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Gillette

More Than 9,000 Customers Affected By Power Outage In Gillette

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By RJ Morgan, County 17 News

The timing of Monday’s power outage in Gillette was tricky as it hit during the evening commute home for many as it was reported just before 6 p.m. It affected most businesses and some traffic signals during the peak time along Douglas Highway between Lakeway and Boxelders roads.

Gillette Communications Manager Jennifer Toscana said Wednesday afternoon the power outage lasted approximately 39 minutes and affected the entire south side of Gillette.

“We had 9,139 customers without power for approximately 39 minutes. This was about 60 percent of our customers,” Toscana confirmed with the City of Gillette Electrical Division on Wednesday.

The outage was caused by galloping of the Wyodak 69kV transmission lines due to ice and wind.

Galloping transmission or power lines can occur when freezing rain creates icicles and ice on transmission towers and conductors. High winds push on the icicles and conductors and lift them up, creating a galloping, or jumping, motion.

Several businesses and residents told County 17 that their power “flickered” several times before ultimately going down completely.

Electrical crews spent Monday night checking lines throughout town. They urge residents to always stay clear of utility poles and lines if they believe galloping is occurring.

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Gillette Student Discuss LGBTQ Book Concerns With Campbell County Commissioners

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By RJ Morgan, County 17

The names of the two minors in this story have been edited to protect their privacy) 

Two local Boy Scout members called out the Campbell County Commissioners earlier this week for their reported fixation on LGBTQ+ material in the public library and reported attempts to meddle in the established challenge process.    

Sue and Gabby, both members of Boy Scout Troop BSA Scouting Troop 109 in Wright, expressed their frustration on Oct. 4 during the Campbell County Director’s meeting over criticism the library and its staff have received lately regarding books that some residents feel are inappropriate for children and teenagers to view.  

The two of them said that they have watched the issue and the ensuing chaos in local government meetings unfold through the eyes of Gillette Public Access TV after school have experienced a growing concern that the commissioners are not allowing the library to do its job properly.  

At every meeting since July, Gabby and Sue said, the commissioners have dedicated much of their time to addressing concerns over access to LGBTQ+ books at the library at the request of a small group of citizens, many of whom have openly admitted to acting on religious grounds, without stopping to assess whether their actions represent every citizen in Campbell County.  

Hiding LGBTQ+ material at a public library is censorship, they said, and it should be made available to readers of all ages.  

“Not everyone in Campbell County is a heterosexual, straight Christian and they should not feel threatened by going to public places that their taxes help support,” Sue said. “If you actually want to protect the children, how about send out messages of kindness. You do not have to agree with someone else’s life choices to be kind.” 

Additionally, they continued, not every person who is going to have an LGBTQ+-related question is going to be an adult, and it would be nice for a teenager to learn facts about the community from an informative book at the library as opposed to approaching parents and having to make do with opinions.  

They brought up community standards, which has been mentioned several times by members of the commission in previous weeks regarding library material, asking the commissioners to explain what process they use to determine what those would be.  

“What methods were used to develop those community standards?” Gabby asked. “Are you polling just library patrons, or the whole 46,000 resident in Campbell County, or just the 20 people who scream the loudest on what they feel is age appropriate?” 

The pair also expressed frustration that the commissioners seemed fixated on speeding up the review process for books challenged by the community, asking Commissioner Del Shelstad directly why he seems so frustrated and what he expects the library to do in a short amount of time. 

There is a 30-day working limit for each step, for every challenged book, which could add up to 120 days for a single challenge, Shelstad said.  

“Because of the continuous issue that is in our community, I feel that we could speed that up. That was my opinion, and my opinion only. And I still feel like that today,” he said.  

There is a logjam of more than three dozen books that are waiting to get through the review process, many of which could be read in an hour, and not four months, Shelstad continued. 

“I guess my point was this: I understand the process at the library,” Shelstad replied. “The process that was explained to me is a 30-day process (per book), originally- don’t shake your head, I’m not trying to argue with you, I’m answering a question.” 

Sue, who suffers from a tic disorder that causes her to shake her head involuntarily, and Gabby pled with the commission to allow the library to do its job so they could get on with addressing more important issues. 

Gabby, left, and Sue address their library concerns to the county commissioners. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

“Like the fact that the Wright Branch Library still has leaks in its basement despite the numerous and poorly executed attempts to repair the leak,” Sue said. “Or the fact that there is a baseball field in Wright owned by Parks and Rec that has been unusable for years because they are not taking care of it.” 

Shelstad said that the fact that the issue has gotten to the point that the commission had to sit and be chastised by children is sad and that the two Boy Scouts had come before them just to be argumentative.  

“I think it’s incredibly sad that we sit here today and be chastised by two children based on the agenda of things that are happening in the community, and I am part of that,” Shelstad said. “I think it’s sad the presentation that you girls are making is something to sit here and chastise us and ask us questions about and obviously be argumentative about. That’s the end of my statement.” (Video 32:35)

Sue objected to Shelstad’s characterization of their presentation as “sad.” 

“First off, we are not kids or children,” she said. “We are teenagers with developed brains- we can think. Second, it is not sad that you are being chastised by children. We are teens that have questions. So that is incredibly offensive, especially in this day and time that you would think so lowly of us as children. I would understand if you were upset if a couple of 6-year-old’s walked in.” 

Hiding LGBTQ + material at a public library is censorship, Gabby and Sue continued, and its material that should be available to readers of all ages.  

Commissioner Rusty Bell thanked the Sue and Gabby for their presentation and their concern.  

Sue and Gabby will give the same presentation at the next Library Board meeting.  

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CEO Of Gillette College Hired And Fired On Same Day

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By RJ Morgan, County 17 

Janell Oberlander has been fired from her role as Vice President and CEO of Gillette College by the Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD).

The news came mere hours after she was appointed interim president of the newly established Gillette Community College District following a closed-door session at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The surprise vote made for a joyous morning for the then-vice president. But, by the end of the day, the emotions turned to confusion after she was informed by the NWCCD that she was relieved of her duties effective at the end of the month.

That bit of important news was not delivered in person or via a phone call. It was a separation notice that was sent from NWCCD and received by email.

“It really was the next step in the development of the GCCD,” Oberlander said. “It wasn’t personal, and we are certainly moving forward with the work needed to stand up an independent community college district.”

NWCCD can’t make any public comment on the separation because it is a personnel matter. Requests for a copy of the email were not returned.

Oberlander has been part of the NWCCD administrative team for the three years.  As the GCCD’s interim president, she assumes the leading role in working to forge a memorandum of understanding with her former coworkers at Sheridan College and the NWCCD board.

GCCD Chairperson Robert Palmer said Friday he has been working with NWCCD Chairperson Debra Wendtland to coordinate a joint workshop Oct. 23 with both boards and administrators to initiate work on the continued transition process from a satellite campus under NWCCD to an independent community college district which was approved by voters at the special election in November.

Oberlander confirmed Wednesday that a time and location remains undecided.

The splitting of the districts got a little messier with this decision as local administrators now communicate with NWCCD officials, according to multiple staff members at Sheridan College. In addition, Oberlander’s NWCCD contact information was removed when contacted by County 17 via internet and phone and directed to other staff members late Wednesday.

This sudden decision to part with Oberlander will also cause some immediate financial decisions as she will only be paid by NWCCD through the end of this month. Her salary, which was $120,000 last year according to govsalaries.com, was budgeted into the $1.05M preliminary budget.

The revenue source of those funds has yet to be determined.

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Criminal Prosecution Over ‘Obscene Material’ Sought In Gillette Library Squabble

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17 

A report filed by citizens accusing leadership at the Campbell County Public Library of promoting obscene material has been forwarded on to the county attorney’s office for review, Sheriff Scott Matheny said Thursday.

The report, filed on Sept. 29 by county residents Hugh and Susan Bennett, alleges that a crime has been committed at the local library and brought in several books they said contained obscene material, according to Matheny, who said that his deputies took the report and forwarded it up the ladder to the Campbell County Attorney’s Office for consideration on potential charges.

Initially, Matheny continued, the county attorney’s office gave a verbal declination, which means they didn’t believe a crime occurred, but there has not been an official decision on paper as of Sept. 30.

Campbell County Attorney Mitch Damsky declined to comment on an ongoing criminal issue, though he confirmed the report has been received by his office and is currently being reviewed by his three brightest attorneys.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Damsky said. “Like I said, I have my best minds working on it right now and they’ll decide on whether or not it’s going to be charged.”

The report filed Wednesday by Bennett references W.S. § 6-4-302 (c) (ii), which alleges the library, through dissemination, is promoting obscene material.

Obscene material, per W.S. § 6-4-301, is defined as that which the average person would find encourages an excessive interest in sexual matters, depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

The statute referenced in Bennett’s report and the allegations made against the library on Wednesday have changed significantly from his other statements during a Campbell County Commission meeting on Sept. 28, where he, referencing a state statute, openly accused library leadership of committing sexual intrusion on minors.

“There are a lot of laws in existence that make what’s being done in this library, felony behavior,” Bennett said, adding that the commission should look up for themselves the definition of intrusion and that he was very surprised that the commission appeared to have “dug in” on the issue.

“I think that you guys should be on notice that you’re fighting a losing battle and the longer you resist, the worse it’s gonna be,” Bennett said during the meeting.

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Gillette Drunk Driver Smashes Into Pet Store

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A Gillette man has been charged with driving while intoxicated after he reportedly lost control of his vehicle Saturday and crashed into a local pet shop, Gillette Police Lt. Brent Wasson said.

Officers were dispatched to the 600 block of S. Butler Spaeth Road around 7:10 p.m. after receiving a report that a vehicle had crashed into Hillcrest Pampered Pets, per Wasson.

The investigation revealed that an intoxicated 26-year-old male had lost control of a beige Ford Mustang after suddenly accelerating, crashing the vehicle into the wall of Hillcrest Pampered Pets and a planter in front of the shop door to De La Cruz Produce, Wasson said.

A 22-year-old male working inside De La Cruz Produce heard the initial crash and came outside to see what happened and saw the Ford Mustang coming directly at him, per Wasson, who added that the 22-year-old’s foot was injured when the Mustang struck the planter which then pushed the door into him.

The Mustang then continued until it struck a 2008 Chevrolet pickup. In total, the damage from the crash was estimated to be over $1,000.

Officers arrested the 26-year-old male for driving under the influence of alcohol, reckless driving, and driving without proof of insurance.

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Campbell County Voters Approve Creation Of New Community College

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Campbell County voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the creation of a new community college within the county’s borders.

According to unofficial results from Tuesday’s special election, 4,160 people voted for the creation of a new Gillette Community College District and tax levy to support it, while 1,724 voted against it.

For 51 years, a satellite campus of Sheridan College has operated in Gillette. Last year, supporters of the idea to create an independent college in Gillette won approval to pursue the idea in the Legislature, which passed legislation during its general session earlier this year allowing the creation of the district.

The new district’s creation was opposed by officials from the Northern Wyoming Community College District, which controls both the Sheridan and Gillette colleges, who said it would reduce the amount of money available for Sheridan College.

Officials have said it could be several years before the Gillette College can be completely independent of the Sheridan College.

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No Fireworks Shows Within 100 Miles Of Gillette For Fourth Of July Weekend

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Fire bans outlawing fireworks in Campbell County and the surrounding area means residents will need to travel if they want to see any professional fireworks displays this coming Fourth of July.

With the cancellation of the annual fireworks show at Keyhole State Park in Crook County, announced Tuesday by the Pine Haven Volunteer Fire Department, residents will need to drive more than 100 miles in any direction to find a similar display.

For die-hard fireworks enthusiasts, however, there is still some hope as there are several professional fireworks displays scheduled in Natrona County and east across the South Dakota border.

The display in Natrona County will take place as part of the “307 fest” celebration at the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper. The event is free for the first time ever and will feature performances from six bands, food trucks, and other activities. Things kick off July 3 and will carry on until the fireworks show that will start at 8 p.m., according to the event page.

There are no professional fireworks displays in Converse County, but setting off personal fireworks at the Glenrock South Recreation Campus is allowed starting at 7 p.m. July 4, according to Oil City News.

Fireworks displays in South Dakota will start July 2 with a show scheduled for the Black Hills Speedway, a show at Post 22 Baseball in Rapid City and another in Sturgis at the fairgrounds on July 3, and two displays on July 4 one at the Executive Golf Course in Rapid City and the other on Pageant Hill in Custer.

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Gillette To Consider Allowing Alcohol Delivery

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

The Gillette City Council announced it will consider adopting regulations to comply with a new state statute that allows alcohol and malt beverage deliveries for some liquor license holders.

The new statute, W.S. § 12-5-601, implemented with the passage of House Bill 13 (HB0013) in the Wyoming Legislature Feb. 5 and signed into law by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon Feb. 9, gives the council until July 1 to decide whether to allow alcohol deliveries in city limits or not, according to City Attorney Anthony Reyes.

“You don’t have to, but if you want to, we need to make some rules about it,” Reyes told the council on April 20. Making those rules would require the council to approve revisions to Chapter 3 of the Gillette City Code to allow retail, microbrewery, winery, winery satellite, and manufacturer satellite liquor license holders to deliver alcohol.

As of April 20, there are currently 33 liquor license holders in the city that would be eligible to make deliveries, according to Reyes, should they adhere to the requirements outlined by statute.

All delivery orders would need to be placed in the licensed building the same day as the sale and be placed by a person who is 21 or older. Delivery drivers would not be permitted to accept money for alcohol and would be required to verify the recipient’s age through their ID.

Any delivery would need to be sealed, meaning alcoholic beverages need to be in their original unopened package, in a plastic bag that is heat-sealed closed, or in a container fitted with a breakable seal in the top, Reyes said.

Retail liquor license holders, he continued, would also be allowed to contract with a third party to deliver alcohol and malt beverages, though the rest would only be allowed to deliver their manufactured products.

In addition to the statutory requirements, Reyes proposed a series of city mandates that any city liquor licensee would need to follow should they wish to deliver alcohol or be charged with a misdemeanor for violating the city code.

One mandate would require delivery drivers to complete alcohol server training programs, also known as TIPS training, prior to allowing a business to make any alcoholic deliveries, according to Reyes.

Another mandate would hold the liquor license holder accountable for infractions by their employees, businesses, entities, or any third-party contractors working on behalf of the licensee.

“If we don’t do this, we don’t have any way to reach back,” Reyes said. “The licensee could simply say ‘it’s the (contractor’s) fault.”

Requiring liquor licensees to notify the city that they intend to begin making deliveries and whether they plan to utilize third-party contractors, however, were not part of the mandates Reyes suggested to the council, though he stated that it was something that could be discussed in the future.

Before any changes can be made to the city code, they must be approved through three readings by the Gillette City Council, who expect to hear from proponents on both sides of the issue in the coming months, according to Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King.

But allowing the delivery of alcohol in city limits may not be an entirely bad thing, according to Carter-King, who expressed during the meeting that it could lead to fewer drunk drivers down the road if intoxicated residents don’t need to drive to purchase more alcohol when they run out.

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Gillette College Bill Passes Senate, Advances To House

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

An amended bill allowing for the formation of a local community college district has passed three readings in the Senate, despite a Sheridan senator’s call for the measure to die on the floor.

Senate File (SF0083) now moves into the House where it will need to pass three readings before it advances to the desk of Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon to be signed into law.

The bill passed the senate with 20 votes in favor of the measure and 10 against, but not before it was subject to amendment to address a potential funding shortfall for Sheridan College should Gillette College break away under its own district.

That shortfall could be as much as $3.5 million, according to a February letter sent to the legislature by Dr. Walter Tribley, NWCCD president, which included a request that the increase its funding to Sheridan College to cover it.

The bill now includes a provision enabling the Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD) to collect state funding for both colleges until the new district is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which could take up to five years, according to Sen. Jeff Wasserburger (R-Gillette).

Another amendment to adjust the name of the new district failed to pass, meaning the name will remain the Gillette College Community College District for the time being.

The approved amendment, however, is the solution devised by Wasserburger and Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester) to address the funding issue raised by Sheridan College leadership.

That collaboration, however, is simply not enough to overcome hardships that could affect not only Sheridan College, but every community college in Wyoming should the measure pass the legislature, according to Sen. Dave Kinskey (R-Sheridan), who advocated against adding another college district March 2.

“I’m happy for the compromise,” Kinskey said. “But this bill still needs to die.”

The State of Wyoming cannot fund the seven community college districts it has now, he continued, the discussion should be about reducing the number of college districts to five instead of increasing them to eight.

Kinskey’s statement was based on a finding from a 2010 task force appointed by the State Senate to assess the viability of Wyoming’s community colleges.

The task force was charged with identifying a more streamlined and uniform approach to mill levies to realistically fund the state’s community colleges, according to Kinskey.

“That job has been hijacked by the discussion of the creation of an eighth district,” Kinskey said, adding his concern that allowing the formation of a college district that will fund itself, as opposed to paying into and receiving state funding, would be detrimental to the current community college system in Wyoming.

Kinskey voiced concerns that SF0083 would set the stage for further legislation that would remove the four-mill levy standard required by state statute for community college districts to receive state funding.

“If that changes, that really upends our funding system,” Kinskey said, further adding his belief that the issue surrounded Gillette College has resulted from the cancellation of college sports programs.

“Would we be here today if the (NWCCD Board of Trustees) had not eliminated sports?” Kinskey asked the Senate. “Is that a reason to create an eighth community college district because they’re mad sports were eliminated? I’m mad too, I’m mad over the economic situation of the State of Wyoming. But when you’re mad, you don’t do your best thinking.”

Wasserburger opposed Kinskey’s assertions that the bill would result in financial strain for Wyoming community colleges, referencing an independent study conducted after the Campbell County Board of Commissioners first sent the request for the formation of an independent college district in Gillette to the Legislature.

“What they said was- Gillette College would be a net positive for all community colleges in our state,” Wasserburger said. “That was their independent finding.”

The formation of the Gillette College District would save the Wyoming Community College Commission (WCCC) around $6.1 million, money that would be reallocated back into every community college in the state, according to Wasserburger.

That realization, Wasserburger continued, resulted in the WCCC, the one body that he could say for certain are the experts in all issues relating to higher education, passing the measure seven votes to zero.

The issue surrounding a new college district in Gillette has never been about sports, Wasserburger noted, but has always been about the division of power between Gillette College and Sheridan College.

Right now, Wasserburger said, the NWCCD Board of Trustees has seven members, all of whom are from Sheridan County. Gillette College’s only representation to the board is public attendees and the chair of the Gillette College Advisory Board.

That skew in power became readily apparent when, during the decision to cut sports programs at Gillette College, the NWCCD Board of Trustees declined to allow the college to fund its own sports programs with private funding totaling $525,000, according to Wasserburger.

“What College do you know of in America that doesn’t take a half a million dollars?” Wasserburger asked.

He said that it is the right of the people of Campbell County to govern decisions at their local college and to decide for themselves if they want to pay for an independent community college district.

“It is the one community college out there with the highest assessed valuation that is going to pay for itself,” Wasserburger said.

Currently, Campbell County’s assessed valuation for Fiscal Year 2021 is $4.24 billion, but that is expected to fall by millions of dollars next fiscal year with the decline in the coal industry. Should that assessed valuation fall even further in the coming years, that could mean the state will need to step in and fund the district, according to concerns voiced by Senate Vice President Larry Hicks (R-Baggs).

““I don’t know what the future is. But I know that it’s pretty grim financially and I know it’s tough on coal,” Hicks said. “We have these battles and we’re going to fight for Campbell County, but I don’t know if this is the right time right now to take this on.”

But that isn’t any reason to deny the people of Campbell County the right to form their own, locally funded college district, according to Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper).

“Yes, the coal industry is in trouble. But (Campbell County) has tremendous oil and gas production as well,” Scott said. “They have a lot of resources there. They can, I think for the foreseeable future, support the college.”

He said that if the citizens of Campbell County want to compose their own college district and pay for it themselves, then it’s only fair the legislature allow them to do so.  

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Pickup Crashes into Gillette Fitness Facility

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

A two-vehicle collision Sunday night resulted in a pickup sliding out of control and crashing into a fitness facility on Highway 59, according to Gillette Police Detective Sgt. Eric Dearcorn.

The business, formerly Jake’s Tavern, which will be the future home of All Dimensions Fitness and currently houses adjoining businesses including Grinners Bar and Liquor and the Axe House sustained damage when a 2008 Ford pickup driven by a 29-year-old male struck the building around 7:40 p.m. Saturday, Dearcorn said Monday.

The 29-year-old male had been driving through the intersection of Highway 59 and Garner Lake Road when his vehicle was struck by a 2004 Dodge pickup, driven by a 68-year-old male.

The older male reportedly failed to stop for a red light while driving north on Highway 59, crashing into the 29-year-old’s vehicle, which then spun the vehicle several times on slick roads before it impacted the fitness facility, according to Dearcorn.

Both pickups and the business sustained damage estimated to be worth over $1,000, Dearcorn said.

The 29-year-old male was uninjured, but the 68-year-old male reported having hip pain following the collision though he declined treatment.

The 68-year-old male was cited for failing to stop at a red light.

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