Playing hide and seek

By: 
NLJ Staff

On Wednesday, July 13, the News Letter Journal was notified by an “unofficial source”  that the Newcastle Workforce Center was closing its doors in Newcastle. We were only told about this because the fact that the agency would no longer exist in the form of a brick and mortar building in our

community dictated that they needed to cancel their subscription to the NLJ.

All we were told at that time was that a decision had been made “further up the chain” to not renew the lease on their office. That lease apparently expires August 8, and Workforce Services will no longer be in the building after that date - a building on the town’s busiest
intersection that was constructed only in the last decade specifically to house Workforce Services. 

The individual who provided this information to our circulation department was not authorized to officially announce the closure to the public, so we asked for the appropriate contact to let the community in on the details of how and why the office was being closed. Even more importantly, we wanted to be able to tell the community how the state agency’s services would be maintained, and how residents of this area would be able to access those services moving forward.

Reporter Hannah Gross received the assignment on July 13, less than a month before the closure is to take place, and immediately reached out to the agency’s Cheyenne office for an official contact who could provide this information so we could share it with you. The source she was given was then out of the office for three days, but Gross was able to make an initial contact on Monday before finally being able to get her questions answered and confirmed early Tuesday morning — just in time to make this week’s paper, less than three weeks before the office will be shuttered.

It is frustrating that what seems to be a straight-forward and relatively simple story requires so much effort, but it is ridiculously hard to get state agencies to provide information to the communities they serve. Much of the challenge lies in the fact that local representatives of these state agencies are not authorized to provide these important facts to the press — or at least claim that they are not allowed to.

State agencies all have Public Information Officers or Communications Departments, and DWS is no different, but it seems more and more like those agency arms work as hard - or harder - at pushing information seekers away than they do at reaching out to communities to keep them informed. Following this particular trail to find out who had the authorization to give us the information for the story took a great deal of time and patience, and we can certainly see how many members of the public get discouraged and simply give up.

For something as significant as the closing of an office that has served this community for decades, DWS should have issued a press release or made some sort of an effort to announce the change. Instead we had to find out about it by mistake, and Gross was required to follow “appropriate channels” to produce the story, which almost forced us to miss this week’s press deadline.

We are glad that we were able to share the
information, but we continue to be challenged every week by government efforts to conceal information they should be working hard to reveal to you instead, and this problem isn’t confined to agencies of the State of Wyoming. If you’ve been reading the paper lately, you’ll notice that we’ve struggled with many county and city officials to get information deemed “public” by Wyoming law. They justify their action (or lack of it when it comes to transparency) by saying they talked to attorneys or state associations who tell them it is okay to withhold information — or hope that nobody asks for it.

Apparently, if you don’t find out until after it is too late for the public to do anything about it, then that’s just too damn bad.

And that’s just bad. Period. Your public servants owe you better, and we hope those in Weston County and Wyoming will acknowledge that fact and work as hard to give information to the public as they do to conceal it.

But we aren’t holding our breath.

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News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
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Newcastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
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