Newly sworn in commissioners elect leadership

GOSHEN COUNTY – Goshen County Attorney Eric Boyer gave a brief, public overview in ethically transferring duties over to newly sworn in county commissioners from now-retired county commissioners in addition to giving guidance on how to legally conduct commissioner meetings. Goshen County Fire Warden Bill Law gave a brief synopsis of what his department has worked on in 2022 as it would relate to current and future updates from his department to county commissioners at the regularly scheduled meeting in January.

After the swearing in of the new county commissioners in the reception lobby of the Goshen County Court House on Tuesday, Boyer met briefly with newly sworn in county commissioners to explain the legal and ethical way to move forward and conduct county commissioner meetings.

“First, I think it’s prudent that commissioners first vote on their new leadership team,” Boyer told commissioners prior to the official start of the meeting. “Also, I think it’s important to note, that anytime there are two or more of you together – even in public places or events – it could potentially be considered a commissioner meeting and would need to be made public.”

Boyer explained various ways to avoid legally, moral or ethical concerns as newly sworn in commissioners and their duty to hold themselves accountable to the public.

“Once you establish your leadership team and the gable is passed from (now-retired Goshen County Commissioner Chairman) John (Ellis) that you determine the structure and time of your meetings going forward,” Boyer explained. “We know legally, the way the last administration has structured the county commissioners meetings and agenda are within the scope of statutes and law.”

Commissioners voted for newly sworn-in Michael McNamee as Goshen County Commissioners Chairman and returning commissioner Justin Burkart as Goshen County Commissioners Vice Chairman; newly sworn-in commissioner Aaron Walsh moved to name McNamee as chairman.

Ellis presided over the opening of the voting for the commissioners new leadership team and stated he had decided to do so after speaking to Boyer about how to properly, ethically hand over legal responsibilities to the new leadership team. Ellis remained in the meeting for a short period of time until he saw it was running without incident and left shortly after Boyer did.

In his opening statements, as newly elected chairman, McNamee expressed how thankful and humbled he was to be serving the county.

“I want to start with just a personal comment here,” McNamee said. “From the beginning of this process, it’s been humbling in the support from the county – for both myself and Aaron (Walsh), and I know that with Justin’s help we will be able to tackle this job at hand.”

Adding, “We sit in a position here that isn’t always easy – so the support we’ve been given and the support we continue to receive is humbling and helps us to continue to carry out our roles.”

Walsh echoed McNamee’s comments when the new chairman asked if he had anything to add.

Quickly, the new administration got to business as usual.

Newly reelected Goshen County Clerk of the Court Brandi Correa presented the court’s December earnings of $4,424.25, of which the board accepted the report. She had no other business to present to the commissioners this month.

Goshen County Road and Bridge Department Supervisor Dane Bolzer and Road Administrator Val Hankins told commissioners there were no new updates from December to now, except the department saw more than 200 hours of overtime in services, which included the ongoing tasks of fixing various county roads.

“Due to the increased number of storms lately, we had a little more than 200 hours of overtime as we continued to work on fixing roads and weather road services, but really nothing more than that – that’s about all we had in our department this month,” Bolzer told commissioners. 

Hankins added, “Right now, we are just focusing on working on as many projects as we can while we are fully staffed and able to do so.”

McNamee responded to Bolzer and Hankins and said, “I know that it’s got to be an incredible challenge for you and especially when you compound it with something like the weather – whether it’s drought in the summertime or snow in the wintertime.”

“Very suddenly you get to go down our county roads where the grade of one is in perfect condition and then quickly, another area or road isn’t as up to date,” McNamee explained. “So, I  look forward to working with you guys and want you to know that there is support here.”

“Not that you haven’t had support (speaking of the previous administration) – but I look forward to fostering a relationship.,” McNamee further explained. “Just people, residents come to us (about the road conditions) and we’ll do what we can and want people to know that it’s a priority.”

Goshen County Surveyor Bob Taylor added, “I’ll have one thing to add to that. We have had some degree of success with the latest with road bypasses through Google and other providers.”

“Google, at least, and we are still working with other agencies, removed Mers Hill from its bypass routes during winter weather storms,” Taylor explained. “We are still keeping on the other agencies, and many of them are services used solely and explicitly by trucking companies.”

Taylor told commissioners it’s the departments and his hope to have this resolved in 2023. He also explained how his department is still working with Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) in reclassifying the roads on the bypass maps, and also working toward a county road classification system to give the state to use in its classification system to reduce the amount of traffic on certain roads in the county that are not as appropriate to use for a bypass route or for trucker use.

New chairman, McNamee, asked Taylor if the department has considered or attempted other means of rectifying the bypass concerns on roads not graded properly for winter bypass traffic or frequent use by truckers.

To which, Burkart explained to the two new commissioners the department, with the help of the prior administration, has attempted a number of other options, like signage, looking at policies and county or state statutes, working with the Goshen County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) to more strictly enforce existing road laws as well as with a number of options offered by the state and other county road and bridge departments across the state. Burkart also explained how the department and commissioners have worked with Google Mapping Consultant Max Masters in trying to alleviate the high traffic on roads not made for such traffic and having some success.

Taylor explained the bulk of the issues revolve around the recommended bypass routes for the trucking industry of the various software services in which the roads are classified to be able to allow for such traffic. “Part of the problem is that others, namely these agencies, have classified some of our roads in such a way that allows them to use it as a bypass – when, those roads should be classified as local collectors, for instance, Mers Hill,” Taylor explained. “Well, it’s far from what we here in the (Goshen) county would classify as a local road period. It’s probably the lower ratings and classifications – and if we were to reclassify them for the purposes of delivery to these agencies, then they would reroute using other roads, hopefully, roads more suited for such traffic, travel and capacity loads.”

Taylor explained it’s an ongoing discussion with the state department and hopes to be able to have this worked out in the new year.

McNamee said he sees this concern as an “income opportunity” once the county is able to add more signage and finalize some of the projects it is working on. “Let’s see a hefty fine for, say during a storm someone uses a road and gets themselves stuck or hurt – charging like $5,000 or something. I think fines are a great deterrent to a lot of people, including some of the out-of-state plates we see coming through.”

Goshen County Planner Mike Tietjen told commissioners the only update his department had to include is the ongoing work to work with local officials in drafting better quality contracts and permitting requirements with various entities looking to bring the wind and solar energies to Goshen County.

“On the planning side, there’s later this month our planning commission meeting where we’ll have an initial preliminary draft of a major subdivision or possibly a final draft of a minor subdivision,” Tietjen explained to commissioners.

Adding, “Also a potential in the coming months for the county is the animal feeding operation reapplication.”

“We’ve had to permit those who are expiring due to the DEQ (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality) permit expiring,” Tietjen said. “They’re reapplying for the issue of permits – and then I’ll come back to the county commissioners at a later time for the county’s portion of it for approval.”

Tietjen explained his department is gearing up to begin work in its planning commission and would bring recommendations before the commissioners in the months to come because some of it is dependent on the state permitting process.

“We are still working on various projects as the planning commission to draft the new solar and wind farm regulations,” Tietjen further explained. “We’re probably three fourths of the way through the initial draft.”

Tietjen explained the process is tedious and his department is ensuring they dot every “I” and cross every “T” as it relates to respective legalities and laws.

Reelected Goshen County Assessor Debbi Surratt told commissioners she had a small reduction order to present to them, and explained what a reduction order was, how it affected the county and how it differed from a supplement order. Surratt also explained a reduction order statutorily required commissioners signature and approval due to it being removed from the tax rolls whereas a supplement does not since it’s being added on.

She also included updated tax rolls from 2022 back to 2018 as the current reduction order she presented to commissioners affected each year back to 2018. She left a copy with the county clerk and commissioners in case residents were interested in reviewing the new tax roles as stipulated by law.
The current reduction order included a home with an unfinished basement the county was charging as a finished basement since 2018 in the amount of $1,511 owed back to the resident.

Newly sworn-in Goshen County Clerk Mary Feagler presented commissioners with the county’s December earnings report of $11,733.50, she also presented the commissioners with the county’s bills in process of payment and bills to be paid in the immediate future in preparation for the second January commissioners meeting, where ordinarily, commissioners pay the county’s bills but did not in December due to canceling the second December meeting for the holiday break.

Feagler explained there were two salary payouts, hers as she became an elected official instead of assistant deputy clerk of the county and that of GCSO officer Ohella who transferred to Texas.

During the public comment period, Jay Em resident Douglas Youngfield expressed to commissioners that he is seeking aid from the county in placing a light on Dewy Hageman’s property at the corner of U.S. Highway 85 (Hwy 85) and Road 8, of which he said Hageman is in support of.

“I do want to just start off by thanking you for your commitment to the county and the weight on your shoulders,” Youngfield told commissioners. “I don’t always think citizens of the United States always realize or appreciate the services of our county commissioners – so, thank you for hearing us and me today.”

“My proposal is from Jay Em, Wyoming – we’re unincorporated there and it’s why I’ve brought this project to the county,” Younfield explained.

Adding, “I did talk to the road and bridge department in the county – and they didn’t seem to know if it was their responsibility to respond to my request and needed to get more information.”

Younfield further explained to commissioners, although he could not find any vehicle accidents reports on record with GCSO regarding the number of vehicle accidents, which have occurred since he first moved to the area, he and other Jay Em residents are aware of multiple serious incidents on Hwy 85 and Road 8, specifically from the northbound left turn onto Road 8 due to poor lighting conditions.

“When it’s dark, or inclement weather, such as we’ve had a lot of lately, the (lighting) conditions are non-existent, which leads to an increased number of motor vehicle accidents in the area,” Younfield explained. “My proposal, which comes from myself and other Jay Em residents – however, I didn’t collect signatures or anything – is if the county would maintain a light there, the company would install it free of charge to help us out.”

Youngfield reminded commissioners he left photos of the stop sign and area in which the town is requesting a light be installed at.

“At that intersection, there is a stop sign – which is barely visible – and more than some people ignore it,” Youngfield stated. “My concern is mostly for visibility – to just be able to see that there is an intersection there, with a stop sign.”

Youngfield further explained he spoke to the property owner and stated, “Dewey (Hageman) said he has no issue having a light installed at the corner of his property if we could get the commissioners to agree to help maintain it.”

Youngfield explained, if approved by commissioners, the county would be responsible for paying $1,390 a month in maintaining the light, or about $266 a year. However, he also said initially there would need to be a transformer installed, which would cost roughly $1,800.

After explaining a few other concerns Youngfield has with this intersection and section of Hwy 85, commissioners had a few questions.

McNamee responded by saying, “Just, I guess – from a curiosity standpoint – this is mainly to illuminate that area so that traffic coming from the west would be able to better see the stop sign turning onto the U.S. (Hwy) 85?”

Youngfield answered and said, “It would make it more visible for both north and south traffic from the (Hhy) 85 out of that intersection.”

“I can’t provide you with everything or evidence of serious incidents because I couldn’t find any reports or news clippings,” Youngfield stated. “However, the residents in the area and I are aware of several – and a lot of recent ones too.”

Youngfield further explained roughly half of Jay Em is requesting the light out of safety concerns, but that the rest are not in support of installing a light because “you know – their daddy, 100 years ago or what have you, didn’t need a light there or they complain of possible light pollution.”

“My concern with this is, in the time I’ve lived in Jay Em, we continue to see an increase of traffic going past us on the (Hwy) 85,” Youngfield added.

Burkart asked Youngfield if it’s a possibility for the residents who are in favor of the light all pitch in together to pay for the monthly maintenance costs – to which, Youngfield said he wasn’t completely sure if those in favor of installing the light would also be in favor of paying for the maintenance of it.

Burkart further explained, his concern as commissioner is if the board approved this request, the commissioners would be flooded with other similar requests from around the county and didn’t believe it was financially feasible at this time for the county.

Walsh asked Youngfield about the long-term maintenance for when the contract would end with the county and if the county would be responsible for repairing, replacing or fixing the light if it were to quit working or be damaged in an accident. 

Youngfield said he did not have all the particulars about how the contract would play out and would get the commissioners additional information.

McNamee added, “I think you certainly touched on a couple of things – I can see the volume of traffic is going up and up on the (Hwy) 85 through that area, and it’s just phenomenal, especially in the summer months.”

Adding, “So, I do see the benefit to have a light there.”

“From my standpoint, I think there needs to be some more information, including giving an opportunity to – if there is any – the opposite opinions of others who live in Jay Em.,” McNamee explained.

Ultimately, the commissioners decided to table the request to be able to hear from other Jay Em residents in favor or against the installation of a light at this intersection and to be able to gather more information about the financial requirements to maintain the light.

 Additionally, the commissioners requested finding alternative solutions to the concerns – including other financial means of maintaining the light in question to be fair to the rest of the county.

In his update to county commissioners, Law said, “I want to extend my very best to the two new commissioners and I look forward to reporting to you.”

Adding, “I will get your email addresses later so I can forward my reports prior to the meetings – we need good leadership and I think we have it with this board, and I say that as a citizen and not in the capacity of my job title, because I work for you fellas.”

Law recapped to the new administration, “Goshen County fire units had a total of four federal missions in-state and a total of 23 missions out-of-state resulting in $1,888,411 dollars reimbursed to five of our departments for the use of their equipment and wages paid out to the their department members.”

“If my figures seem in conflict with my report last month, it’s because we had a carryover of some $800,000 for 2021 fires paid in January of 2022,” Law explained.

Law also explained to the new county commissioners administration, “I do believe training amongst the departments continues strong and I will be hosting my annual meeting sometime in late-March or early-April.”

Law told commissioners although the none fire districts in Goshen County are not required to train together, most do when and if needed. He also stated he will make a better effort to more routinely attend fire meetings of the nine district fire departments in the county, but had previously chosen not to, so that it didn’t appear that he was “in control” of those districts.

The fire warden also explained how the county has nine instead of eleven fire districts in the county because Huntley and parts of the Chugwater district that run along both sides of the Goshen and Platte county borders both contract out for fire and emergency services to various agencies nearby.

“As fire warden, I wish I could say I had attended meetings at each of the nine departments this past year, but that didn’t happen,” Law explained. “However, I do maintain close contact with each of the fire chiefs by other means.”

Looking into the start of 2023, Law told commissioners, “As I look to business ahead this month, I will be working with the PTAC rep to renew our SAM registration prior to the end of the month.”

“If there are no travel concerns, I plan on attending the retirement celebration for Wyoming State Fire Marshal Mark Young in Cheyenne this Friday,” Law told commissioners. “I think I mentioned to you that Bill Crapser the Wyoming State Forester is retiring – I plan on attending his open house at the Cheyenne office on Friday January 13.”

Lastly, Law said, “I volunteered to work the Legislature the week of Jan. 16 on behalf of the Rural Fire Board and Wyoming Fire Chiefs Association, so I will be in and out that week.”

Goshen County Emergency Management Interim Manager Chuck Kenyon submitted his report to commissioners prior to the meeting, but was not at the meeting to present his report to the new commissioners. The Telegram reached out to Kenyon’s office and requested a copy of the report, of which commissioners moved to approve along with Law’s fire warden report.

“Once again, welcome, I look forward to a productive year with this new administration of commissioners and I will have more to update in the future and upcoming county commissioners meetings,” Law ended with.

Goshen County Emergency Management Interim Supervisor Chuck Kenyon was not in attendance, but did submit his monthly report to the new commissioners; he also provided the Telegram a copy.

Kenyon reported the following emergency management activities took place in December:

Conducted monthly IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) test (from Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA).

Met with Wyoming Medium Correctional Institute (WMCI) staff, Torrington Police Department (TPD), Torrington Emergency Management (TEMS), PHRC and Banner Emergency Medical Center to discuss response planning to fentanyl exposure and reviewed final planning documents.

Received draft of R7HMP for public review, posted links on social media.

Finalized annual EMPG award agreement, received fully executed agreement from WOHS.

Finalized SHSP award agreement for purchase of Goshen County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) portables and received fully executed agreement from WOHS; equipment has been ordered.

The department participated in a severe weather preparation and planning discussion for winter storm with state officials.

Kenyon met with buildings and grounds director Kevin Flock regarding freeze damage to the fire sprinkler system in the courthouse annex and suggested some simple improvements to prevent reoccurrence of the issue.

The emergency management department is currently working on the following:

Conducting on-going IPAWS tests.

Submitting the annual EMPG reimbursement requests to WOHS.

Kenyon planned on meeting with the county treasurer regarding documentation of the 2022 EMPG grant expenditures.

Kenyon also planned to work with participating entities to complete the process of resolutions adopted by the governing board as it relates to the finalization of R7HMP.

Lastly, Kenyon was working to initiate the transfer of responsibilities to the new hire to help assist them in the familiarization of responsibilities in the new role.

Both Law and Kenyon are expected to present their updated reports in February’s commissioners meeting on Feb. 7, as these departments only present a monthly report to the commissioners.

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