. The ordinance applies to every type of structure, except public schools as the Jackson high school is 100,000 sq ft.
Stith said private schools can be built, but cannot exceed 10,000 sq ft.
He explained that this is not fair, as the government has one rule, and the private sector has another rule.