Year In Review 2018

By: 
NLJ Staff

Compiled by Hannah Gross and KateLynn Slaamot

 

January —

Amanda Bench and Ginger Fields were named the 2018 Person of the Year for their self-funded program Sweet Country Angels, which provides homes for cats at risk of euthanasia. Bench and Fields have been rescuing local cats for about six years, spending at least $15,000 and rescuing an estimated 800-900 cats. Bench and Fields re-home the various stray cats they find and the unclaimed cats picked up by the city. They fund the program from their own pockets, along with donations from people in the community. Both women said they were happy to be chosen the 2018 Person of the Year.

The Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation and the Weston County Sheriff’s Office arrested Caroline Scoutt in her home on Dec. 13. Scoutt was charged with two counts of obtaining property under false pretenses with the intention of defrauding the person and one count of practicing professional counseling, clinical social work, marriage and family therapy or addictions therapy without acquiring the proper licenses or training. All three counts were felonies.

The State Loan and Investment Board approved funding for the railcar repair and cleaning facility at Upton Logistics Park. Tiger Transfer LLC, which owns the park, operates a BNSF-designated premier transload facility, specializing in efficient rail service. The proposed railcar repair operation brings hopes of providing an added boost to the local economy because it will bring with it a number of jobs over the next couple years. The SLIB board approved the $3 million grant and $3 million loan for the construction of the building and fixed equipment. 

Several awards were given to the representatives of Weston County School District No. 1 at the annual Wyoming School Boards Association Annual Conference in November. Newcastle High School Principal Tracy Ragland was named Wyoming Principal of the Year, and the board of trustees earned the Standard of Excellence Award and Certification Recognition. The Standard of Excellence Award was accepted by Chairwoman Tina Chick on behalf of the board, and Ron Mills moved from Level 1 to Level 2 in the WSBA’s top leadership recognition. Superintendent Brad LaCroix recognized the board’s commitment to making things better for both students and teachers. 

 

February —

In an effort to simplify processes for reading CT scans and X-rays, Weston County Health Services decided to make some changes. One of the picture-archiving or communication systems was to be discarded. WCSD had been using a Gillette radiology company, which used the NOVAPACS system. The hospital switched to Dakota Radiology in Rapid City and had to use the PACS system required by Regional Health. Using both systems meant that multiple data entry was necessary, which was time consuming. WCHS decided to remove the NOVAPACS system of radiology storage and the transmission process. By discarding the extra software, the hospital estimated a savings of roughly $1,729 per month. 

The Outdoor Dream Foundation’s mission is to fulfill the hunting dreams for children who are terminally ill. Multiple local residents have helped with this mission, including Joe Sandrini, wildlife biologist with Wyoming Game and Fish, who has aided the organization for five years. Sandrini helps coordinate the hunts on local ranches and with guides. Gold Bar Ranch owner Jim Perino is one of the kind-hearted people offering the use of their land for this cause. Generally, the children sponsored by this program and their families come to the area around the second week of November. The program takes care of the travel expenses.  

Tony and Denise Pisciotti became certified through the EF High School Exchange Year program when, intent on filling an empty bedroom in their home, they decided to host an exchange student. Jae Hyun Lee, from South Korea, is going to Newcastle High School as a sophomore and is enrolled in eight classes. He participated in swimming and was considering soccer, and he made numerous friends.

When Jason Dean’s father passed away a year ago, he left his son numerous old cars. Dean didn’t want to lose any of them, and he wanted to transport them himself so that they didn’t get damaged. So, he purchased his own tow truck and started helping people with it. He offered his services for free, but people also usually gave him some money, realizing the services were an expense for Dean. He even helped an Amazon delivery person who broke down by transporting her boxes to the post office. 

On Feb. 5, the Weston County commissioners received a letter stating that the Wyoming Supreme Court was not going to hire a full-time magistrate to replace Judge Stanley Sheehan, who had retired in January. The commissioners had met in a conference call with Sixth Circuit Court Judge Mathew Castano and Chief Justice Jim Burke on Dec. 19, 2017, to discuss the matter before receiving the letter. Burke had said he felt that hiring a full-time magistrate would not be an efficient use of resources, but the commissioners supported having a full-time magistrate. The February letter also stated an ongoing consideration of the situation. 

 

March —

At 9:16 a.m. on Feb. 22, Weston County School District No. 1 Superintendent Brad LaCroix put Newcastle schools in a lockout when local law enforcement told school officials that a potential threat existed after investigating an incident (suspected arson of a vehicle) near one of the schools. Entrances were locked to the outside, and access to the schools was controlled. In the meantime, teachers and students continued with normal daily activities. Even though there was no known immediate danger, the lockout was put in place as a precautionary measure. At 1:22 p.m. the same day, the lockout was removed, although law enforcement continued monitoring the schools. School trustee Ron Mills and LaCroix both said that if anything ever seems suspicious, they don’t want students to hesitate saying so. 

On March 14, State Treasurer Mark Gordon announced that he planned to run for governor of Wyoming. Gordon traveled and campaigned throughout Wyoming, including a visit to Newcastle at Pizza Barn. Gordon said that his love for Wyoming and small communities has been a part of his raising up. He said he stepped up to run for governor because of his six years of experience working with the state. 

Concerns were raised about the Weston County Fair Board’s operation because of reports alleging that the board held an illegal meeting and misused an executive session. A suggestion to dissolve the board was made by resident Garrett Borton at the Weston County commissioners’ meeting March 20. Borton said the fair board had “control without accountability,” which he said resulted in “misdealings” between the board and the managers. According to Borton, the board failed to follow proper procedures and protocol. Borton proposed a structure that starts with the county commissioners, then follows with the advisory team (fair board) and manager at the same level, as opposed to the current structure that starts with county commissioners, followed by the fair board and then the manager. Borton said his proposal would be more appropriate and efficient. The commissioners didn’t officially take any action.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., created a special exhibit called “Americans and the Holocaust,” featuring thousands of articles from around the country for the exhibit, including eight articles printed in the News Letter Journal in 1938 and one article from 1945. The purpose of the exhibit is to show people the information available to Americans in the 1930s about the Holocaust and Europe, dismissing the idea that Americans were ignorant of what was happening during that time. The exhibit coincided with the 25th anniversary of the museum’s opening.

 

April —

At their meeting on April 17, the Weston County commissioners decided to give a $10,000 raise to six elected officials, bringing their yearly salaries to $60,000. These officials would be the treasurer, clerk, assessor, district court clerk, sheriff and county attorney, and a 3-1 vote marked the decision. The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a 20 percent raise for the coroner, and on a 3-1 vote, they approved a 20 percent raise for the commissioners. The budget for the raises and benefits would be around $105,800. The raises will take effect in the new year.

Due to increased incidents of school shootings around the country, Weston County School District No. 1 decided to implement additional security measures in the schools before the 2019-20 school year. Plans for stricter controlled access to the schools include possibly installing buzz-in systems at the middle school and high school. Training for students, parents and staff about topics such as lockdown procedures are planned, and the school is considering school resource officers. The school district plans to work with law enforcement and the Weston County Department of Homeland Security on the development of security plans. 

John and Jan Ellis celebrated the 30-year anniversary of their store. Weston County True Value Home Center opened in 1988 when John and Jan had two children at home. Jan kept teaching choir and still is. They offer home improvement supplies, guns, ammunition and propane through Wesco Gas. John and Jan noted that their low prices promote local shopping.

On April 3, Harriet Hageman, a Republican candidate for Wyoming governor, hosted an event at the Pizza Barn to meet with individuals and share some of her thoughts. She expressed the sentiment that most of the power should reside with the state and not the federal government. She pointed out that the federal government doesn’t understand how certain decisions affect the states’ industries. Bringing control back to Wyoming was one of her key points. 

The lease on the U.S. Forest Service office was to expire in November, causing uncertainty about whether the federal agency would continue in Weston County. At a county commissioners’ meeting on April 3, the district ranger for Hell Canyon Ranger District in South Dakota, Tracy Anderson, announced that the Forest Service had approval for the lease on the building at 1225 Washington Blvd. as a short-term location. Once the General Services Administration fully approved the lease, the Forest Service would officially start working with the landlord. The Forest Service also started working on long-term solutions for the agency’s needs. 

 

May —

The city of Newcastle’s budget for fiscal year 2019 showed that revenues exceeded expenses for the first time in several years, but sacrifices had to be made in order for that to happen. Council members worked through the budget on April 23 during a workshop and cut expenses in each department. After the cuts, the city’s general fund expenses for the 2019 fiscal year totaled $3,366,265, but the revenue projected for the 2019 fiscal year totaled $3,539,750. The city estimated that revenue would exceed expenses by $173,485. Before the budget was modified, expenses were expected to exceed revenues by $245,615.

Travis Allen, 37; Thomas O’Connor, 24; Stephen Callision, 29; and Samantha Thompson, 25, were arrested on May 1, at about 5 p.m., on charges associated with a potential clandestine laboratory operation. Suspected clandestine methamphetamine laboratory components were discovered by Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents who conducted a cursory examination. The agents contacted the Campbell County Fire Department’s Regional Response Team, who, along with the agents, processed the lab. This resulted in the discovery of suspected precursor chemicals, reagents, solvents and glassware. The four individuals were charged with three different felonies.

Tyler Lindholm, of Sundance, who has represented House Dist. 1 in the Wyoming Legislature for nearly four years, announced his plan to run for re-election to another two-year term. Lindholm said that during his time he made his votes public, sponsored eight different interns and led efforts to diversify and deregulate several economies in the state. Lindholm has served on the House Agriculture State and Public Lands, Water Resources Committee, and the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. He also held a spot on the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee and House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee.

When the 2018 Confirmation ceremony was held at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, some attendees received tickets for parking in front of homes across the street from the church because of a city ordinance stating that a person can’t park in front of someone’s home without receiving permission from the owner. Some of the tickets were given to people from out of town, including a priest from Gillette. The Rev. Tim Martinson, pastor of Corpus Christi, voiced his concern to the City Council, citing a lack of clarity, such as no signs posted showing the ordinance’s rules nor showing how much time can pass before a ticket is given. On the other hand, City Attorney Jim Peck thought that a sign would communicate the message that parking isn’t allowed at all, even though the ordinance states only parking without permission is unauthorized. Peck suggested that homeowners first contact the church in a situation like this and ask for people to move their cars, and that the City Council should consider reminding people to get permission to park in front of someone’s home.

The News Letter Journal presented the re-enactment of the hanging of Diamond L. “Slim” Clifton on May 28 as a part of the “Newcastle Legacy Series.” People in the community re-created the local historical event of 115 years ago, with Garrett Borton playing the main character. The audience had the chance to revisit a piece of local history as it unfolded before their eyes. Accused murderer Slim was arrested for the murder of John and Louella Church and held in the local jail. The audience watched as Slim was taken out of the jail by some cowboys and led to where his eventual “death” would occur, while strongly declaring his innocence. After Slim was pushed off a makeshift bridge, his “head” popped up, indicating his death. This hanging served as the debut for the Newcastle Legacy Series, with more potential historical reenactments to follow.

 

June —

An attorney from Gillette, Alex Berger, filed to run for Weston County attorney. County Clerk Jill Sellers denied his application, believing that Berger should not run in a county he doesn’t reside in. Berger argued that Wyoming statutes do not state residency requirements, and he filed for a writ of mandamus with Gidget Macke, the clerk of the Sixth District Court, on June 4. On June 21, District Judge John G. Fenn ruled in Berger’s favor. Fenn ordered that Berger’s name be added to the primary ballot for county attorney. 

William Curley resigned as chairman of the Weston County Republican Party. This was largely due to limited time to devote to the office and favoritism for a specific candidate, which contradicts the call for the party chairman to remain neutral before the primary election. Barry Peterson, who was serving as vice chairman, stepped into the position vacated by Curley. Peterson will serve as chairman until the officer elections in March 2019. A new vice chairman was elected at a Weston County Central Committee meeting on June 23, because of the vacant spot.

On June 6, officers Peg Miles and Paul Keller responded to a report from a person in the Sheridan Street neighborhood that neighbors were shooting a gun and yelling. Francis Scott Weekes, 67, and Lois Virginia Rice, 64, were arrested. Weekes was charged with breach of peace and interference with a peace officer, as well as aggravated assault and battery: threaten with a drawn deadly weapon. Rice was charged with interference with a peace officer and breach of peace. Both offenders were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. 

Because she couldn’t contribute to Hoops for Hearts when her classmates did during the campaign organized by physical education teacher Coleton Willard, 10-year-old Callie Christensen ran a lemonade stand in June to give most of the proceeds to the charity. She wanted to run the stand on Mondays and Fridays throughout June, perhaps longer. Christensen wanted to help other people, especially ill children, and help them get their medical bills paid for. 

Newcastle’s second fishing pond opened on the east side of town at the Fountain Inn. The other one was created a few years earlier on the west side of town at the golf course, due largely to contributions from Wyoming Refining Co. The third annual fishing derby for children ages 7-12 was hosted by Newcastle Lodge No. 13 on June 9. Prizes for the biggest fish caught and the most fish caught were awarded. Most of the prizes were related to fishing, and donations were made primarily by Wyoming Refining.

 

July —

Newcastle’s celebration was big this year because it included a parade followed by the News Letter Journal’s Newcastle Legacy Series re-enactment of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech in downtown Newcastle, and the “4th at the 4-Way” concert hosted by Pinnacle Bank and performed by country music star RaeLynn.

The Weston County Fair Board changed the Weston County Fairgrounds manager position from part time to full time, which opened the door for Kara Fladstol Brown to become manager. Brown took over on July 9, three weeks before the annual county fair. Brown said the position was different from what she was used to and that she was inexperienced but quickly learning. Despite being nervous about running the fair, Brown was still excited for what the 2018 fair was going to bring. She said that the fairground facilities are nice and that she hopes to use them more than they have been in the past.

The Weston County Commissioners unanimously approved the allocation of funds for a special attorney to represent County Clerk Jill Sellers in the controversy over Gillette attorney Alex Berger’s candidacy for the office of Weston County attorney. A special attorney was needed because the then-current Weston County Attorney William Curley would have a conflict of interest because Berger was his opponent in the primary. 

Caroline Scoutt, 66, who was arrested on Dec. 13, 2017, and charged with obtaining property from another person by false pretense, faced up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not more than $10,000 or both, if convicted. However, Weston County Attorney William Curley dismissed the charges and filed a notice of nolle prosequi, which stated Scoutt’s case would no longer be prosecuted, in the Sixth Judicial District Court on July 20. Scoutt’s arraignment had been continued several times before it was scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 24. 

J.R. Graham, 13, spent his summer at the children’s hospital in Denver as he battled cancer. Although it was hard on the family, they did enjoy watching a Colorado Rockies game and a lacrosse game. In addition to the baseball game, Graham met the Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, no. 28. The Graham family said they met several “neat” people during their stay, including the hospital staff, of whom they spoke highly. They also said they’ve received a lot of support from and felt the love of Newcastle and Weston County.

Several Weston County graduates were recognized. Mary Boylan received her associate degree in nursing on May 11, from Gillette College. Four students from Weston County were put on the 2018 spring semester President’s Honor Roll at the University of Wyoming for achieving a 4.0 grade-point average for the semester. They also had to be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours. The students who attained this honor were Calbi Ausmann, Abigail Gettinger and Scottlyn Wiggins from Newcastle, along with Mikala Crain from Upton. Five students from Weston County were listed on the Provost’s Honor Roll at UW for achieving a 3.5 GPA. The students had to be taking at least six credit hours but less than 12. These students were Suzanne Ackerman, Jodi Barker, Debra Hoover and Megan Leiss from Newcastle and Erin Crawford from Upton.

 

August —

Weston County expenditures for fiscal year 2019 were projected at $16,921,450.12 at a meeting on July 17, when the commissioners approved the new fiscal 2019 budget. Dollars available were $9,644,038.45, estimated revenue was $5,584,098.20 and revenue from the mill levy was requested at $1,713,313.47. Some of the budgeted items were $505,745.66 for the sheriff’s office, $554,344 for the law enforcement complex, $1,267,750 for road and bridge, $977,872.25 for the county road fund and $4,234,879.87 for other county accounts. These calculated expenses, in addition to other requirements and expenses, generate the total county budget requirements.

After the Weston County Fair’s Youth Livestock Sale on Aug. 3, an auction was held to raise money for 13-year-old J.R. Graham, who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Newcastle High School FFA donated a hog to be sold. It was sold in a “roll-over” auction in which bidders “buy” the animal and opt to sell it again. The hog went through almost 20 bidders and brought in around $2,000. Other animals were also donated to be sold. The auction raised more than $19,000 to benefit the Graham family. At the time, J.R.’s treatment totaled $710,551.88, with the family’s obligation being $23,959.31.

In the primary election, Alex Berger defeated William Curley 1,716-435, or 80% of the votes, for the Republican nomination for county attorney. Curley had been criticized for not prosecuting crime enough, and Berger ran as the only qualified alternative. Bryan Colvard was elected Weston County sheriff with 1,669 votes, while his opponent, Nicholas Wieburg, received 373. Three commissioner spots were open on the November ballot and Nathan Todd, with 1,375 votes; Marty Ertman, with 1,284 votes; and Tony Barton, with 1,160 votes were the top three vote-getters and won the right to have their names on the general election ballot. Becky Hadlock won the primary over incumbent Jill Sellers for county clerk by 134 votes. 

At the Aug. 16 meeting of the Weston County Health Services Board of Trustees, members allocated $252,000 for the lease of equipment to support the mammography program because Weston County has a high breast cancer rate. Early detection screenings four days a week, starting after the new year, and the benefit of evening appointments were provisions in the plan. Mammograms would also be offered one Saturday per month. WCHS would possibly need to hire more workers to support the program. 

During an Aug. 23 meeting, members of the Newcastle City Council discussed a proposed dissolution of the Newcastle Police Department with commissioners and the Weston County sheriff. Council members said they did not intend to follow through on the proposal, saying that replacing city officers with county deputies would not be beneficial. Other reasons expressed for keeping the department included the prospect of longer response times and the city’s loss of influence in policing matters. The sheriff’s office also does not have authority to enforce city ordinances. Members of the community attending the meeting expressed support for the police department. 

 

September —

A standoff occurred on Sept. 4 between Robert Blackbird and the Weston County Sheriff’s Office, Newcastle Police Department, Wyoming Highway Patrol and Campbell County SWAT and bomb squad. However, no shots were fired. The incident started when the sheriff’s office received a welfare check from an individual stating that Blackbird was acting suicidal. The deputy and the police department went to check it out, and a hostage negotiator with SWAT came later. They were staged for 10-15 minutes before Blackbird surrendered without incident. Law enforcement never fired a shot, and it is believed that Blackbird did not fire a shot at the officers. He was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and interference with a police officer.

TAC*ONE Consulting of Denver, Colorado, came to the Newcastle schools to train students and teachers about what to do and how to survive if there were ever a shooter at the school. Chief instructor of TAC*ONE, Joe Deedon, talked to the students about not being a victim and taught them how to be proactive. He explained that one can still be proactive without engaging the shooter. People can help by assisting with the planning, building barricades and acting as encouragers. Deedon also told the students that they had three options in an attack, and those were to fight, run and hide. He said the best option was to escape and avoid detection. Students learned hands-on how to gang-tackle and neutralize a gunman. Deedon said he was excited that a school chose to be proactive by teaching its students life skills. 

Greg Stumpff, who has worked with the city of Newcastle for 21 years and had temporarily filled the position of public works supervisor when Doug Sankey retired, officially accepted the position. Because of Stumpff’s experience, City Engineer Mike Moore said, he was a great fit for the position. Stumpff said he had seen many changes over the years and took on several different duties, including carpentry work and working on water systems and sewer lines. Because Newcastle is a small town, Stumpff said, the necessity of having a vast array of knowledge is significant, and Moore said Stumpff’s knowledge makes him perfect for the job. Another key factor was Stumpff’s ability to work with city residents and employees, Moore said. 

Weston County Health Services welcomed a new doctor from Nebraska. Dr. Regg Hagge was born and raised in Nebraska and went to medical school in Nebraska. Hagge has practiced medicine for 20 years in both Nebraska and South Dakota. CEO Maureen Cadwell told Hagge about an opening for a full-time emergency room doctor in Newcastle. Because Hagge and his wife and four daughters had always wanted to live in Wyoming, he applied and found the change he wanted, he said. Hagge noted that the quality of life in Newcastle is a better fit for his family, and he plans on staying on as the emergency room physician. 

A bill was introduced by Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, that will make residency a requirement for all county elected officials. The bill was a response to the candidacy of Gillette attorney Alex Berger for Weston County attorney. Lindholm’s original intention was to make the bill effective immediately, but that changed after the election showed that Weston County wanted Berger. Berger now has four years to decide if he will move to Weston County or not, according to Lindholm. The bill will require at least one year’s residency in the county and will affect all county offices, not just county attorney. On Sept. 19, the committee advanced Lindholm’s bill, and it will be taken into consideration by the legislature in 2019.

 

October —

Tyler Austin Lane, 22, passed away on Sept. 27. He was an inmate at the Wyoming Youthful Offender Program, which operates on the grounds of the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp, and he had been sentenced in July to 14-20 years for aggravated homicide by vehicle. He was pronounced dead at Weston County Health Services, and the Newcastle Police Department initially investigated his death before handing the investigation over to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation. 

Shelby Hughes and Kristina Mireles, Newcastle High School graduates, and Dani Esquivel, Upton High School graduate, received their law degrees and passed the bar exam at the University of Wyoming. Hughes wanted to look for job opportunities and find an associate attorney position, while Mireles was a staff attorney for the Civil Legal Services Clinic in Laramie doing pro bono civil work. Esquivel had received her Master of Business Administration degree, so
she wanted to make business her focus, with corporate social responsibility as a possibility. International law and human rights law were also possibilities that Esquivel was considering. 

An unemployment report for June, July and August from the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services showed an increase in unemployment in Weston, Crook, Niobrara and Platte counties from May to June 2018. Statewide, June’s unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, 0.5 percent more than May’s 3.6 percent. Weston County showed an increase from 3.1 percent in May to 3.8 percent in June, the number of unemployed persons went from 115 to 140 and the labor force increased from 3,687 in May to 3,712 in June. Weston, Crook and Niobrara counties boasted a decrease in the unemployment rate in July and August. 

Emily Hartinger opened Skull Creek Studio in March, and the business took off. She decided to move across the street to a larger venue, the building previously occupied by Newcastle Hardware, with the grand opening in that location was set for Nov. 3. Hartinger offered her studio as a place where other artists could set up as vendors to sell their products, and she also wanted to diversify the shopping options in Newcastle. With the move, Hartinger estimated an increase in vendors from 25 or 30 to 40. 

At an Oct. 16 meeting, the Weston County commissioners approved a road use and fire agreement, which had been in the works since September, with ONEOK Inc. ONEOK planned to construct a 900-mile pipeline from Montana to Kansas, and part of it would go through Weston County. Construction was predicted to start in 2018, with completion by the end of 2019. The agreement was for ONEOK to provide funds to aid in the repair and maintenance of county roads used during the construction of the pipeline. Under the agreement, ONEOK would give Weston County $386,650 for gravel and magnesium chloride, $14,000 to finish installing two cattle guards and $177,350 to complete a dust mitigation project on Morrissey Road. Once the pipeline is finished, the county or its contractors will rebuild affected county roads at the expense of ONEOK. 

 

November —

On Nov. 6, Weston County voters cast their general election ballots for candidates for city offices and school boards in Upton and Newcastle. Elected to the Newcastle City Council were Ann McColley, Pam Gualtieri, Don Steveson, Thomas Voss, Daren Downs and Karl Lacey. Elected to the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees were Dana Gordon, Dean Johnson, Marcia Lambert and Jason Jenkins. Mark Mitchell, Ty Miller and Woodrow Gaughenbaugh won seats on the Weston County School District No. 7 board of trustees. Travis Beck won election as mayor of Upton; Dennis Stirmel and Joe Watt secured seats on the Town Council. The majority of Weston County voters cast ballots for the Republican candidates for all five statewide races and the U.S. Senate and House.

The 1 percent optional sales tax, which provides funding for Weston County, Newcastle and organizations with support services for residents, passed by a small margin in the Nov. 6 general election, with only 330 more votes supporting the tax than not. City Clerk-Treasurer Greg James said that without the tax, the city couldn’t provide funds to the service organizations. 

Dan Blakeman officially resigned on Nov. 6 as county administrator, after holding the position for nearly three years. He cited a desire to spend more time with his 10-year-old son living in Pine Haven, Wyoming. Blakeman’s official end date was Aug. 31, but it was extended to Oct. 31 by a 3-2 vote of the county commissioners in hopes that the county courthouse second-floor remodel would be finished. However, remodel was not completed by that date, so others were assigned to watch over the project until it was finished. Brookelyn Weigel assumed most of the county administrator’s duties after Blakeman’s resignation. 

The Weston County United Fund raises money for nonprofit organizations that must be local, staying and serving in the community. At the United Fund Pie Auction, a fundraiser for the 12 nonprofit organizations that are a part of United Fund, pies were donated by various community members for the organization of their choice. On Nov. 20, bidders bought the pies, raising a record $10,752. Kim Bock, a United Fund board member, said it was the first time that well over $10,000 was raised. The money is distributed according to the number of pies each organization brings in. Bock said all the money raised by the auction stays in Weston County, and the organizations will receive their money at the beginning of 2019. 

Rita Garcia, who has worked with Weston County Health Services for 16 years, received the Dr. Thorpe Caring for Mankind Award, which acknowledges an individual’s dedication and concern helping to improve WCHS, at the WCHS recognition banquet. Garcia started in the dietary department and later moved to the housekeeping department. CEO Maureen Cadwell said Garcia humbly works hard to make sure customers are happy and comfortable. Nominators said Garcia always has a smile on her face and is willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure the happiness and well-being of patients and residents.

 

December —

Simultaneous leadership roles in both the Wyoming House of Representatives and the Wyoming Senate have been taken by persons from Northeast Wyoming for the first time. Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, was elected majority whip, and he’s served in the house since 2015. Lindholm and Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, have been the first to occupy majority leadership roles from Weston County House districts in about 50 years. Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was elected vice president of the Senate. 

At a Nov. 28 meeting, the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees was notified by Superintendent Brad LaCroix that the current system used to evaluate his performance did not meet all the standards mandated in bills passed by the Wyoming Legislature. The bills require districts to develop comprehensive evaluation systems for school leaders. The evaluation system in use did not meet all the rules and regulations put forth by the Wyoming Department of Education. The current system was aligned with only three of seven standards. With the new rules, an approved evaluation tool must align with the first standard and show alignment to most of the elements in five of the six other standards. 

In the 2017-18 School Performance Reports from the Wyoming Department of Education, the elementary and middle schools reached targets in the areas of growth, equity and achievement. The results were based off the WY-TOPP test. Newcastle High School reached federal and state expectations in six of the seven categories. The high school assessed at just under the growth area marker for the state, but the school met the federal expectation. 

One of the organizations chosen to receive funds form Pinnacle Bank’s Festival of Trees was the Weston County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue organization. The organization hopes to use the money to buy necessary equipment. Whatever exceeds what is needed for minimum operational costs will be used to purchase items that will give the organization the opportunity to do more. Basic operational costs for the organization are estimated at about $10,000 a year, with about $4,000 coming from the county. The basic operating budget of $6,000 goes to maintaining equipment. 

The Weston County Toy Drive was born about a year ago when Bart Loebs, owner of Wayback Burgers in Newcastle, wanted to help the community. This year, Wayback is partnering with FOCUS to give gifts and outdoor gear, such as coats and hats, to families in need. The drive started Dec. 1 and will go until Dec. 19; delivery is scheduled for Dec. 20. Anyone who brings a donation of a new toy or outdoor gear worth $5 or more to Wayback will receive a free regular-size milkshake. Outdoor gear donations will be given to Operation Santa, a service project that fourth-graders at Newcastle Elementary School are doing. 

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