Campbell Co. releases community college application after WCCC refuses

SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Community College Commission would not release a copy of the Campbell County application seeking to form a new community college district, saying in an email last week that it would be made public when a contract with an outside surveying group to assemble the feasibility study was set.

Dr. Ben Moritz, deputy director of the WCCC, could not cite a specific exemption under which the application fell according to Wyoming’s public records laws. The law allows some documents to be withheld, but errs toward transparency.

“We're getting clarity on that from our representative in the Attorney General's Office,” Moritz said in an email to The Sheridan Press Sept. 4. “If he advises that this should be public information we will promptly share this with any and all that have requested the application.  

“Our primary concern is that this application be objectively and fairly deliberated upon and that the state-mandated study be properly contracted and executed,” he continued. “Because of this, we are being cautious about any actions that could impact those processes, including release of the application. Again, if we receive advice from the AG's office that there is no legal reason to withhold the application, we will promptly release the document.”

While the WCCC would not release the document, The Sheridan Press received a copy of the application from the Campbell County Commission Friday afternoon.

According to a press release from the WCCC, the statewide organization received the formal and complete application Sept. 1. The application to form a new district, which would encompass all of Campbell County, must first be approved by the WCCC, then the Wyoming Legislature and then by a majority of voters in Campbell County. 

The WCCC has 90 days to complete a review of the application, which includes a survey conducted by a third party as well as two public meetings. One will take place in Campbell County, but the other must take place outside the county applying. That location has not yet been set.

According to the application, the fundamental goal of forming a new community college district is for Gillette College to fulfill its mission “free from the outdated, outgrown and unworkable structural impediments inherent in its being merely a subordinate campus within a larger district in which it does not have, and cannot have, a meaningful role in its own governance.”

The application goes on to state that the formation of a new district in Campbell County isn’t an addition of a community college, but the recognition of an existing college. 

The benefit to the community, the application reads, is that a local community college district would “enable Gillette College to be a true community college, whose community is given more than an opportunity to be heard by a distant governing body regarding the educational services provided, and instead the community will enjoy meaningful local decision-making and control of those services, so that those educational services provided are determined based on truly community-specific factors.”

Walter Tribley spoke briefly at Sheridan City Council Tuesday evening, providing a short update to the council regarding the process Campbell County Commission has begun. He told city council members if Campbell County is successful in forming its own district, that would obviously change the Northern Wyoming Community College District’s financial situation, but should not be detrimental to its future.

He added that he does not fault a community, in current circumstances, for wanting to have more control of one of its largest assets.