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2022 - A look back - the year's top stories

The News Letter Journal’s 2022 Year in Review was compiled by KateLynn Slaamot and Hannah Gross.

The year 2022 was packed with its fair share of interesting ups and downs for Weston County, and there was especially a lot of change in the local government. New faces will appear on the Wyoming State Legislature as well as the city council, county commission board and the school board, with the results of the primary and general elections. Notably, after months of discussion, the City of Newcastle approved a backyard chicken ordinance. Another frequent topic was the ongoing dispatch debate. There was also a fair share of heartwarming stories about those who have promoted positivity in our community. Here is the breakdown of the events that affected Weston County in 2022, as told in the pages of the News Letter Journal, along with some images from the year. 
● Seth and Kristine Rhoades, local dentists and operators of Black Hills Dental, were chosen as the News Letter Journal’s 2021 Person(s) of the Year for their dedication to community and family. Seth, a 2000 Newcastle High School graduate, took over the dental clinic in 2014 from his step-dad, Richard Ratts, when Kristine joined the team. The couple often volunteers in the community, from the Newcastle Booster Club to RPM Days to being volunteer sports coaches. They also offer free dental work to local veterans on Veterans Day. 
● The Sixth Judicial District (Campbell, Crook and Weston counties) would be getting its second new judge within just six months, according to a Jan. 4 press release from the Judicial Nominating Commission. The new judge would replace Thomas W. Rumpke, whose resignation would be effective March 2. The Commission chose three nominees, Matthew F.G. Castano, Paul S. Phillips and Ronald W. Wirthwein Jr., to forward to Gov. Mark Gordon, who would then have 30 days to appoint one of them. 
● A chapter came to a close for Doug and Diane Hudson when, after owning Mondell Heights for 12 years, they sold the care home to Don and Ruth Taylor. The building, a former county hospital, opened under a boarding home license in 1989, and it was purchased by the Hudsons in 2010. The Hudsons were able to secure an assisted living license in 2012. Now under new ownership, the Taylors, who became official owners Jan. 4, hope to give excellent elderly care. Some changes on the horizon include staffing changes, updated computers and hopes to build. 
● In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to allow the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid money, Weston County Health Services staff would have until Jan. 27 to be vaccinated. Staff would need to submit an exemption form by Jan. 19, or get the first of a two-shot series or the first of the J&J vaccine by Jan. 27, and the second by Feb. 28. At the time the News Letter Journal article was written, 35 members were either unvaccinated or had not submitted any exemption form. The WCHS board of trustees had originally approved a vaccine mandate policy on Nov. 18, after the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate (the mandate drafted by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services). The hospital district was concerned that it could lose as much as $15 million if the mandate wasn’t enforced. 
● A court hearing for the suit filed by Garrett Borton against Weston County Commissioner Tony Barton was finally scheduled for March 31. Judge James Michael Causey was to consider the motion by Barton’s lawyer to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. The suit was originally filed on Oct. 26, 2021, since which time both parties had submitted several responses to the allegations and requested relief to the issue presented. Borton sought injunctive and declaratory relief concerning Barton’s qualification to function as a county commissioner. While he didn’t ask for Barton to be removed from office, he did request a temporary injunction, which would be “a command to refrain from a particular act,” according to statute. This would require Barton to refrain from voting as an elected official, and he would no longer receive compensation from the county. The petition filed by Borton also asked for a permanent injunction in which the court grants the requested relief.
● Seventeen students in Nikki Bartlett’s seventh grade English class participated in a nationwide poetry contest for grades six through eight. Preslee Fitzwater, Baleigh Knight and Kaitlyn Blumenthal were chosen to be published in a poetry collection book featuring selections from all over the United States. 
● The Wyoming Department of Health reported that the number of COVID-19-related deaths totaled 17 for Weston County. Statewide totals were tallied at 1,650 since the start of the pandemic. The Department of Health also reported 110 confirmed cases within the past 14 days, but Weston County Health Services CEO Maureen Cadwell explained that there were probably more cases due to unreported in-home testing. Active cases as of Feb. 8 were 23, and hospitalizations were down to zero. Fully vaccinated Weston County residents amounted to 2,553 people, or 36.86%, as of Jan. 31. Statewide, 257,790 Wyoming residents, 44.54%, were fully vaccinated. 
● At age 89, Lorraine Davis still got in the saddle after all these years, riding from the time she was just a small child. Whether pleasure riding or helping move cattle, she still enjoyed her time spent riding, especially with her granddaughter Kyla Popma and family. Davis was born west of Newcastle in Pedro, Wyoming, near the Osage oil field, in 1932. She graduated from Newcastle High School in 1950 and married her husband, Russell, in 1953. In 1962, the family moved to a ranch on Beaver Creek. Popma and her husband took over the family ranch about 11 years ago. 
● According to Weston County School District No. 1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix, the hope was to construct an unspecified building as a multipurpose room using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief 3.0, or ESSER 3.0, funds. The hope was for a place to expand school activities, after-school activities and summer activities and have a place for events, practices, etc. The school district received $3,751,067.75 in federal funding from the state through ESSER 3.0, which is part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. However, the district would need to partner with the city or county for continued funding of utilities and maintenance of the building, so as not to take from the general fund. The community would also need to work together to figure out a plan to staff the facility. Another option for the funds was to use it to recruit and retain staff with incentive stipends. In addition, the district was going to allocate $86,000 to update the bookmobile, $112,134 for summer and after-school programs, $17,000 for healthy snacks, $300,000 for equipment and supplies, $200,000 to possibly expand the elementary school playground and $98,067 to help deal with physical and emotional health of staff and students. 
● Weston County remained split in a redistricting plan passed through the Wyoming House of Representatives, but the plan would need to pass the State Senate as well. The plan, called 62-31, would also add two more House districts and one more Senate district. Throughout the process, Weston County representatives fought to keep the county whole, so as to guarantee that a representative was living in the county. According to the Legislative Service Office, redistricting is the process of redrawing the geographic boundaries of an area from which people are elected as representatives. Per the Wyoming Constitution, the process needs to be completed before the first budget session following each U.S. census to reflect population shifts. The bill, HB 100, passed the House on Feb. 18 on a 54-6 vote and was then introduced and referred to the Senate Corporations Committee. 
● Newcastle Middle School paraprofessional and intervention specialist Keeley Anderson was honored with the 2022 Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) award in a ceremony on Feb. 23. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, gave a presentation via Zoom, and Gov. Mark Gordon and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder were also present. The 2009 Newcastle High School graduate began working with Weston County School District No. 1 as a substitute teacher in 2016 and then as a special education paraprofessional the following year. She worked in that position until becoming the intervention specialist in 2019.
● On March 1, the Weston County Commission voted unanimously to set aside $672,000 to pay for possibly setting up a county dispatch service, separate from the city’s. Because of tensions between the city and county, city officials decided to move the dispatch center and Newcastle Police Department from the Weston County Law Enforcement Center to the city offices, and the county decided to assess the cost of starting its own dispatch. While the commission wanted to form a joint powers board to oversee dispatch services, the City Council and Mayor Pam Gualtieri were not in favor of the idea. Estimated cost for the county to start its own dispatch service was $800,000. 
● After passing the Wyoming Senate on Feb. 28 on an 18-12 vote, Senate File 62, or the Civics Transparency Act, died in the House Education Committee on a 4-5 vote on March 8. The bill would have required teachers to post their class materials online for public view, and Weston County School District No. 1 celebrated its demise. The bill was sponsored by Weston County legislators Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Sundance; Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle; and Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. 
● Father and son Carl and Tony Lenardson, members of the Cambria Bowhunters Club, attended the 2022 Indoor National Championship, hosted by the National Field Archery Association, in Louisville, Kentucky on March 18-20. Tony won the championship in the Freestyle Limited Adult Male Division, his fourth win at nationals in four different age divisions. Previously, he had taken the win in cubs, youth and young adult, now adding adult to his slate. 
● After one sentencing in a sexual assault case on Feb. 28, the Weston County Attorney’s Office was preparing to take yet another case to jury trial in April. As reports of sexual abuse continued to come in, there were about six cases being worked on in the previous few months, according to Deputy County Attorney Jeani Stone. The six most recent cases involved 10 different victims. In some of the cases, the actual abuse occurred years prior. According to Sheriff Bryan Colvard, Weston County had seen an increase in sexual abuse reports, mostly old incidents, over the past year. Wyoming has no statute of limitations on sexual abuse charges, and perpetrators can be charged at any time. 
● Weston County resident Garrett Borton took Weston County Commissioner Tony Barton to court on March 31 over questions about Barton’s residency in Crook County. Barton was a Weston County resident when he was elected to his four-year term in 2018, but he moved out of the county in 2020. He argued that he had the right to fulfill his term, but Borton said residency in that county’s particular precinct is required to be a qualified elector, according to Wyoming law. Borton requested a temporary injunction from Sixth Judicial District Court Judge James Michael Causey, which if granted would mean that Barton would receive no financial compensation from the county and would have to refrain from voting as an elected official. However, Barton’s attorney, Samuel R. Yemington, said that the residency law was not in effect when Barton was elected and so it is invalid until the next election. The case was later dismissed.
● Issues between residents and county officials continued when Gillian Sears accused Weston County Clerk Becky Hadlock of two potential illegal activities at the April 5 Weston County commissioners’ meeting. Sears said Hadlock violated Wyoming Statute 6-5-108(a) when she published the minutes of the commissioners’ Nov. 2 meeting, “which manipulate the facts” of the commissioners’ secret vote to replace Rep. Hans Hunt in House District 2 to place the vote in a more positive light. Hadlock said the minutes accurately reflect the meeting and were approved by the board, stating that County Attorney Michael Stulken answered all questions from the crowd and that the anonymous vote was done legally. With three affidavits, Sears argued that this was not the case. Additionally, Sears claimed Hadlock intended to “sabotage (her) legitimate request for information” regarding records of the surety bonds connected to the Weston County commissioners. Hadlock said neither she nor County Treasurer Susie Overman knew why only three instead of all five were bonded, but she claimed her suggestion of paying the bonds and applying them retroactively was not to cover anything up, but was merely to “remedy a situation.”
● On April 19, the News Letter Journal and Weston County residents Karen Drost, Raymond Norris and Patricia Baumann filed a petition for access to public records and for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the Board of Weston County Commissioners due to the secret vote. The petitioners felt the vote was in violation of Public Meetings Act, W.S. 16-4-401 et. seq., which requires action of a governing body of an agency to have a public meeting, and Public Records Act, W.S. 16-4-302(f)(i). The petition demands that the commissioners identify the ballot each one marked, and after a hearing of the court, an order is filed directing the commissioners to provide all forms of public records regarding the reasoning for and the use of secret ballots. 
● Northeast Wyoming, which includes Campbell, Crook, Johnson, Sheridan and Weston counties, experienced the largest inflation in the state for the final quarter of 2021 at 10.4%, 1.1% higher than the state average and well above the nationwide inflation rate at 7%. This is the highest inflation rate Wyoming has seen since the 11.8% recorded in the third quarter of 1981. However, Weston County was below the statewide average (100) cost of living in half of the six areas: food (98), housing (75), and recreation and personal care (98). Transportation costs leveled with the state average, but apparel and medical came out higher at 107 and 110, respectively. 
● Weston County was hit by a spring blizzard on Saturday, April 23. The storm began as a thunderstorm on Friday evening with a few inches of rain, but the wind speed soared to 70 mph and the rain turned to snow, dumping 9 inches of snow in Newcastle and up to 14 inches in other parts of the county. The blizzard was untimely for the over 200 ranchers who were in calving season. 
● 2022 Newcastle High School graduate Toby Johnson received the WyTeach Award, which recognizes excellence in those who plan to teach as a career, according to NHS science instructor James Stith. Johnson plans on studying secondary education, biology and chemistry at the University of Wyoming. 
●  An ongoing dispute between Weston County and the city of Newcastle regarding dispatch services provided by the city has been brewing for some time, but it escalated this year. The Weston County Board of Commissioners decided on May 2 to create a new dispatch center operated by the Weston County Sheriff, with the city police department maintaining its own, separate service. The commissioners, Sheriff Bryan Colvard and emergency response manager Gilbert Nelson all supported the creation of a joint powers board, which was opposed by the city and Mayor Pam Gualtieri. The cost of the new dispatch center was estimated at $800,000, and the board decided to move forward with the Motorola/Spillman system as its database and radio provider instead of the CIS system used by the Newcastle Police Department. The dispatch center operated by the police department, which has been formally evicted from the Weston County Law Enforcement Center due to the continuous dispute escalation, was to be moved to City Hall. 
● On April 27 and May 4, the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees approved $787,369.20 in raises for school district employees, effective the following school year. The cost of the raises for salaries of administrators and directors totaled $146,473.20 per year, including benefits, and the rest was for certified and classified staff. Teachers received a $3,500 raise, bringing the base salary of teachers to $50,000, ranking 12 out of 48 in the state for teacher pay, according to Superintendent Brad LaCroix. Directors and managers received $8,000 raises, the three principals received $10,000 raises, and LaCroix was approved for a $20,000 raise. LaCroix said the rationale behind the raises was to ensure the best possible recruitment and retention of teachers despite the “huge teacher shortage out there.” Additionally, staffing size has been constant despite declining enrollment numbers, so the school district was “right-sizing” itself by not replacing the four teachers who retired at the end of the school year. 
● The Board of Weston County Commissioners approved raises, totaling $420,000-plus a year, on May 3 for all county employees and elected officials, except for themselves. There was debate whether to give raises to the employees or elected officials, but the commissioners argued that the employees are the ones who keep the county running. A 15% cost-of-living adjustment, beginning on July 1, was approved for all county employees, both salaried and hourly. A $9,000 raise was given to the treasurer, assessor, clerk and clerk of district court, and a $15,000 annual raise was approved for the county attorney and sheriff, effective after the 2022 election. 
● The Weston County Commissioners voted to hire a special attorney at a special meeting held on April 26 to represent the county in the lawsuit filed by the News Letter Journal and several county residents regarding the secret vote cast by the commissioners to replace former-Rep. Hans Hunt with Rep. J.D. Williams. Deputy County Attorney Jeani Stone said that a special attorney was needed because of a conflict of interest with County Attorney Michael Stulken taking the case addressing the concerns of the secret ballots. The commissioners also hired a mediator to assist the county’s negotiations with the Newcastle City Council in the dispatch services dispute.   
● Newcastle Middle School male students had the opportunity to participate in the Men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) day held at the school on May 11. The purpose of the event, which was organized by science teachers Jody McCormack and Clint Colgrove, was to expose the middle school students to career paths by exploring stations that highlighted various STEM fields. Newcastle Middle School Principal Tyler Bartlett said the presenters, made up of local men working in a STEM career, engaged the students “hands-on … to see real-life applications for what they’re learning in math and science.” The presenters noted that they hope to inspire the younger generation to pursue careers in this area and were impressed with the students and the school’s interest in learning about their passions and noted that they hope to inspire the younger generation to pursue careers in this area. 
● Former Newcastle Police Chief Samuel Keller was arrested for domestic assault on May 30, when he threw a full beer can at his girlfriend’s face after she tipped back his chair. Keller resigned as chief, pleaded guilty and was released on his own recognizance by Circuit Court Judge Lynda Bush, according to documents and reports from Weston County Sheriff Bryan Colvard. Keller was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation, $520 in fines and 180 days (172 which were suspended) on June 8. His resignation was accepted by the Newcastle City Council via email but was later formally accepted in open meeting on June 20. The council also approved Mayor Pam Gualtieri and Councilman Don Steveson jointly serving as chief until Keller could be replaced, which raised the concerns of council members Lance Miles and Tyrel Owens, as well as police officer Peg Miles and officer Levi Tacy’s wife, Rebecca Tacy. They said that they would be more comfortable having an interim chief with experience in the police department. 
● At the City Council’s June 6 meeting, City Councilman  Ty Owens moved that the council research, then adopt, a backyard chicken ordinance, after community members expressed their desire to revisit the issue during a public meeting on May 25. Owens said the meeting revealed “overwhelming” support for allowing backyard chickens from the estimated 20 people who showed up. Some of the concerns of opponents of the ordinance included the added attraction of predators, the noise and cleanliness of chickens, the avian flu, irresponsible pet owners and the enforcement of the ordinance. The city has to determine how many chickens that will be permitted in relation to property size, how the concerns will be addressed and who will enforce the ordinance. Owens said the council could write an ordinance that best fits the community by looking at other communities that allow backyard chickens.
● The governor-appointed Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce forwarded a unanimous recommendation to the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources Committee of the Wyoming House of Representatives to split white-tail and mule deer hunting licenses in the state. Currently, the two species are simply referred to as “deer.” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik said that a distinction is needed to recognize them for the two “completely different” species they are for management purposes. On the other hand, local Game and Fish wildlife biologist Joe Sandrini said that the current management system works and does not need to be changed. He added that the higher demand for mule deer could result in an imbalance of the licenses purchased, if the licenses were split. Local hunters Everett Dean and Craig Ausmann said that they didn’t understand how splitting the tags provided better management if individuals could still purchase tags for both species. However, task force member Sen. Ogden Driskill said limiting mule deer licenses for a time could grow mule deer herds and eventually provide better hunting opportunities. He admitted it would take years for additional regulations, if any, to be taken by Game and Fish.
● Two locals were recognized for their career excellence, nurse Allison Farella and Newcastle Middle School Science teacher Jody McCormack. Farella received the People’s Choice Award as part of Rapid City Journal’s 2022 Nurses Contest after she was nominated in early spring by her mother, Lynnea Prell, for her “diversity of nursing skills.” Farella said she loves being a nurse because it helps those who are in need and makes a difference in their lives, adding that she can’t see herself leaving the nursing field. McCormack was named the 2022 Wyoming Middle School Science Teacher of the Year after receiving a nomination from friend and NMS special education teacher Jennifer Steveson. She nominated McCormack for her creativity, passion and dedication to teaching her students “hands-on.” McCormack said she feels blessed to work at NMS.
● Every year, the Newcastle Elementary School takes its fifth grade class to Mallo Camp for a weekend in the Black Hills, where they can pan for gold, go fishing, do archery, conduct science experiments, learn survival skills and other activities that reflect “roughing it” in the outdoors. Jeremy Bland was unable to participate in this camping trip when he was a fifth grader, so his classmate and Newcastle Hall of Fame member Koree Khongphand-Buckman re-created the Mallo camping trip for her friend. Nearly 60 people came, including former NES principal Bette Sample and her husband, Ron, to tell the famous “Stumpy” ghost story to the guests. Bland said everyone was “super-involved,” and there were young kids from age of 2 to adults participating in the fun. 
● The city of Newcastle approved its $8,108,121 budget for fiscal year 2023, which began July 1, 2022 and ends on June 30, 2023. The new budget is over $730,000 more than the previous year’s, most of which is being used for the sewer lagoon maintenance, according to City Clerk-Treasurer Stacy Haggerty. This project includes monitoring water quality and levels and cleaning out the sludge. A $600,000 grant from the State Loan and Investment Board was also put toward the lagoon project. Another large project for the city included the remodeling of the Newcastle Police Department, and $1,511,000 was set aside for the department. Whetsell Carpentry was awarded the remodeling bid for $233,766, which includes projects such as a dispatch area, new flooring and doors, new offices, extensive wiring and more. Other budget items include $229,500 for the Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department, $170,500 for health and welfare, $904,000 for streets and alleys, and $2,29,700 for water fund requirements. 
● The Weston County Board of Commissioners voted to appoint advanced practice nurse Kristen Johnson as the new public health officer on June 21. The position was vacant for 18 months after the removal of the previous health officer, Dr. Mike Jording, on Jan. 5, 2021, and Johnson was the only person to express interest in the position. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she provided information on Facebook and believes relating information to the community is important in her new role. Johnson said she wants to
serve as a resource to educate people on both treating and preventing illnesses. 
● Weston County had $644,714 in unclaimed property out of Wyoming’s nearly $100 million it would like to return to its rightful owners. The largest single property in the county totaled $26,053 out of the 8,544 properties. According to State Treasurer Curt Meier, the amount paid out last year represents 9% more being paid out than the previous year. Issued by the state were 172 checks with a value of over $10,000, and the largest was $159,092. The largest claim in Weston County totaled $9,492. Additionally, the largest unclaimed properties still held by the state range from $13,353 in Johnson County and $1,181,812 in Sweetwater County. 
● After serving in the U.S. Air Force for nearly 27 years, Col. Chris Roness celebrated his retirement from military life in his hometown of Newcastle on July 23 at the VFW hall. He largely credits his upbringing in Newcastle to the success he has had in the Air Force, so he wanted to bring it “full circle” and give Newcastle the opportunity to witness an official military ceremony. Roness plans on moving to Spearfish, South Dakota, to operate his new business helping veterans overcome struggles and live life to the fullest. He said he is looking forward to spending more time with family as well. 
● Former Police Chief Sam Keller was serving on the FOCUS board of directors at the time of his arrest for domestic assault against his girlfriend, according to information provided by the Wyoming Office of the Attorney General, Division of Victim Services. Funds from FOCUS were used to offset Keller’s rental costs in the home he shared with his girlfriend, but it was not confirmed if he received that assistance. Keller joined the board in September 2020 as a member at large and was listed as the treasurer for fiscal year 2022. Keller resigned the day following his arrest, but FOCUS board President Denice Pisciotti said he was serving only as a member at large at that time and did not answer why the information filed regarding Keller’s title with the Division of Victim’s Services was inaccurate. Additionally, FOCUS was awarded $97,391 for fiscal year 2023, suffering a nearly $35,000 budget cut from the previous year and a total of $60,000 since 2020. The total budget for the year amounted to $108,442. Director Stacie Hoxie said the agency was struggling to address victim needs, adding that services are free and 100% confidential. There are no requirements to receive aid or services and no limit on the amount of help a person can receive.
● Unsafe amounts of total coliform were discovered in a round of water testing performed on June 11 and June 14 in Gray Addition in the city of Newcastle. Public Works supervisor Greg Stumpff said total coliform is an “indicator bacteria” because it usually indicates the potential presence of other disease-inflicting bacteria. However, after flushing and resampling, Stumpff reported that the issue was resolved on July 22 and the water was free of both total coliform and E Coli coliform. 
● The rainy spring was followed by fire season when the Fish wildfire 7 miles south of Sundance crept close to Weston County borders the night of Aug. 1. The fire was reported at 11:30 a.m. on July 31 and burned 6,800 acres by the time it was 98% contained on Aug. 9. The fire was kept from entering the county by 3.5 miles, but Weston County Fire Warden Daniel Tysdal and his crew extinguished two smaller fires in the county earlier that day (on Aug. 1) — one in Ferguson Canyon and the other south of Newcastle by the LAK ranch. The Newcastle High School FFA reported that $2,260 in donations was raised to purchase water and energy drinks for the personnel fighting the fire. The Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center also collected donations, reporting a Suburban and flatbed trailer load of donations. 
● First Northern Bank of Wyoming, the oldest bank in the state, bought First State Bank, according to an Aug.  2 press release. First State Bank has been a local independent bank in Newcastle since 1924, owned by Northeast Wyoming Bank Corp. since 1964, but it was decided to transfer ownership due to retirement and other factors. First Northern began in 1885 and is owned by First National Buffalo Bankshares Inc. President and CEO Tom Holt said the board of directors is excited and privileged to continue the “legacy partnership” between First State Bank and Newcastle. 
● City engineer Mike Moore resigned on Aug. 15, and the Newcastle City Council voted to not fill the position in favor of creating and hiring a grant writer for the city. The city works department was removed after an executive session on Aug. 1, putting the oversight of the city works department under supervisor Greg Stumpff. Councilman Don Steveson said hiring a grant writer to apply for the grants Moore would have applied for, seemed more beneficial to the city than bringing in another engineer. Outside engineers will have to be hired for projects, but if it proves to be less cost efficient, the option to restore the city engineer position was left open.
● The votes for the 2022 primary election for Weston County totaled 2,757 ballots. The following incumbents secured their seats as Republican nominees for the general election, running unopposed as no Democrats filed for any local races: Bryan Colvard for Weston County sheriff, Becky Hadlock for county clerk, Tina Cote for clerk of the district court, Kara Lenardson for county assessor, Michael Stulken for county attorney and Susan Overman for county treasurer. Additionally, Scott Beachler secured the vote for Weston County coroner. Chip Neiman for House District 1 won the unopposed vote, and Allen Slagle for House District 2 ousted incumbent JD Williams by 11 votes. Cheri Steinmetz for Senate District 3 received more votes than Marty Ertman, although Ertman won the Weston County race. Incumbent Ogden Driskill for Senate District 1 barely squeezed out a win in the close race against Roger Connett and Bill Fortner. 
● 2022 Newcastle High School graduate Jacob Dunseth took a passion developed during the start of the COVID pandemic and decided to pursue a career from it. Due to the free time COVID regulations started, Dunseth learned to cut his own hair while living in Oregon and decided to open up a barber shop behind his house after moving to Newcastle. He hopes to further his career at Rapid City Barber College to obtain his official barber’s license and build from there. 
● Parents raised concerns with the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees after a Newcastle High School teacher sent a “pronoun survey” to students. Superintendent Brad LaCroix sent a memo dated Sept. 2 stating that moving forward, all staff members are required to address students by their given names on PowerSchool unless otherwise directed by the student or parents. Parent Gillian Sears said there is “no education value to a political agenda” because “it won’t help students understand the curriculum better.” Another concerned parent Paul Bau asked that the school have a more open line of communication with parents and guardians in similar situations.
● Momentary power outages two days in a row on Aug. 30-31 occurred in and around areas of Newcastle, causing havoc across the city with a cloud of smoke from the Wyoming Refining Co. This resulted in the brief shelter in place at the Newcastle high and middle schools and the closure of roads around the refinery. The outage was originally reported as a power surge, but Marsha Nichols, community affairs and public relations manager for Black Hills Energy, said it was a momentary power outage resulting from a failed mechanical device in the power line serving the Newcastle area. 
● A flare shooting a heavy plume of black smoke at the Wyoming Refinery Co. on Sept. 10 scared several people, but according to company President Mike Farnsworth, the secondary flare was triggered by overpressure in an upset unit and presented no safety concerns. Mike Baldwin, the company’s health, safety, security and environment manager, said that it is part of a safety system that collects hydrocarbons from a process unit, and there was no direct link between the flares and the “power blips” a few weeks earlier.
● Daren Downs took over ownership of the Dogie Theatre on July 1 from Geju Theaters and the late Gerald Bullard. Downs worked at the theater in high school and said he always loved the “big screen experience.” He was excited to take on this new role and enjoys engaging with the community behind the popcorn and pop stand on the weekends. Weston County School District No. 1 personnel indicated in a survey that they are grateful for the affordable prices and friendly staff of the local theater.
● Newcastle was greeted by the 18 slow-moving, colorful array of tractors on Sept. 8 for the Black Hills South Dakota Tractor Run. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had been four years since the last tractor run and about 14 years since the tractors trekked to Newcastle. The run started on Sept. 7 in Custer with people from all over the Midwest and continued to Hill City, Keystone and Mt. Rushmore. The second day, the drivers made their way to Newcastle and stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch before returning to Custer. At 15 miles per hour, it took a full day, but several drivers hinted at wanting to spend more time in Newcastle the next time they came through. 
● Newcastle High School science instructor Zach Beam was named the 2023 Wyoming Teacher of the Year on Sept. 22 for his dedication to making an exciting and educational learning environment for his students “with innovation and explanation,” according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Shroeder. Beam has implemented the STEM program, which combines academic concepts with real-life applications, to his students to bring fun into learning. A short ceremony was held in the Crouch Auditorium to present Beam with a plaque, followed by refreshments in the commons area. 
● Three Weston County commissioners expressed concerns about Deputy Weston County Attorney Jeani Stone’s work on both the county employee handbook and a dispatch contract or resolution at the Sept. 20 board meeting. The four-month $20,180 agreement listed various issues Stone was to address during that time, including the employee handbook, personnel issues, board training, contract review and other duties. However, expecting the handbook and city contract in June, Commissioners Nathan Todd, Don Taylor and Ed Wagoner agreed that an update was needed. Stone responded at the Oct. 4 meeting that she was “trying to fix years of dysfunction” before breaking for health issues. 
● After learning of the Board of Weston County Commissioners’ use of group text messaging as a form of communication, lawyer Bruce Moats, representing the News Letter Journal and some concerned citizens in a case filed against the Board of Weston County Commissioners, asked to depose Commissioner Don Taylor. Taylor revealed the texts to Kari Drost during an exchange on Sept. 11, and Moats said that the messages violate the Public Meetings Act by conducting “business hidden from the public.”
● During the ongoing dispatch debate between Weston County and the city of Newcastle, the county asked Newcastle to continue providing dispatch services at the “status quo” until both entities complete their dispatch projects. City Attorney Dublin Hughes asked the commissioners in September, on behalf of the city, to terminate the dispatch contract for the year 2020-21, which would discontinue the county’s month-to-month payment basis. 
● After “partially meeting expectations” by the Wyoming Department of Education on the Wyoming Test of Proficiency and Progress (WY-TOPP), both Newcastle Elementary School and Newcastle High School were finding ways to improve scores and were preparing improvement plans to submit to the state. A few grades showed deficiencies in math and reading. Additionally, the resignation of Alexandria Barrett-Stith on Sept. 11 created a math teacher shortage at Newcastle High School, leaving the school with one certified math teacher. NHS partnered with Carnegie Learning to provide virtual classroom instruction until a full-time teacher could be hired.  
● Jim Hurley and Mike Zkiab, who recently moved to Newcastle, began offering a free computer clinic at the Weston County Senior Center every Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. Both retired military veterans, the two had worked on military computer systems and said they have enjoyed expanding their knowledge and expertise ever since. Anyone having issues with a slow computer, forgotten password or needing a system update, see Hurley and Zkiab, who are willing to help. 
● Donna’s Main Street Diner was sold on Sept.  1 to Becca and Tom Curley, who added barbecue to the menu, making it known as “Curley’s Que Diner.” They also extended the hours to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Formerly from Washington, the Curleys lived on a hobby farm and enjoyed hosting backyard barbecues from their commercial kitchen. When they moved to Newcastle in February in search of a new adventure, they wanted to get plugged into the community. They originally bought a food truck to serve their barbecue, and now that they own the restaurant, they are full-time members of the Main Street business community. 
● Voters who showed up to the polls on Nov. 8 elected two incumbents and two new trustees to the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees. Newcomer Sean Crabtree took the most votes of the 11 candidates with 1,121, followed by incumbent Dana Gordon with 1,009 and newcomer Joe Prell with 941 votes. Jason Jenkins received two votes more than Marcia Lambert to secure the final seat. Despite the active write-in campaigns in the other general election races, the winners of the primary election still came out on top.
● Newcastle Area Chamber of Commerce director Barbie Turner and board President Sandy Martin resigned on Nov. 8 after an exchange with city leaders during a presentation to the Newcastle City Council the night before. Chamber Vice President Garrett Borton said in a letter to chamber membership that the resignations put the chamber in a sticky situation moving forward and he was seeking help to keep the entity functioning. 
● After 58 years of serving the community, ownership of First State Bank of Newcastle transitioned to First Northern Bank of Wyoming of Buffalo, the oldest bank in Wyoming. Along with new ownership, the transition, which will be completed in March 2023, Mike Morrison will be the new bank president upon the retirement of former president Darwin Rabenberg. Morrison hopes to offer more services, including overdraft protection, business remote deposit capture, and trust and investment services.
● Members of the public presented their concerns regarding a new ordinance approved by the Newcastle City Council on Sept. 19 to regulate the parking and placement of recreational vehicles and trailers on public property within city limits during the winter months. However, after reviewing the ordinance, which amended Section 16-35.1 of the Newcastle, Wyoming, municipal code, the council stood by its decision to enforce it. The reasoning behind the ordinance is to allow for easier snow removal. 
● Local author Melissa Stroh rapid-released the first four books of her “Tale of the Clans” series, a project that has been 20 years in the making. Stroh was finally able to realize her dream of becoming a published author, a goal she’s had since she was a teenager. The historical fiction novels set in 10th-century Ireland were created to point their readers back to God through deeply developed characters designed to deal with normal life problems, situations and feelings, often barely clinging to the edge of hope and faith, she said.
● Ashley Tupper, an advanced practice registered nurse, expanded her private medical practice, Hometown Medical Clinic, by opening a 6,000-square-foot facility on Newcastle’s Main Street in the former Newcastle Hardware building. The additional space and updated facility allowed Hometown Medical to expand lab services, bring in specialists and rent space to Rehab Solutions. In addition to running an independently owned health care practice, Tupper is able to fulfill her dream of raising her family in a small town and is grateful for the support of the Newcastle community. 
● Weston County is well represented in 2023 Wyoming Legislature leadership with the election of  Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, as Senate president and Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, as majority floor leader for the 67th Wyoming Legislature by the Republican Caucus on Nov. 19. They will assume their positions at the start of the legislative session on Jan. 10. Neiman secured his position by one vote over veteran Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.
● Even during a statewide decrease, K-12 enrollment in Weston County School District No. 7 increased by 54% as a result of the K-8 virtual program provided by the school to students across the state. The student body population increased from 471 to 725 from the 2021-22 to 2022-23 school year, according to a Nov. 29 press release from the Wyoming Department of Education. 
● After a seven-month battle over backyard chickens, the Newcastle City Council officially adopted an ordinance permitting the practice after its third reading on Dec. 5, 2022. The ordinance allows interested persons to submit a $20 application for six hens to a lot. The ordinance also addresses concerns regarding coop upkeep and violation fees. Councilman Ty Owens said he felt like he finally fulfilled a campaign promise and can now “move on to talk about something else.”
● Paul Bau was selected to fill a vacancy on the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees on Dec. 7 after long-time trustee Ronnie Mills resigned on Nov. 9. Trustee John Riesland suggested that the board appoint Marcia Lambert because she had the next highest number of votes on the general election ticket, but after extensive discussion, the board instead chose to collect letters of interest from individuals who wanted to fill the seat. 
● The Newcastle City Council voted to remove former City Clerk-Treasurer Greg James from the Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 5 after they had voted to appoint him to the open seat at the Nov. 21 meeting. Council Members Ty Owens, Daren Downs, and Ann McColley stated that they were blind-sided by James’ quick appointment and were not aware of the open seat. It was decided to advertise the position for two weeks before filling it. 
● Through the collaboration of Weston County Sheriff Bryan Colvard, community service officer Becky Swentesky and the Newcastle Middle School, the Sheriff and Chief’s Club Award was created to recognize local students for good citizenship based on integrity, respect and personal fortitude. Every quarter, a boy and girl from each of the three grades are selected to receive the award after nominations are sent by teachers and coaches. 
● After 20 years without a full-time priest, Christ Episcopal Church of Newcastle finally has a new rector, the Rev. Kenli Barling, living in Newcastle. Ordained as a priest in 2020, Barling has enjoyed learning about God since she was a little girl and hopes to do what she can to help people along the walk of their spiritual journeys. Barling said the community has been very welcoming and she is excited to meet new faces as she settles in.

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