By Seth Hancock
By a split 3-2 vote earlier this week, the Campbell County Board of Commissioners voted to support Chairman Robert Maul’s unilateral decision to remove the public comments portion from its meetings.
According to local media reports, residents have been addressing their concerns over the last several months over books being found in the children and teens section of the public library which promote the sexualization of kids. Residents have filed complaints with the sheriff’s office and prosecutors are determining whether to charge library officials, including Darcy Acord, the library’s children’s director.
Maul made the decision to remove the public comments portion from the Oct. 19 meeting agenda on his own and said at the meeting it was “suspended immediately” and gave no indication if he would include public comments in the future. During a board discussion, Maul had some members of the public forcibly removed from the meeting for trying to have their voices heard.
Commissioner Colleen Faber made a motion to include public comments which was seconded by Commissioner Del Shelstad which led to the board discussion. But, commissioners Rusty Bell and D.G. Reardon joined Maul in supporting his dictatorial rule making.
Ultimately what was at question is whether the public meetings, where taxpayers are forced to pay for the board’s decisions, are controlled by the chairman, or does the whole board and the public itself have a say.
Wyoming’s Open Meetings Act does not explicitly require public comments but does include a section related to “participation by public” at meetings.
Bell supported the authoritarian approach saying “it’s always been the chairman’s prerogative…. I want to keep it the way it is.” Reardon took aim at the public saying meetings have “devolved into a session of bullying and threatening our board of commissioners, the library board and library staff.”
Maul said because there’s email and social media, the public still gets to comment.
“The board is more accessible now than at any other time in the past,” Maul said. “The elimination of the public comment at business meetings will not impede this access.”
Maul went on to thank the public “for their interest, participation and contributions” as he was taking the public’s ability to participate and contribute away.
For Faber, she said ultimately the whole board should be the ones making the decision whether or not to have public comments.
“I do want everyone to realize that we are not a board of one, we are five individuals up here who do have different ideologies and belief systems and some of us do support having our public comments, and some don’t,” Faber said. “I would not want it to seem like it’s a situation that we don’t support our chairman.”
As for Shelstad, he ultimately thinks the public is the most important voice to be heard.
“I think a basic fundamental right of our people is to address their government with their grievances,” Shelstad said. “I think that’s what these people have been doing, and if we can’t represent them, the people of our county, who can we represent?”
Pastor Scott Clem, of local Central Baptist Church in Gillette and former member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, told the board before the meeting: “Tyranny, tyranny, that’s what this is. It’s completely screwed up and you know it.”