Residents angry over end of public comments at commission meetings
GILLETTE — The Campbell County Commission has suspended public comment at their meetings until further notice, but that didn’t keep people from speaking up and speaking out against the commissioners Tuesday.
The commissioners’ decision to suspend public comment at their meetings until further notice upset residents who showed up to the regular meeting Tuesday.
For the last three 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.
Originally, the plan had been to prohibit any public comment that had to do with the Campbell County Public Library. That was announced Friday afternoon.
Monday afternoon, the meeting agenda was updated, and the agenda item for public comment was removed.
Chairman Bob Maul said the library needs to be able to complete the book review process, and that commissioners will still accept public comment in the form of letters, emails and phone calls.
Right before the meeting started, local pastor Scott Clem told Maul what he thought of this change.
“Tyranny. Tyranny. That’s what this is,” Clem said. “It’s completely screwed up and you know it.”
Commissioner Colleen Faber made a motion to allow public comment at commission meetings. It failed on a 2-3 vote. Both she and Del Shelstad voted to allow comments.
Commissioner Rusty Bell said he supported Maul’s decision.
"It’s always been the chairman’s prerogative on how they’re going to run the meeting,” he said.
Shelstad said a basic fundamental right of the people “is to address their government with their grievances, and I think that’s what these people have been doing.”
“If we can’t represent them, the people of our county, then who can we represent?” he asked.
When Commissioner D.G. Reardon tried to make a comment, he was interrupted by people in the crowd. He said he believes the “public comment period has devolved into a session of bullying and threatening.” This was met with comments that included, “We have free speech” and “we will vote you out.”
Maul said if the behavior continued, he was going to have to ask people to leave.
“We have no voice,” one person said.
“Would you guys let Mr. Reardon finish?” Shelstad asked. “Whether you like what he says, you sat there and listened to me. Let him finish.”
Reardon continued, saying the public comment period, “as just evidenced, has devolved into a session of bullying and threatening our board of commissioners, the library board and library staff.” He said the library should be given a chance to do its job.
Clem said the commissioners are essentially censoring adults while giving children pornography.
“I’m going to ask you to leave if you cannot keep quiet,” Maul said.
Clem said he was not going to remain quiet, “so I will respectfully leave, because this tyrannical here.”
After Clem left, Kevin Bennett asked commissioners, “If you can shut us down, why can’t you take porn out of the library?”
“Would you also escort Mr. Bennett out?” Reardon asked deputies. “Mr. Bennett, would you please follow Mr. Scott (Clem)?”
“They’re welcome to take me out,” Bennett said.
When a deputy asked Bennett to stand up, Bennett said, “My legs are so tired ... My legs are so tired.”
Bennett remained seated. The deputy said he would allow Bennett to stay at the meeting if he could stay quiet while the commissioners were speaking.
“I’ll do my best,” Bennett said.
“You officers that are doing this, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” said Susan Sisti. “Officers should not do this to people.”
The vote to allow public comment failed, with Bell, Reardon and Maul voting against it. When one of those three moves to bring the topic up at a future meeting, the commissioners can vote on it again.
Even though there was no official public comment period, that didn’t stop those in the crowd from getting their message out. They held up signs, including ones that promoted the firing of library director Terri Lesley and youth services librarian Darcy Acord, so that they would be visible to anyone who watched the meeting on Gillette Public Access.