GILLETTE – Gillette College will become its own community college district.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the separation from the Northern Wyoming Community College District by a 4,160 to 1,724 margin at a special election Tuesday.
It is the finish line of a multi-decade effort for the county to have a college district of its own, after an effort failed in 1992.
Campbell County — the third largest county in the state — now joins seven other counties in hosting a community college district.
"I’m so excited for the future of Gillette and Campbell County," said Alison Ochs Gee, who was elected as one of the seven district board trustees.
"I think this is indicative of where our community is headed," she added. "We’re growing and thriving. Although we have the naysayers, we’re going to continue to thrive in spite of it.”
Tuesday night, Walter Tribley, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District, issued a statement welcoming the new college district to the state’s community college system.
“It is a great thing to see a community actively supporting higher education,” he said. “Our Board of Trustees and I are ready to go to work to help the newly created Gillette Community College District become independent and successful.”
He said based on the “long-standing partnership” between the district and Gillette College, “we recognize the unique position we are in to provide specific, real-time support that will be necessary and helpful on the road to accreditation for the new district.”
Jacob Dalby, one of the leading voices against the tax, said he thought there would be a better turnout from the “no” side, but admitted that “the liberals had a good push. They had a lot of money. Money always wins.”
He said he doesn’t think that everyone who voted yes are liberals, but that “I think they were misled and lied to” by the supporters of the college district, which was “definitely a bunch of liberals.”
But soon enough, Campbell County will see through that, Dalby said.
“It won’t take (the voters) long to realize they’ve been lied to,” he said. “And when they do, they’re going to be pissed.”
Early voting set the tone for the measure, with votes cast before 5 p.m. Monday coming up 78 percent in favor of a separate college district.
There were 3,166 ballots cast as of the end of the day Monday, and 78 percent of them, or 2,464, were in favor of the district, while 678 were against it, according to results posted to the county's website.
At about 9 p.m., the final results came in, and in all, 5,884 people voted, or 29.7 percent of the 19,758 registered voters in Campbell County.
Some 2,412 people, or 41 percent, voted on Election Day, while 3,472, or 59 percent, voted early or absentee.
In the race for trustees, Josh McGrath, Tracy Wasserburger, Nello Williams, Olin Oedekoven, Robert Palmer, Frank Stevens and Alison Ochs Gee led the list of 23 candidates and will begin the work to separate from the district.
“There’s a good group of trustees,” said Williams. “I think we’re all in it for the same reasons and that’s to make our community a better place to live, our college a better college, our students to have greater choices in (relation) to their classes."
“Let’s face it, it’s great to get out of Sheridan,” he added.
In addition to looking toward the future of the college and community, McGrath had reason to turn an eye back to the past as well.
“My mom lived and died for this,” McGrath said after becoming the top vote-getter among newly elected trustees.
His mother, Sherry, pushed for Gillette College to become independent during the last go around almost 30 years ago.
“It’s just overwhelming to me,” said Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, who introduced the senate file that led to the special election in the state Legislature earlier this year.