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2020 Study: Almost 25% Of Wyoming Workers Employed In Government

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Photo by Matthew Idler

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Almost one-quarter of Wyoming’s civilian workers were employed by local, state or federal government entities in 2020, according to a new state report.

Figures from the latest “Just The Facts” publication issued annually by the state Economic Analysis Division of the Department of Administration and Information showed that 24.4% of Wyoming’s workers were employed by the government.

The numbers include those working in government-provided services such as education and public health, but do not include those serving in the military.

Wyoming was in second place for the percentage of its workers employed by the government in 2020, trailing only Alaska at 25.5%.

However, Wenlin Liu, the state’s chief economist, said the figure can be easily skewed by Wyoming’s small population.

“Wyoming is a big state with a small population,” he said. “Any time you’ve got a percentage figure (of the population), it’s going to be higher.”

According to the report’s figures, about 72,419 members of Wyoming’s civilian labor force of 296,801 were employed by the government in 2020. 

The figure was an increase of 3% from 2019, but Liu noted the figures were reported from a period before the state of Wyoming reduced its workforce as a result of budget cuts.

Gov. Mark Gordon cut more than 300 positions from state government in his supplemental budget of 2021 following steep declines in mineral tax income.

Liu said the government employment numbers were high in states with small, widely dispersed populations such as Wyoming and Alaska.

Other states with high percentages of workers employed by the government included West Virginia and Hawaii at 22%, New Mexico at 22.6% and Oklahoma at 21.3%.

Washington, D.C. had the highest percentage of government workers at 32%.

The leisure and hospitality industry was the state’s second-largest employer in 2020 at 11.9%, about 35,319.

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Retired 73-Year-Old Sheridan Teacher To Join National “Freedom Convoy”

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

There was something about watching Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoke martial law last week to shut down the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers that hit a nerve with Kerry Eblen.  

The fact that people didn’t stand up to oppose the measure she considered “draconian” struck the 73-year-old retired Sheridan teacher as sad and just plain “spooky.”

Call her old-fashioned, Eblen said, but as a Baby Boomer with a dad who served as a U.S. Marine in WWII, patriotism, freedom and pride in one’s country mean something to her. 

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do about it, she said, but she sure as heck didn’t want to sit around complacently watching as the same thing potentially happened in her own country.

After hearing truckers were organizing a similar “Freedom Convoy” in the United States with a planned stop in Wyoming on March 3, Eblen spent the weekend mucking out her live-in horse trailer and loading it with generators, batteries, tools and her electric bike.

“I’m all set and ready to roll,” she told Cowboy State Daily Wednesday. 

Now retired from the Wyoming Girls School, Elben works part-time as a car detailer in Sheridan. She wasn’t quite sure how her young, millennial boss was going to respond to her request for time off, Eblen said, but as it turns out, she had no trouble giving her two to three weeks off to join the convoy. 

Eblen has no idea what to expect as she joins the convoy traveling to Washington, D.C., but is eager to meet up with other like-minded people and share in the solidarity of celebrating freedoms and pushing back on government overreach.

Great Again

She used to be so proud of her country and government as a young girl and has slowly watched money and authority erode the ethical and truthful administrations starting with the Clintons and stretching through to the current administration, she said. 

“What I see now versus when I was younger makes me sad,” she said. “I don’t want to feel that way. I want to celebrate our country and freedoms and see America become great again.”

This is not a partisan issue, she stressed. In fact, she’s sick of the divisiveness on both sides of the aisle and just wants the country to come together under one flag, its residents listening to one another again.

“This is who we are and who we want America to be great again,” she said. “We want to come together again. Can we just to talk to each other? Not argue. Not fight. Just talk.” 

Appreciate Home

Eblen has traveled extensively as a volunteer in third-world countries and sees the other side, particularly in post-communist nations where she experienced a “metaphorical darkness” that made her appreciate the life and freedoms back home, she said.

She is not afraid to be a woman traveling alone in the convoy, she said. In fact, if anything, she feels safe knowing she’s traveling in the company of military people who saw the same things that she did and understand what’s at stake if America’s freedoms are lost.

“I feel safe and united in all these people coming together for a common cause,” she said. “This is a convoy for freedom. Not just for truckers but for everyone to come together.”

She’s also just bought $200 worth of nickels that she plans to laminate and pass out to others in hopes of galvanizing the recipients around the phrase “In God We Trust.”

“People can believe it or not,” she said, “but I just want to pass them out as a reminder.”

Eblen will be joining up with truckers and drivers in Gillette on March 3. She estimated it’s going to cost about $1,000 in gas to get to Washington, D.C., and another $1,000 to get home again. She has no idea how long she might be gone but has asked her neighbor to care for her horses.

National Movement

Truckers from all over the country are already on their way to convene in Washington, D.C. on March 5 for President Joe Biden’s “State of the Union” address.

On Feb. 21, convoy organizer and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Kyle Sefcik, issued a video statement to President Biden, reiterating that the “Freedom Convoy” will be a peaceful and transparent protest to ask him to end the state of emergency stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with all the mandates related to it.

“We just want government overreach to end on behalf of the Freedom Convoy,” Sefcik said. “Sir, the whole world is watching us because they know what’s happening in Canada happens to us here in the land of freedom, freedom as we know it is gone.”

He reiterated it will be a peaceful protest to object to the failures of the government to work for its people.

“You see, the government and our elected officials of both parties have failed us tremendously these last two years, and now it’s time for us, we, the people, to fix this.”

In advance, the Pentagon has approved requests by the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Capitol Police for assistance from the National Guard to help with the demonstrations.

Details about the different routes being taken by truckers from different parts of the country are being revealed as the convoy progresses, Elben said, and she and others are not privy to where the truckers will finally meet up in the nation’s capital. 

She also has no idea of how many people – if any – will be joining her from Sheridan or Wyoming. She’s ready to go with the flow and has stocked her refrigerator with plenty of ramen noodles, chips, water, coffee and beer.

Now, she’s just trying to figure out just where to put the extra gas cans. 

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Time To Increase Clarity And Openness

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Editorial republished with permission from our friends at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Even during a global pandemic and a state budget crisis, a group of Wyoming lawmakers has a chance later this month to continue a conversation that could lead to greater government transparency at all levels.

But without the right attitude going in, it could actually keep the public even more in the dark than they already are.

During an online meeting Aug. 21, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee is scheduled to spend some time talking about ways to clarify exemptions to the state’s Public Records Act and when it’s OK for governing bodies to go into executive session.

State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, and co-chair of the committee, told the WTE Editorial Board last week that the goal is to provide better clarity to records custodians – those government officials who serve as the gatekeepers for their agency when it comes to documents of all kinds.

Several testified during a meeting of the same committee in May that they are confused about which documents can be released and which should be withheld, especially when it comes to personnel records.

Fine. We have no problem with lawmakers trying to make the law clearer – as long as they don’t get too heavy-handed. The same holds true for any attempts to clarify when government boards can kick the public out and meet behind closed doors.

But since there’s a lot of gray area in both the public records and open meetings laws, legislators – whose predecessors long ago exempted themselves from the latter – have plenty of fertile ground for moving toward secrecy, not transparency.

For example, whose records should he open? Should it be based on a government employee’s rank or salary? Since an entire personnel file will never be open to the public, which pieces should be? Who gets to decide?

These and many other questions aren’t easy to answer – by records custodians or state legislators. So what can the committee do to make things clearer for government officials and more transparent for the public at the same time?

First, go into the conversation with a goal of keeping things as open as possible. That means limiting exemptions to just those things that would clearly violate an individual’s privacy. This is no easy task, and it’s not something that should be rushed.

Next, be willing to consult other state sunshine laws, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

Wyoming lawmakers are stubborn in this regard; they’re oh-so-willing to consider a prewritten piece of legislation from a group like the American Legislative Exchange Council, but they consistently resist looking to see what works in other places (even states of similar size and demographics).

Finally, be open to input from a variety of groups, not just government officials.

Yes, that includes us in the media, but also state Public Records Ombudsman Ruth Van Mark and citizens who have asked for records in the past. The best way to do that would be to appoint a subcommittee to hold public meetings online or around the state to take input.

Of course, better defining exemptions is only one aspect of the public records law that should be addressed. A bigger concern from the public’s perspective is what happens when a government official denies access to a certain document.

As those of us in the media know, the current way to appeal such a denial is usually both time consuming and costly, since it often requires hiring an attorney well-versed in media law and waiting for your case to be heard by an already overworked district court judge.

So in addition to talking about helping out records custodians, we hope committee members will help out their constituents by finding a faster, lower-cost way to appeal.

Ms. Van Mark is already available to help mediate such disputes, but so far her position lacks the enforcement teeth to require a public official to turn over documents if they disagree with her opinion.

Ms. Nethercott wondered aloud during our conversation whether it might help to move this appeal process to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

But almost in the same breath, she acknowledged the benefit of having an independent, third branch of government – the judicial branch – reviewing these decisions by the executive branch, rather than a board appointed by the governor.

We agree with the latter, of course, but feel strongly that there needs to be a faster, cheaper way to get these appeals through the court system.

We just finished one involving the local school district that took more than a year and cost a coalition of media companies several thousand dollars.

What happens when an average citizen asks for a document and faces similar obstacles?

Most will just shake their fists in frustration and give up (exactly what some government officials hope will happen).

Of course, officials could also consider a provision authorizing the courts to expedite public access cases, along with another awarding attorney’s fees to those who successfully challenge a custodian’s denial.

Which brings us back to the Judiciary Committee and its upcoming meeting. Those two hours on that Friday afternoon could be transformative – for better or worse.

As lawmakers continue to debate these issues, we implore them to resist the temptation to write too many exemptions into law and instead err on the side of openness.

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‘Squaw Teats’ Should Remain On The Map, Park County Commissioners Say

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

A pair of summits in southeastern Park County should continue to be known as “Squaw Teats,” county commissioners say.

On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to oppose a proposal that would rename the formation Crow Woman Buttes.

“I do not believe that we need to go around renaming monuments, statues, rivers, mountains” and changing history, Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said before Tuesday’s vote, saying he “strongly” opposed a new name.

A Powell resident, Tyler Kerr, made the suggestion to change the name of Squaw Teats in June.

In a submission to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, Kerr contended that the current moniker “is derogatory, both to women and to Native Americans.” Crow Woman Buttes, he said, would carry “a similar meaning, but less offensive wording.”

“The proposed name acknowledges the feature’s supposed resemblance to human anatomy, but omits the racially charged (and arguably misogynistic) language of the existing name,” he wrote in the submission.

As for why he picked the Crow tribe, Kerr explained that they were active in the region and that it “would be an easier name to use in conversation than ‘Shoshone Woman,’ ‘Blackfeet Woman,’ etc.”

“The more general ‘Indian Woman’ would be likely to come across as an awkward euphemism for ‘squaw,’ somewhat defeating the purpose of a name change,” he added.

The Board of Geographical Names is now seeking input on Kerr’s proposal from various entities.

In a Wednesday message to the board opposing the change, county commissioners said they feel “the history and heritage of Park County is important and must remain the same today and tomorrow.”

The federal board will also poll federally recognized tribes, the Wyoming Board of Geographic Names and the Bureau of Land Management, as the summits sit on acreage managed by the agency.

Squaw Teats are located in badlands in Park County’s very southeast corner. The peaks are about 15 miles east of Meeteetse as the crow flies, with the taller of the two reaching an elevation of 6,173 feet (the other tops out at 6,110 feet).

The area was originally referred to as “Squaw Buttes” in a 1906 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) publication and other records located by Matt O’Donnell, a contractor for the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. However, in his report on the proposal, O’Donnell indicates that “Squaw Teats” became more common from 1938 on; that’s what the feature has been called on official USGS maps since 1951, he found.

Early Western explorers were apparently not bashful about naming mountains after breasts. For instance, Wyoming’s iconic Tetons draw their name from the French word for “teat” or “nipple.”

There’s also a Squaw Teat Butte in Hot Springs County and a Squaw Teat in Sublette County, according to O’Donnell’s research. Then there’s Katys Nipple, located on the southwestern edge of Bighorn Lake — and Mitchells, Dans and Clara Birds Nipple can be found in other parts of Wyoming, Powell mountaineer Tim Schoessler wrote for the website SummitPost.

In a 2009 writeup about Squaw Teats, Schoessler said the peaks “are steep scrambles,” and offer expansive views of the surrounding badlands and the Absaroka Mountains. But he’s not a fan of the moniker.

“That name has bothered me since I first ran across it, and I would love to see it changed,” Schoessler said Wednesday.

Some similar names have fallen out of favor in more recent years, O’Donnell’s report says. In 2008, Squaw Teat Butte and Squaw Teat Creek in South Dakota became Peaked Butte and East Rattlesnake Creek, respectively, while similar features in Montana became Mil-mil-teh Hill and Choo-heh-meen Hills; the Montana Legislature passed a bill in 1999 that called for the word “squaw” to be removed from all maps, signs and markers.

For their part, though, Park County commissioners want to stick with “Squaw Teats.”

“I don’t necessarily like it, personally,” Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said, “but it’s a part of Park County’s history — and I have no desire to rewrite history.”

During Tuesday’s brief discussion on the subject, Tilden said the commissioners “have never supported any name changes.”

In 2017, the commission voted against a proposal to christen an unnamed peak Mount Grinnell. Then in 2018, commissioners opposed a pending proposal from multiple tribes to change Yellowstone National Park’s Hayden Valley to Buffalo Nations Valley and to change Mount Doane to First Peoples Mountain.

Prior commissioners did agree to rename County Road 6FU in 2004, after some residents objected that, when read aloud, the route name was profane and offensive.

“That just wasn’t verbally proper,” said Park County Clerk Colleen Renner. (Commissioner Lee Livingston, who like his colleagues was not on the commission at the time, offered that, “I had no problem leaving it [the road] as it was.”) The route, which connects the North and South fork areas, is now known as Stagecoach Trail.

Squaw Teats isn’t the only eyebrow-raising name found on local maps.

“Asking for directions in northwestern Wyoming can be downright obscene,” former Powell Tribune News Editor Justin Lessman wrote in 2006. He gave examples like Negrohead Fork, Bitch Creek (a corruption of the French word for “deer” rather than an insult) and, most egregiously, waterways that included the N-word.

Some of the terms, such as “squaw,” were not offensive at the time they were placed on maps, historians told Lessman in 2006, but they confirmed some words had the same meaning as today.

“The first people out here named things what they thought they looked like,” then-Shoshone National Forest District Ranger Dave Myers told the Tribune at the time. “And if sheepherders were involved, it’s a good bet the names somehow involved female anatomy.”

The U.S Board of Geographic Names says its guiding principle is to use the place names used by local residents. However, exceptions can be made “when a name is derogatory or is shown to be offensive to a particular racial or ethnic group, gender, or religious group,” the board’s policies say. “Because geographic names are part of the historical record of the United States, the [board] prefers to proceed cautiously … as attitudes and perceptions of words considered to be offensive can vary among individuals and communities and can change connotation over time.”

There is no timeline for the board to make a decision on whether to name the summits Crow Woman Buttes. For example, the proposed renaming of Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley and Mount Doane have been pending since 2017, as the board continues to await a recommendation from the National Park Service.

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