Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Mark Dykes and Cindy Glasson
Editor and Reporter Photographer 

Final forum for the Primary


August 16, 2018

Thursday evening saw the last public forum for the Primary election at the high school auditorium. The election season has been a busy one, with plenty of candidates and campaigning. A previous candidate forum was July 23 and a county sheriff’s candidate forum was Aug. 6. Thursday’s forum included candidates for House District 28 Representative, Town of Thermopolis, Hot Springs County Commission, Hot Springs County Clerk, Mayor of Thermopolis and Hot Springs County Sheriff.

Candidates were allowed time to introduce themselves, as well as to answer various questions.

House District 28

Three people have filed for the position of District 28 Representative, including John Winter, Tim Morrison and Howie Samelson

Winter, addressing lower mineral revenues in the state, said we need to push for the industries we have and do all we can to support them. He was unsure if new sources of revenue are in the picture, unless someone has the entrepreneurial ability and desire for a new source of income.

Morrison, with regard to lower mineral revenues, noted he does not support any new taxes, and the state has to look at existing revenue and find out if there are budget items to remove that are not necessary to the health and welfare of residents. He encouraged funding to the SLIB Board and Schools Facilities Commission.

Samelson, concerning lower mineral revenues, said he would sit down with the rest of the Legislature and examine the existing budget. From there, he said, work needs to be done to look at expanding sources of revenue, as staying with the same sources of revenue has always been a problem for the state.

With regard to the state taking ownership and managing federal lands, Winter said he’s not impressed with the way the federal government is managing our lands and something needs to be done to improve that. He thinks Wyoming could do a better job, though it would be an extensive undertaking, and suggested putting pressure on the federal government to manage resources better would do some good.

Morrison said the state takeover federal lands, if done, would be at a slow pace with a lot of study, and done to ensure existing all present uses would be maintained.

Samelson said he’s not a proponent of the state taking over federal lands, as there is a balance that needs to be maintained, but if it were to happen he was in favor of making sure the public is protected. He noted keeping public lands in public hands means keeping lands in federal hands, as putting them in state hands doesn’t guarantee they will stay public.

As for staying connected with the constituency, Winter said he would utilize telephone communication, and would also be in constant contact with his wife. He believes legislators should let the constituents know what’s going on in Cheyenne, and would do so by keeping in touch with local newspapers and making sure they are informed.

In keeping connected with constituency, Morrison said email is the main type of communication and needs to be available, at minimum. He also suggested social media as a form of communication, and his contact numbers would be available to anyone. He would also maintain contact with town councils and county commissions to be aware of what problems arise.

Samelson planned to stay connected with his constituency by being out in the community whenever he is at home. While working in Cheyenne he would communicate through a variety of means, be available for comment and travel through the district.

Winter said he’s not familiar with all of the House committees, but is interested in those dealing with natural resources, wildlife, transportation and education. He believes his knowledge would benefit these committees and the governor.

Morrison pointed out junior legislators are appointed to committees they know the least about, though it would be nice to be appointed to one where his strengths lie. He believes that, with his strengths and knowledge, he would be able to do his best to serve the committee he’s on and be well versed in arguing for or against any bills.

With regard to committees, Samelson said his background in transportation is something he’s looking forward to sharing on a statewide basis. He’d also like to be involved in education, but noted the key is to put effort in to learn the needs of the committee he’s on, interpret that information and be able to negotiate for the best cause of the district.

Winter expressed he is really concerned about the state’s education system and natural resources. He’s also interested in transportation, as it’s his understanding there is a shortage of truck drivers. While he’s heard there are some states looking at reducing the number of school days in a week, he was unsure that’s the way to go and would like to sit down with the Legislature and really figure out what needs to be done.

Morrison said the biggest issues facing Wyoming involve employment, economic diversity and education. Within those, he said, we need to look at how schools are operated to ensure they have the best programs for vocational training and education to students who want it. He also said the state has to provide opportunity for people to learn about starting a business or capitalizing and increasing current industries. He believes there are great economic opportunities and Wyoming should take a leadership role in putting out not just money, but expertise.

Samelson said there are several issues that people can unite around, and they are all important. Among them are education, energy, environment, employment, equality, economic development and entrepreneurship. What’s important to him is to learn what the constituents want and what they believe is most important.

Hot Springs County Commission

Five candidates are in the running for two seats as Hot Springs County Commissioner, incumbent Tom Ryan, Steve Shay, Jack Bair, Mike Liesch and Sonja Becker.

Becker was not in attendance at this forum, having sent a message that instead, she would be at the Oct. 8 forum before the General Election. Becker is the only Democrat on the ticket, so she will move forward to the General.

When asked what they see are the biggest challenges facing the county in the next five years, Shay said he believes they are going to be the same as they have always been – a stable source of funding and sufficient revenue to maintain resources.

“We’re going to have a lot more discussion on water, too,” he said.

For Ryan, its roads. He said there was a time when the county had enough money to pave a lot of roads, but now, to maintain them in that fashion there isn’t enough money, believing we’re going to have to rely a lot on state and federal entities to get the job done.

“Water is probably an issue,” he said, “not really a county issue since the users pay for the water and the county doesn’t really have a dog in the fight other than seeing affordable, safe water for residents.”

Baird agrees that roads are going to be an issue in the coming years and thinks, too, that water issues will be coming.

“We need to know where the money goes,” he said. “We (commissioners) get a set number of dollars and there’s always more with their hand out than giving.”

Liesch said he has been attending the commissioners meetings of late and was actually surprised at how much they talk about money and the need for money, from water to highways.

“I think its going to be the same issues for the next five years,” he said.

Thermopolis and Hot Springs County currently uses surface water that passes through the treatment plant for dispersal to citizens. The candidates were asked if they were in support of changing from surface water to well water down the road.

Ryan indicated that yes, he was in favor of the change, saying they have just finished a Phase II study to research the change and the findings are getting ready to be realeased.

“If the water is available,” he said, “I think you’ll find spreading out the costs throughout the users will make it become a more manageable cost. I would like to see us get off the river in favor of a well.”

Baird said he is in support of getting a new water source, whether that be a well or an upgrade to our current water treatment plant.

Liesch had a slightly different reply with his thoughts firmly on the mineral springs, saying, “If we drill a well and it doesn’t affect the springs, maybe.”

Shay said if it comes to the Lysite well, one of the areas being considered, its going to be up to the town and the mayor whether or not they join in the project.

“I’m not sure the town has the money available,” he said. “The mayor has looked at the study and came up with some numbers, but the upshot is the price increase per customer is going to be large.”

The next question posed to the candidates was what kind of experience they had in preparing budgets, and Baird said spending 20 years owning a ranch and running a successful business was pretty good experience in budgeting.

He added, too, that he worked a considerable amount of time with budgets in his 19 years as the president of the Predatory Animal Board.

As an accountant, Liesch has done everything from initial budget planning for businesses and individuals to budgeting and handling checkbooks for his various clients. As the past president of the Wyoming Association of Professional Accountants, he has extensive experience with budgets.

Having been Chief of Police three different times, Shay said budgeting was part of the job along with working within that budget.

“I don’t think we’ve ever gone over that budget,” he said. “I was also mayor for two terms, so I know how to work with the town, the treasurer and all the other offices.”

Since Ryan has been a commissioner for four years already, he acknowledges he has been really hands on with the budget.

“We cut $1.1 million out of the budget my second year,” he said. “I know what it takes to work through a budget session and be hands on.” He added he had worked on the school district’s budget during his 14 years on the school board and has run a successful business for 33 years.

The public wanted to know what the candidate’s philosophy is when it comes to managing personnel, and Liesh pointed to his being in charge of various projects when he worked for Lockheed.

“I have been the boss,” he said. “I have experience in managing employees, client relations, budgets for projects and managing.”

Shay said his first experience with managing personnel was in the airforce.

“The military aproach is a little different,” he said. “At first I was a bit more of a micro-manager, but I’ve learned a lot since then. I’m not a micro-manager anymore, but you set expectations and lead by example and teamwork.”

Ryan says there is a real difference in managing government versus a business. In business, you hire them, give them the resources to get the job done, but let them to their job, he said.

“The county is a little different,” he said, “because there are really only a few that report to the commissioners, all the rest report to their department heads, not the commissioners. You have to rely on your people to do their job and let them do it.”

Baird admitted he has very little experience handling employees as a rancher, but he feels the best philosophy is starting out with a plan going in, set the ground rules and know how its going to be before it becomes personal.

The commissioners recently passed their budget for the year and the candidates were asked what changes they would have made to the current budget.

For Shay, who said he had actually reviewed it, there was nothing, at a glance, that he would change.

“I don’t have anything against any of those guys and what they have done,” he said. “They went through a pretty rough patch financially, and I don’t see anything that needs changed.”

Ryan laughed and said he didn’t really feel the question was a fair one him, “If I thought things needed changed, I would have.”

Baird thought the budget was fair and really didn’t see anything in it that needed changed.

Liesch indicated he hadn’t actually seen the full budget, but is anxious to get into it, saying, “If changes need made, fine, we’ll make them.”

Hot Springs County Clerk

Three candidates are vying for the County Clerk’s position, incumbent Nina Webber, Rose DeSeyn and Joe Martinez.

Martinez was not in attendance at the forum, and a statement read on his behalf by Kaila Jones apologized for not being there, however, his job as health inspector as well as his children’s winning animals at the Hot Springs County Fair, required him to be at the Wyoming State Fair. He said this time with his family was very important to him, but not only asked for the community’s vote for clerk, but also encouraged everyone to vote on Aug. 21.

The first question asked of the other two candidates was what kind of leader they are, and DeSeyn said she has always been the deputy or the side-kick, so it has given her a lot of time to watch and learn.

“I think I know what I would want from my employees,” she said. “The main thing is to work together.”

Webber, who has been working since she was 15-years old, said the job takes responsibility and dedication.

“I’ve always followed through and been successful,” she said. “I listen and I like to help people succeed. I’m an achiever and a completer. I have great organizational skills. I really think some people are just born with it.”

When it comes to putting together a budget, Webber said she has quite a bit of experience. She has been a nursing home administrator, started at the bottom, and had to research and learn how to do it.

“You always have to expect the unexpected,” she said.

Her past working in the banking industry has taught DeSeyn a lot about budgeting.

“You are given so much money,” she said, “and you know from the get-go what is expected. You have to stay within those boundaries. Things have to be paid that are priorities. You start off knowing what you’re given and work within it.”

The pair were then asked about their experience in managing personnel and DeSeyn said being the second in command has given her the understanding about people’s weaknesses and strengths.

“You find out what those weaknesses and strengths are,” she said, “and do the best you can with what you have.”

Webber said she has quite a bit of experience in this area, too.

“You have to be reactive, proactive and humor goes a long way,” she said. “What you do goes farther than what you say.”

She added that sometimes you have to let the employee make their own decisions on how to get there, maybe they see a way to do things a little more efficiently. “I’ve learned from the bottom up.”

So what do they see as the role of the County Clerk on a day to day basis?

Webber said there are a lot of responsibilities like daily recordings of activities, payroll, benefits for the whole county and elections.

“Elections need to be smooth,” she said. “You have to be prepared.”

DeSeyn said you have to know not just the clerk’s office, but all the offices. “They all have their own busiest time,” she said. “For the clerk’s office its right now, during elections. Its different for the treasurer’s office or the assessor’s office.

“Its a daily operation, but you also represent the county. You are the county, and when people walk through the door, the customer service stuff is huge. You are representing the county as a whole.”

Thermopolis Town Council

For the Thermopolis Town Council race, there are five candidates. Newcomers Krista Raymond, John Fish and Joshua Brown are on the ballot along with incumbents John Dorman Sr. and Tony Larson.

Raymond, addressing the possibility of changing the town water to a well, said she’s heard several different versions with regard to the water, and concerns about the taste and the color when it comes out of the pipe. She would like to determine how we got where things are now and try to find solutions, and suggested looking at what other municipalities have done.

Regarding a changeover to a well for water, Fish noted there is no guarantee that investment in a well would pay off. He likes the idea of having another water source, if it can be done at a reasonable cost, and would like to see more research done. He was unsure if the town would be able to afford the well, even with grant money from the state.

As a business owner, Raymond said she’s sensitive to the subject of new business. Communities often want to go after bigger business to come in, though her concern is that when a big business goes under the town is back to the “up and down” cycle. She suggested the council could go after several small businesses that provide jobs that allow families to sustain themselves, so one company leaving would not devastate the town.

Fish said new business is needed but so is support for existing business. He said the town made a mistake by not trying to get big business in the town because of the fear they would overrun everything, and any new revenue opportunities should be considered.

Regarding trash disposal and recycling, Raymond suggested programs such as Brownfields, through which funds are available for trash disposal. She added the EPA has said the town has to do something about the trash, and she would go back to the EPA and ask they provide solutions. She also noted she’s worked in communities where facilities were opened for disposal of specific items.

Fish said the issue is the landfill running out of space and the EPA eventually shutting it down. The town needs to be proactive and not reactive, he said. One of the solutions is getting a fleet of trucks to haul trash elsewhere. Recycling is another option, though Fish pointed out the idea is popular but also met with a lot of opposition. He suggested contacting other communities that have implemented recycling programs and find out how they’re doing it, as a recycling program could extend the life of the landfill and keep costs down.

Asked what qualities she would look for in a police chief, Raymond said professionalism is important, as well as not playing favorites with citizens. The police are there to serve the community, and it is taxpayer money so every citizen should be treated the same, with the same respect.

Fish said he wants someone who is dedicated, honest, hardworking and willing to work after hours. He wants someone who isn’t badge heavy and has compassion for others, someone who works well with different entities and someone you can sit down and visit with as a friend.

As for enhancing the relationship between the town and county, Raymond said it’s interesting how often the interests overlap and suggested having regular meetings between town and county officials to discuss responsibilities. She said through such meetings they might also come up with some lucrative financial decisions as well.

Fish said he’s totally against drawing a line in the sand. Though he doesn’t know who drew the line, particularly with law enforcement, he would work to patch things up. It would be beneficial to have a joint town and county organization where everyone is working together for a common goal, he said.

As for allowing chickens in town, Raymond supported it, but noted the council needs to lay out the criteria out for things such as fence requirements, care of the animals and noise.

Fish said he doesn’t think it’s as big a deal as some might think and suggested giving it a chance.

Candidates Brown, Dorman and Larson were not present at the forum.

Mayor of Thermopolis

Four candidates are looking to be Mayor of Thermopolis, including current mayor Mike Mortimore, Forrest Coleman-Weisz, Mike Chimenti and Bradyn Harvey.

As for the possibility of changing the Thermopolis water supply to a well, Coleman-Weisz said it’s a complicated issue and one the town can’t take lightly because of the potential for increased costs. He expressed concern of state regulations that could potentially impact where our water comes from, and caution should be taken on investing in projects of this size.

Mortimore is not in favor of changing Thermopolis water over to a well source, as the perceived problem is not a problem, and about $20,000 was spent proving the water is safe. With regard to drilling a well, he said, it would easily double or triple rates for Thermopolis. He noted he has to represent the people of Thermopolis and didn’t expect they’d be too happy about a rate increase.

Harvey is in favor of changing the water over to a well. The EPA wants to steer away from surface water sources, he said, and in the short run it might make water rates go up but in the long run it won’t. He suggested finding money in other places and delegating it responsibly to fix the water issue.

Chimenti has some mixed feelings about going to a well water source, as he believes Thermopolis has good water. If it will not impact the Big Spring, he said, it needs to be looked at, but maybe not right now and causing an increase in water rates if the water plant is currently putting out good, potable water. The costs for a well project, he pointed out, will essentially be put on the consumers.

Candidates were also asked how their background would translate to handling taxpayer money. Coleman-Weisz said in his business they do millions of dollars every year in sales that are other people’s money. In that respect, he said, his skills come from doing similar work six days a week already.

Mortimore said he’s conservative on how the money is spent. He pointed out he has good staff that he appreciates, good rules and regulations, and he’s found some creative ways to make the money we have work.

Harvey said he’s fiscally responsible as he and his wife are through a large part of their debt. He would like taxpayer money spent wisely and as efficiently as possible.

Chimenti was happy to note he and his wife are debt free, and would like to see the responsibility pass on to the town. He said there is good town clerk who knows where the money is coming from and where it’s going, and as mayor that’s someone he’d be looking to, in order to ensure the town is spending responsibly.

Regarding trash disposal and recycling, Coleman-Weisz said the regulations were changed a while back, and at that point we knew there needed to be a move toward processing garbage differently. He’s also concerned about when water regulations will change and how it will impact our water plant. In terms of infrastructure, he said, trash disposal and water share something of a common thread, and we need the foresight to see the coming issues.

Mortimore said right now it costs $100,000 to open up a cell, but under the new regulations it would cost $1 million. He noted he’s been told trucks can be bought to take garbage over to Worland, but there are also concerns about regulations there. A transfer station, he said, would provide a place where people can take their garbage and put it in. He noted the town is looking at options that include using our own trucks or even going through a private contractor.

Harvey said since the issue of the landfill running out of space first appeared he’s looked into recycling and found that getting the plant and equipment is relatively cheap, but it’s designed for communities bigger than Thermopolis so trash would have to be brought in from other communities. He suggested working with the EPA to get some longevity in our landfill and setting up a smaller form of recycling.

Chimenti said the landfill is getting full, and what he thinks will happen is the EPA will come in and regulate how we handle our garbage. There has been recycling here before, he noted, and it didn’t work either because people didn’t know where it was at or there wasn’t enough volume. He said it could come down to the town eventually having to go to a system where the garbage is hauled out of the community and disposed.

As for qualities he would look for in a police chief, Coleman-Weisz said it takes a special hand to treat the community in the right way, and having a badge heavy police chief would cause some serious issues. He said there needs to be someone who is well qualified, and believes in taking applications and choosing the best candidate.

Mortimore said when he became mayor he wanted to have a police chief with a militaristic background and a strong sense of order. He noted the past police chiefs have done a good job and they all have great strengths and weaknesses. He indicated this time, if elected, he might go with someone who doesn’t have the militaristic background.

When it comes to selecting a police chief, Harvey said leadership goes a long way, but self-discipline goes a long way also, and will work its way down to the officers. He added it’s also important to be ambitious and want to make a change, but also kindhearted and not badge heavy.

Police chief qualities Chimenti is looking for are leadership and a desire to follow policy and philosophies of the town. He noted whoever is hired will have to have to philosophy of a small community and care about people and community policing, but also be able to take care of the department.

With regard to maintaining the relationship between the town and county, Coleman-Weisz said in his job he’s all about forging relationships and bringing people together on terms that meet a criteria for both sides. The town and county are mutually beneficial to each other, he said, and if we’re butting heads we’re not doing anybody any favors.

Mortimore said he has a lot of experience with the relationship between town and county, and expressed concern that it seems the county commission and town have trouble communicating and meeting to discuss issues. He said he was happy to work together, and hopes the communication will improve.

Harvey said people need to realize we’re all on the same side and we all benefit from each other, and it doesn’t make sense to fight about things that both parties benefit from. He said mending the relationship involves discussion and realizing we are all on the same side and one helps the other.

Chimenti said being retired allows him the time to visit with the county commissioners about what’s going on. He hears a lot about no cooperation between agencies, and one of his goals is to sit down with the head of various agencies around the county and get everyone back together as a team and community.

Regarding chickens, Coleman-Weisz said they would not be any more of a nuisance than the turkeys and deer, and he has yet to look deep into the numbers regarding the impact on property values. It is important, he said, to look at what other communities have done in terms of regulation and enforcement. He would like to see it done right, if the decision is to allow them.

Mortimore said he was cool with allowing chickens in town. He pointed out after the first presentation to council about chickens, nobody came to the next meeting and the only thing council heard was people didn’t want them near their homes. He further added there was a plan for a test area and discussion about how to enforce regulations.

Harvey said if people want chickens they can have them, as it is their yards and they can have the animals if they want.

Chimenti isn’t opposed to having chickens in town, but there should be awareness of what problems that could bring. Such issues are something to look at, he said, before it’s decided whether to allow chickens.

Hot Springs County Sheriff

Like the commissioner’s race there are five gentlemen running for a single seat, that of Hot Springs County Sheriff, Danny Pebbles, Pat Cornwell, Tom Christensen, Jerimie Kraushaar and Michael Nelson.

One of the things people are curious about is how the candidates would fix the deficits in the detention center.

Pebbles said it is hard to create a budget when you don’t know how many inmates you’re going to have at any one time. “You can budget for 12 and end up with 23,” he said, “so there are a lot of unknowns.”

He added that along with more inmates comes more medical costs, higher supply costs and other miscellaneous items. He said the overtime, however, is manageable, you just have to have the right number of deputies to minimize it.

Cornwell agreed, saying the number of inmates you have can easily explode the budget.

“How do you budget for 30 when your inmate count is usually 12 to 15?” he asked.

Christensen said there is no way to regulate that. If you had room, you could take in imates from other places, but you can’t really create a true budget when things are so flexible.

Kraushaar said the biggest issue with the deficit, and its everywhere, not just here, is employees who come and go like a revolving door. He said Hot Springs County is the lowest paid office in the state and you have to train those new people, paying someone to be with them during training and having so many inmates right now just makes the problem worse.

“We all know the wheels of justice turn agonizingly slow,” he said. “Its a difficult situation and no matter how you try to budget it, something is going to come up.”

Nelson said the office is morally and legally bound to work within the parameters set by the commissioners, but there is money out there from other sources.

“I have been able to fund additional positions through other means,” he said. “We have to start putting these grant monies to work now. Unexpected things come up all the time.”

When asked about their experience with managing personell and doing scheduling, Cornwell said he has managed 72-79 people by himself in the jail in Park County. Since he has been here he didn’t have to do any of that stuff in the beginning, but now, he does the scheduling.

As far as budgeting, Cornwell said when Mike Chimenti was police chief he had helped him create budgets, so he has some experience with that.

Christensen said he has managed several people in his own business. He’s managed personell at the Bonaroo Music Festival, on the fairboard and has done budgets with the fairboard in the past.

Since 2010, Kraushaar has been actively involved in budgeting for the Sheriff’s Office and the jail. “I’ve been engrossed in that process,” he said. “I currently do the scheduling, too. Its pretty fluid, though.”

He said he’s also familiar with grant monies and how they work as well.

“My philosophy with personell is if you treat them right, they’ll want to work for you,” he said.

Nelson said he was a tactical team leader for 10 years, managing 10 men on the team. With that he was responsible for training, equipping and managing the whole group.

“I learned a lot of important lessons,” he said. “Basic leadership 101 rules are gold. I’ve also done scheduling and been a shift supervisor. It really wasn’t difficult.”

Pebbles said as the administrator of the jail he was in charge of up to nine jailors, as undersheriff up to 11 people, so he has quite a bit of experience.

“I actually learned more from bad managers,” he said. “I’ve done scheduling all the time so I’m well versed in that, too.”

So what do they feel are their biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses?

Christensen’s were simple – his honesty and his grandkids.

For Kraushaar, he feels knowing how to deal with people with respect is his biggest strength, but laughed as he said he has a bad memory and has to fight his weight.

Nelson’s answers were pretty simple, too, his leadership ability is his strength, but admits his patience is his biggest weakness. “I’m the hammer, get things done,” he said.

Respecting people and dealing with them with respect is Pebbles biggest strength, along with his tenacity. His weakness? “I see the bad before the good,” he said. “I’m always working on that.”

Cornwell feels his strength is knowing he’s not here to personally judge people. “I don’t like to talk in front of people,” he grinned. “I’m a do’er, not a talker.”

As a final question of the night, they candidates were asked about their background and whether they held any kind of certifications.

Kraushaar started with a basic officer certification, working up through advanced and now professional peace officer certification.

“I have to have a certain amount of training hours,” he said. “I also have domestic violence training, DRE, am a child forensic interviewer and nearly 2000 hours of post certified training.”

Nelson has been a patrol officer, detective, field training officer, SWAT, patrol supervisor, homicide investigator and drug investigator. He, too, has over 2000 post hours.

“My certification has lapsed,” he said, “but I’m looking to get my certification renewed. If I have to go through the academy again, I will.”

Pebbles, with 31 years on the job also has 2000 post hours and is certified in interview and interrogation. He is also a professional detention officer and professional peace officer.

Cornwell is also a detention office and is currently certified in detention and is a reserve deputy for the Sheriff’s Office. He received his professional peace officer certification in 2004.

Christensen’s certification has also lapsed, but he said he is willing to go through the academy again. In the past he has been a detention officer, been through DEA school, interrogation and interview and was a certified firearms instructor at the Wyoming Academy.


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