GILLETTE — For the first time in more than four decades, Doug Dumbrill isn’t part of the local legal or judicial system.
His surprise, on-the-spot resignation as a municipal judge during the July 7 Gillette City Council meeting began a 15-minute confrontation with the audience that escalated into a shouting match. The council chambers had to be cleared and the verbal scuffle cased a 45-minute recess of the meeting.
While that’s not what he intended, Dumbrill says he’s also not sorry, because the ideals he expressed needed to be said and that somebody needs to stand up to what has become an increasingly angry and aggressive effort to oust Mayor Louise Carter-King and the rest of the council.
After digesting the incident for a couple of days, the former judge said he’s not surprised at how his remarks were taken, but a back-and-forth shouting match is not what he intended.
“I can say this: Among the possible things that could have happened in that room, I had anticipated that might be one of them,” he said Thursday. “That was not what I thought was going to happen, but it wasn’t completely unanticipated.”
The altercation was the culmination of events that began June 9, when the mayor and council met in an executive session to discuss complaints the city had received about councilman Shay Lundvall “liking” some potentially offensive, sexist and racist social media posts.
During that behind-closed-doors meeting, Lundvall, who attended via telephone, was given a choice: resign or the mayor and council would make the complaints public and openly call for his resignation.
The next morning, Lundvall resigned. And in a lengthy Facebook post two days later, said he expressed regret for resigning and that he felt pressured to make that decision. He also acknowledged that as a City Council member he needs to exercise better judgment and apologized for liking the offensive posts.
The revelation that Lundvall was given an ultimatum and that the intention of Carter-King and the rest of the council was to keep it secret stirred up a local political hornet’s nest. Lundvall supporters have since called for the former councilman to be reinstated, protested at City Hall twice and have repeatedly called for Carter-King and the council to resign.
The movement has gained momentum and the level of anger and frustration aimed at city government has escalated.
While Lundvall’s situation was the catalyst for the protests, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with the mayor and council for some time, said David Marquiss, a vocal member of the movement to oust the local politicians.
Frustration levels are already high overall with difficulties in the local energy industries and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to people’s belief that they need to take action, he said.
“Those (factors) could definitely play a part in this,” Marquiss said. “This is the first issue (locally) that’s really gotten ground on.”
He also said the mayor and council brought a lot of the criticism on themselves by trying to deal with the issue outside the public’s eye.
Marquiss also said much of the anger is about a subsequent move by the council to release a raft of the offending posts Lundvall liked, all Facebook posts made by Gillette resident Bob Vomhof. He said many people are incensed that the city would paint a bullseye on a resident and that the posts could’ve still be released with Vomhof’s name redacted.
“If they had done it all in public and they had left Vomhof’s name out of it, I don’t think we’d see this outcry,” Marquiss said. “I still would’ve been against it, but I don’t think we’d be seeing near the outrage we’re seeing now.”
Instead, Vomhof has responded by publicly calling out the city and leading the charge in protesting Carter-King and the council. He entered a float in the Fourth of July parade depicting a jail cell with a representation of the mayor in it to symbolize he believes her actions are criminal.
Phone calls and messages to Vomhof to contribute to this and previous stories on the issue haven’t been been returned. He also has declined to comment on the record.
Vomhof also sent a formal complaint to the city, part of which attacks Dumbrill’s sister, Debbie McLeland, a former school district trustee and mother of Councilman Nathan McLeland.
The councilman said he’s aware of the complaint and what was said about his mother, but that he doesn’t want to publicly comment on the issue.
“I’m not going to get in a back-and-forth with Vomhof over his posts,” he said. “I’m out trying to do the best I can for the city. I hope our community works through this.”
In his complaint, Vomhof blames Debbie McLeland for the resignation of former Campbell County High School football coach John Scott 20 years ago and said she and her family has a long-held vendetta against him and his family.
For his part, Dumbrill said he’s not aware of any animosity from his sister or her family toward Vomhof’s and that the “very personal and hateful” comments made in the complaint are unfounded.
“I don’t know that incident and I don’t know anything about it,” he said. “But I do know my sister and I know what my sister will and won’t do, and she says that never happened. And I believe her and I believe her because of who she is.”
Having one son killed by a drunken driver, another son nearly killed when a truck hit his bicycle and her husband burned and blinded in an oil well accident, Dumbrill said his sister has gone through her share of family tragedies.
He also said Vomhof’s attack doesn’t reflect the rest of the Gillette community and that it’s basically kicking someone who’s already down.
“I’ll tell you something about Debbie McLeland,” Dumbrill said. “A lot of this has to do with kicking people when they’re down … and Debbie McLeland will be down for the rest of her life. I can’t imagine someone coming in and kicking her now.”
Until now, the local community has been nothing but a godsend to the McLeland family, he said.
“When Nathan McLeland was hit by a truck on his bike and he was laying in the ditch on South Southern Dive, good Samaritans from the city of Gillette saved his life,” he said. “They came running, they put a tourniquet on him and they saved his life.”
He also said the community stepped up to help and console the family at other times.
One of the points Dumbrill said he was trying to make when Tuesday’s meeting got out of hand was that freedom of speech doesn’t mean people also have freedom from responsibility for exercising that speech.
He said that as a judge, he was bound by professional ethics to not take a public stand on the mayor and council debate. That’s why he resigned, a decision he calls a worthwhile sacrifice because he feels it’s important to take a stand. He doesn’t think those opposing the council and calling for resignations and prosecutions are exercising theirs responsibly.
Dumbrill also said he doesn’t regret his choices, but admitted there have been some unintended consequences.
“I’m not sorry for (speaking out),” he said. “I am sorry that my wife is frightened, and I mean that in a real sense.
“I hope someone will come forward and reassure her she doesn’t need to be. But from everything she sees, she’s somewhat frightened — no, she’s really frightened.”
He also said that, in the wake of the City Council meeting meltdown, he’s received a lot of positive feedback from people who say they’ve been afraid to speak out against Vomhof and the rest of the agitators.
“The response I get the most often is, ‘Thank you, Mr. Dumbrill, for saying what we were afraid to say, what we’ve been wanting to say but were afraid to.’
“I’m not a particularly brave person, but sometimes you don’t get to be afraid, you’re not allowed to even though your knees are shaking.”
And while he has no regrets, not being part of the judicial or legal system in some way for the first time in more than 40 years “is not a little sad, it’s a lot sad,” Dumbrill said.
Not being a municipal court judge “is going to leave a big hole.”
Marquiss said that while he respects and likes Dumbrill personally, he disagrees with some of what he had to say at the council meeting, and especially the way he did it.
By turning to address the crowd instead of the council as is the practice when speaking during an official meeting, Dumbrill invited confrontation, he said.
“To get up and call a room full of people cowards and liars and that they haven’t sacrificed” was asking for a volatile reaction, Marquiss said.
“I like the guy and have a great deal of respect for him … but I will say the mayor should’ve shut him down a lot earlier than she did,” he said.
After the 45-minute recess, the meeting continued, including the regular public comment period in which about 10 people spoke out against the mayor and council.
The issues are still there and the movement to oust the local officials will continue, Marquiss said.
That includes a change.org petition he began a few weeks ago that’s up 3,248 online signatures as of Friday morning. Although not legally binding because elected officials in Wyoming can’t be recalled, Marquiss said it’s a reflection of the dissatisfaction people have for the mayor and council.
Besides, some pretty big names seem to be behind their effort. Among those who’ve signed the online petition? Jesus Christ.