Commissioners say goodbye to long-standing emergency management director

GOSHEN COUNTY – In a mixture of closing out chapters and the ending a service era for the Goshen County’s long-standing Emergency Management Director Shelly Kirchhefer, county commissioners also got some closure from an independent auditor working on balancing the books as well as discussed concerns about road conditions due to truckers, new energy sectors moving in.

Although the commissioners followed their typical order of events in last Tuesday’s meeting on September 6, much of the time was spent on congratulating, reminiscing about and saying goodbye to retiring Kirchhefer.

Kirchhefer has served in the county for 29 years and in 1993 she began working for the county. In her last emergency management report to the county, Kirchhefer said, “as for the COVID-19 cases – the latest rounds are still kind of fluctuating a little bit.”

Adding, “but then the drastic tracking of the emails, case counseling and press releases are still being put out by my office is ongoing.” She also noted the number of orders for personal protection equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, has also reduced in the county.

Kirchhefer also spoke of the numerous grants her office is working on and said she would ensure that interim Goshen County Emergency Management Director Chuck Kenyon, as well as current and soon-to-be Goshen County Commissioners would have all the necessary information to ensure those grants continued to be worked on and followed through with. Some grants include the continuation of replacing, fixing and equipping the county with emergency weather systems, radios and other equipment. Other grants include emergency responses to a number of scenarios that potentially pose a risk to the greater community.

In the Goshen County Road and Bridge report, the commissioners heard from Director Val Hankins regarding a number of troublesome and bothersome roads due to construction projects, road hazards caused by truckers and traveling from energy sector companies moving into the area on private property – one of which is just outside of Yoder and the second one, half in Platte County in Chugwater and half inside Goshen County being called the Chugwater Wind Farm, just off of Bear Creek Road and south of Wyo. Hwy. 313.

Residents from that part of the county were in attendance and told commissioners, as well as the road and bridge department, that road conditions going into winter are “beyond problematic” and “probably too late to fix at this time” but wondered if the department would seek to have the road repaired at the expense of the companies, rather than the county.

Chairman John Ellis asked Hankins and her team, Goshen County Surveyor Bob Taylor and Goshen County Planner Mike Tietjen, if there was a legal, statutory or contractual means to rectify the road concerns of residents in the southern and eastern parts of the county affected along Bear Creek Road, or Route 242, and Wyo. Hwy. 313. To which the team responded they are looking into a number of ideas and ways to rectify it, including relying more heavily in enforcing current county statutes, rules and regulations by means of civil lawsuits against the companies and pre-contractual permitting agreements to include road repairs.

Resident in the area, Steve Hayes told commissioners and the road and bridge department, “a couple of comments – number one, I agree with what you’re saying, but I think the enforcement and the permitting has to be done up front because the excuse right now is regs are hard to come by and we better get this done and out of our way.”

“It’s sort of the ‘we don’t care about you and the road right now’ mentality with these companies and Val (Hankins) is doing great so far as addressing the concerns,” Hayes explained to the board. “But it’s getting worse because if that powder blows, there is no room on that road for miles – so upfront, making sure they’re going to pay for damages caused at their hands is the smartest approach.”

Hayes suggested to the commissioners and Hankins that these companies be required in their contracts to pay a bond upfront specifically for road repairs after projects are completed. The commissioners and the road and bridge team agreed this would be the best approach going forward but little can be done retroactively.

Both Taylor and Tietjen remarked how this is a commonly occurring theme in the county and that they were aware of the “secretive nature” or “very not noticed nature” of some projects because the county is unaware of them until residents call to inquire about the projects they see.

Tietjen said, “most people will bring to memory Teapot Dome of northern Casper – it didn’t get found out until somebody saw a bunch of trucks driving by – and I don’t, the county doesn’t want this or any other project in Goshen County to be like the (Teapot) Dome situation or anything like that.”

“An informed public helps – you don’t know what you don’t know if you’re not being informed and we have a spread out, larger county to where it’s not possible for us to be out in the county inspecting it every day,” Tietjen explained. “But of course, that was on federal land – still, an informed public is a better armed public.”

Teapot Dome was a scandal that broke out in the 1920s during former President Warren Harding’s time in office, which sent his Department of the Interior Secretary Bacon Fall to prison due to bribes and favorable contracts to oil and gas providers in Natrona County. One of those oil and gas companies CEOs and founder, Harry Sinclari of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corp., was ultimately sentenced to six months in jail due to witness tampering in Fall’s bribery case.

Bacon pursued the U.S. Navy Secretary Edwin Denby to transfer the power to oversee the contracts to the U.S. Interior Department so that these leases could be issued without causing an alarm to its impropriety. Former President Howard Taft designated the U.S. Navy Department to oversee these leases less than a decade prior to the incident to ensure the U.S. Navy would have “adequate designated oil-producing areas for Navy consumption in case of wartime needs.”

In this case, leases were issued without competitive bidding and were not considered legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920. It was discovered when a Wyoming resident wrote then Wyoming Senator John Kendrick about the secretive deals. This case would later spawn a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), McGrain v. Daughtery, 1927, which would allow Congress to compel witnesses to testify at Congressional hearings.

These concerns were not the only issues to be brought to light at the commissioners meeting, Goshen County Assessor Debbi Surratt told board members in her report she had a supplement to tax rolls, because the county identified a previously unreported housing structure in the southern part of the county estimated to be worth $5 million dollars.

“I also have a supplement to tax rolls, I don’t usually report on supplements, but I do have quite a few – and one of them is fairly substantial,” Surratt explained to the board. “We have a new home that’s worth about $5 million out south – so that’s going to go on this report.”

The Goshen County Clerk of the Court Brandi Correa presented the board with her earnings report and also presented an updated with GASB Consultant Ron Russell, who has been auditing and working with the county to rebalance its books, grow a surplus and repay debts created when former Goshen County Clerk of the Court Kathi Rickard reportedly laundered money out of the court for personal reasons between 2014 and 2018. 

Previous reporting by the Telegram stated Goshen County Attorney Eric Boyer issued a press release which detailed Rickard was charged with six felony theft charges following an investigation by the State of Wyoming totaling $120,217.65 and was seeking restitution. The county was willing to cap her sentence at two years if she could produce the amount she took, however, she was not able to do so. Ultimately, Rickard was sentenced to three to six years in the Wyoming Department of Corrections in 2020 as part of a plea bargain on two charges.

In their joint presentation, Russell told commissioners that the books are mostly balanced, back on track and now has reserve funds “in large thanks to trusting me and my team to help guide the county in what to do so that no more checks bounded or over drafted the account.”

He also spoke about the overall budgeting done by the county commissioners to take the county from “no reserves prior to a $1.2 million dollar reserve today – so now that the county is back on track and thriving, it is my recommendation to this board and the future board members to increase that to $2.4 million dollars in reserve with the same three month contingency plan to be able to pay at least three months’ worth of county expenses if something should happen.”

Russell also told the board he too is retiring following this county audit after doing it for the county the last 21 years.

“I would like to thank the county commissioners and county for trusting me these long years in these audits – but it is also time for me to retire fully and I’m looking forward to being able to fully retire,” Russell said. He told current commissioners and presumable incoming Goshen County Commissioner Mike McNamee that he and his team would not leave the new commissioners stranded but would have his team help in the transition period and give recommendations for a new auditor that the county commissioners could decide to continue to use as a contracting basis or hire as a county position.

Goshen County Clerk Cindy Kenyon presented the clerks monthly bills of $380,177.12, which included the salaries of election judges and officials, election equipment and other monthly county bills and salaries. The county brought in $18,286 dollars through the clerk’s office.

Goshen County Treasurer Leticia Dominguez reported to the commissioners her office is still working on some of the county irrigation reports and tax reports and would have a final report in roughly two weeks so that notices could be sent out.

Commissioners Justin Burkart, Cody Cox and Chairman John Ellis along with county clerk Kenyon remarked at how far the county has come with improving its financial standings from being underfunded and unable to support all its staff less than a decade ago to having more than $1 million dollars in reserves today.

“Just truly remarkable – 10 years ago, we were hurting badly,” Kenyon told commissioners. “It’s really amazing to see what we’ve been able to accomplish, what we’ve been through with some setbacks – even with the COVID-19 pandemic, to still be able to come out on top.”

In agreement, Burkart said, “Yeah, we’ve done a lot of hard work, made a lot of difficult decisions – but we’ve managed to see ourselves through this and out of it.”

The next Goshen County Commissioners meeting will be on Sept. 20 at 9 a.m. at the county courthouse.


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