Campbell County commissioners' meeting had extra security; board accused of violating open meetings law
GILLETTE — Six officers were assigned to the commission chambers Tuesday for the Campbell County Commission's regular meeting after the county sheriff had been asked to provide extra security.
The request was made because of behavior at the previous commission meeting when some people were asked to leave because they were being disruptive.
A group of library protesters showed up, as they have for the last few months, over concerns about library books. But on Tuesday, their signs were placed against the walls and chairs. And they were quiet for the whole meeting. Some of them were holding and waving American flags.
Kevin Bennett did speak for a couple of minutes, but other than that, there was nothing from the crowd.
For nearly four months, commissioners have listened to hours of public comment at their meetings from residents about the library, in particular with the teen and children’s sections containing books that deal with sex and LGBTQ+ issues.
There was extra security at Tuesday's meeting. There were two bailiffs, which has been the case for the past several meetings, but there also were four investigators in plainclothes, said Sheriff Scott Matheny.
Matheny said the commission office called him Monday afternoon, asking what he could do to increase security at the meetings. He suggested having officers in street clothes attend the meeting, just in case.
He said the scope of the bailiffs’ duties is courthouse security, but their top priority is courtroom security.
“They’re stretched thin, they’re supposed to be in the courtrooms,” Matheny said.
There have been times in the past when bailiffs have been asked to attend commission meetings to keep things orderly. But Matheny said it is the first time deputies have been asked to attend a county board meeting.
“They’re good guys, they’re willing to help out how they can. They also know they have other jobs to do,” he said.
There have been instances where the deputies have received criticism for their role in keeping peace at the meetings.
At the last meeting, when bailiffs were asked to escort Bennett out, someone remarked that the officers "should be ashamed of yourselves,” and that “officers should not do this to people.”
“They say to me face to face that they respect me, they don’t want to make my job harder,” Matheny said. “I had to point out how they’re making my job harder.”
During the summer of 2020 when there were Black Lives Matter demonstrations protesting police brutality and calls to “defund the police” all across the country, many people in Gillette got behind local law enforcement.
Matheny believes some of the people who supported law enforcement last year are the same ones that are criticizing them right now.
“That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to point out. You’re acting like those people you don’t want us to allow in our community,” he said.
At the meeting, Bennett accused three of the commissioners of violating the Wyoming Open Meetings law.
Bennett had made a public records request, asking for emails between Chairman Bob Maul, Commissioners Rusty Bell and D.G. Reardon and administrative director Carol Seeger from Sept. 19 to Oct. 19.
He highlighted certain phrases, including “public comment,” “public statement,” “members of the public” and “oral communication.”
As the commission was about to convene into executive session to discuss personnel Tuesday, Bennett referred to an email from Seeger to library director Terri Lesley, letting Lesley know of Maul’s decision to not allow public comment on the library issue at the Oct. 19 meeting.
“How could the decision be made prior to vote?” Bennett asked.
At that point, the Gillette Public Access feed of the meeting had already been cut off because the executive session was about to begin.
The decision that was made the Friday before the Oct. 19 meeting was about not allowing public comment on the library.
Wednesday morning, Seeger said there was no vote on the decision to prohibit library comments, and that it was solely Maul’s decision.
Maul wrote a letter explaining the decision and distributed it Oct. 15. He said he recognizes that it is an important issue for the community, but that people must trust the process. He was the only commissioner to sign the letter.
“The library is engaged in its book challenge process and although some may be displeased with the length of time required in completing this process, this process must be allowed to proceed to completion,” Maul wrote.
“With continuing consideration, I thought it was not fair in any way to single out the library, so we made an official motion that was voted on,” Maul said Tuesday.
Bennett wondered if Maul’s decision constituted an action of a governing body.
Maul added he made a mistake with the first decision, and that he wanted to have it be made with a regular motion at a meeting.
“I suppose that answers my question,” Bennett said.
A motion was to allow public comment regardless of its topic and it failed on a 3-2 vote Oct. 19.
Last month, Hugh and Susan Bennett, had filed a complaint with Matheny’s office, saying the library board and staff were distributing obscene material. Weston County Attorney Michael Stulken was appointed as a special prosecutor for the case, and last week he said he would not pursue charges against the library.
Some people have been unhappy with that decision, said Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky.
“I continue to get bombarded by a lot of different people, saying there should be new criminal charges on a continuing basis,” he said.
“Once we’ve had an opinion rendered, it, in my mind, puts (the issue) to bed,” he said.