GILLETTE — As one group of passionate, outspoken people continue to blast Gillette elected officials in the wake of the resignation of former councilman Shay Lundvall, another is sticking up for the City Council and Mayor Louise Carter-King.
In an 11-minute video posted to Facebook, 15 local residents thank the mayor and council for pushing for Lundvall to resign after receiving complaints he had “liked” a handful of social media posts they said promote sexist, racist and violent opinions.
“As a Wyoming native, I take real offense that intolerance and vigilante violence are somehow intrinsic Wyoming values,” said Christopher Amend, who is featured first in the video.
Lundvall’s liking the posts “is not an inconsequential thing. It’s a public endorsement of the ideas expressed in that Facebook post, which contained threats of violence with extremely racist undertones,” Amend said. “I want to thank you, Mayor Carter-King and all of the members of the City Council, for choosing to stand up against intolerance and against bullying. I want to let you know we stand behind you.”
Lundvall resigned June 10 after the mayor and rest of the council confronted him in a June 9 executive session, which he participated in by phone because he was out of town. He was told that if he didn’t resign, the council would make the complaints about his liking the social media posts public and call for him to resign.
In a lengthy June 12 Facebook post, Lundvall said he felt pressured to resign, apologized and acknowledged that, as an elected official, he should be more careful about his social media presence.
His post also galvanized some to defend Lundvall and rally against Carter-King and the City Council. Because he was given an ultimatum and the intent was to keep the potential for controversy secret from the public, accusations of blackmail and abuse of power have been leveled at them.
That support quickly caught fire on local social media pages and culminated with dozens of people protesting the mayor and council before their June 16 meeting and several calls for them to either apologize to Lundvall, resign or both.
The reaction to the circumstances surrounding Lundvall’s resignation has reached a point that state Rep. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, has requested the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office investigate Carter-King and the City Council.
In a June 22 letter, he alleges the council violated state open meetings laws by discussing Lundvall in a pair of executive sessions and that the ultimatum to resign or be smeared in public was criminal.
Clem also said the furor has continued to build and that if the state doesn’t investigate and intervene, he fears people may act on their own.
“If these actions (by the mayor and council) aren’t addressed, I’m afraid the situation will only escalate, and citizens may take it upon themselves to perform a citizen’s arrest,” he wrote. “For the good of the community I serve, and the integrity of law and order, I am asking you to investigate these issues, and bring to justice any violations of the law, if indeed there are any.”
By holding the former councilman accountable for seeming to support objectionable views, Carter-King and the City Council were looking out for the community, said Leigh Bertch Jacobs, who helped produce and posted the pro-city video.
She said that in addition to a pair of written complaints the city received from people who live outside of Gillette, many others who live here also had noticed and intended to file complaints.
But the mayor and council acted so quickly and Lundvall resigned, so they didn’t need to, Bertch Jacobs said.
The video is to show “there are those of us in town who were also upset with it but didn’t write letters,” she said. “It was done and dealt with, then it became this huge thing.”
She also said that had the city’s supporters known so many people would show up to protest the mayor and council, and be so vocal about it, others would have also turned out to counter them.
“I don’t think we knew how many people would show up and didn’t realize how personal it would get and how mean-spirited,” she said. Carter-King and the council were “getting (verbally) slaughtered, and they need to know people in the community support them.”
While Bertch Jacobs said she’s not worried about speaking out in support of Lundvall’s resignation, others are because the opposition has been very emotional and potentially volatile.
“To live in Gillette, Wyoming, and say racism is not OK is, unfortunately, an act of bravery in this town,” she said. “There are lots of people who feel like they can’t be vocal about it or they feel like they don’t want to stir stuff up, because look what happens when you do?”
She also said that Lundvall’s apology and acknowledgement that elected officials have to be more careful about what they do on social media seems genuine.
“Honestly, I feel he has (learned from the experience) and I hope he has,” she said. “I honestly don’t think Shay wanted to be offensive.
“I don’t think anyone who helped make the video is against Shay, we just wanted the council to know we were supporting the stance that it’s not acceptable, that you can’t be a leader in Gillette and it be acceptable.”
In a June 15 letter responding to the upswell of opposition to Lundvall’s resignation, the mayor and council said they wouldn’t comment more on the subject, and have since not made any public response. When contacted after the June 16 protest and calls for her to apologize and resign, Carter-King declined to comment.
The former councilman has kept a low profile since his June 12 post, but said Thursday afternoon that he also has been surprised at the level of support he’s received.
He also reiterated that liking the posts was wrong and that he asks the community for forgiveness.
“I’m very grateful for the support,” he said. “I still maintain the fact that I made a mistake. … I made a mistake liking the posts. I resigned and I apologize and ask for forgiveness.”
Lundvall also said that he’s been surprised by the conflict his resignation has caused, but that he hasn’t encouraged it.
“That’s out of my hands. I’m not in control of that,” he said. “I was not expecting this kind of response or this kind of support.
“I don’t think anybody really wanted anything like this to play out, but I can’t control it.”
Although he’s no longer a member of the Gillette City Council, there’s a good chance his resignation may only be a six-month hiatus. That’s because Lundvall had already filed for reelection before the May 29 deadline and said he will continue that campaign.
As the only person to file for his Ward 3 seat, he’ll be unopposed in the August primary or November general election unless someone mounts a write-in campaign.
That could happen because several of the seven people who have applied to be appointed to serve out the rest of Lundvall’s term, which runs through the end of the year, have said they also would consider a write-in effort.
“I anticipate some sort of write-in campaign, so I will be campaigning and hopefully people will forgive me and vote for me,” Lundvall said.
In the meantime, he has some advice for whoever is appointed to serve the rest of his term.
“You have to look at the big picture here,” he said. Coming in cold for a short stint is “something that is a tough job, and whoever fills the seat I wish them the best of luck. It’s a learning curve that’s a straight line up.”