The public deserves to know...

By: 
NLJ Staff

On three separate occasions over the same number of months, three different taxpayer-funded public service entities have openly refused to divulge valuable public information to citizens by speaking openly in front of the press. These entities — whether the individuals representing them are elected, appointed or hired — have been specifically established to serve the people of Wyoming and Weston County, and their commitment to a lack of transparency should concern you greatly. 

The most recent of these situations occurred on Dec. 7 when Dru Bower of Dru Consulting — a firm hired with public funds to address public concerns over public property — specifically asked whether there was any press at the Board of Weston County Commissioners meeting on that day before she began her presentation. After being informed that there were in fact two different newspapers represented in the room, she said, “Then I am going to be careful about what I say.” 

The topic being discussed involves the debate over the timber allotment allowed in the Black Hills National Forest, and Bower reported to the commissioners that a technical report that has been published caused some concerns. She then refused to reveal any specifics about those concerns, which prevents us from being able to report on them to you.

We honestly have no idea why that information should be kept secret, but it seems that such an attitude from public entities is our new normal.

A different government-funded “public service” entity, the Wyoming Energy Authority, has also declined numerous opportunities to provide comment or explanation to the News Letter Journal on the status of EcoTech’s interest in creating a new alternative fuels business in
Weston County. 

We want our readers (the residents of Weston County) to know how the state energy authority — supposedly a key player in helping communities adapt to the economic upheaval brought on by changes in the energy industry — views the EcoTech proposal, and what guidance it is giving to local leaders regarding this economic opportunity.

WEA Executive Director Glen Murrell did not bother to return phone calls or emails that had been sent to him over a month’s time, but he eventually replied through a third-party public relations firm out of Jackson Hole.

When first approached for comment, Honora Kerr with Three Elephant Public Relations told the News Letter Journal in an email dated Nov. 4 that the WEA could not provide comment because “unfortunately, Dr. Murrell is completely swamped at the moment with travel and conference
commitments.” 

We once again reached out to Kerr on Nov. 15 to let her know that the NLJ was still interested in scheduling an interview with the executive director, but no response was provided. On Nov. 23, another email was sent to Kerr, letting her know that it was disheartening that Murrell had still not contacted the newspaper. 

Kerr responded to this email very quickly on Nov. 23 to inform us that Murrell had in fact declined the interview request outright in her Nov. 4 email. She said that the director thought there was a conflict of interest in him commenting on the story, but she did not inform us of that on Nov. 4. Instead, she simply tried to put us off by claiming that Murrell was too busy traveling and attending conferences.

The News Letter Journal responded by sending an email directly to Murrell letting him know that it is inappropriate for him to decline to comment because the purpose of the Wyoming Energy Authority, as stated on its website, is to be “one entity that works to advance the state’s energy strategy by supporting Wyoming’s full energy authority.” 

We also asked whom we were supposed to contact for comment — if not him — and asked him to identify specifically what his conflict of
interest was. 

Our email stated that we were “interested in explaining to the majority of Weston County, who support the proposed venture, where the state is at in the vetting process. Our local municipalities, Newcastle and Weston County, expressed their desire for the state to do their due diligence in vetting the venture and I feel that the public is entitled to know where the Wyoming Energy Authority stands on the project and why.” 

Despite the fact that the most recent email was sent only to Murrell (the public servant), it was Kerr (the public relations expert) who responded on Nov. 29. She finally provided the motion made by the Wyoming Energy Commission (the WEA’s governing entity) declining to adopt the Inducement Resolution associated with EcoTech. This was just one of the things we had originally asked for nearly a month earlier, and no explanation about the endless delays or so-called conflict of interest or any other additional information was provided.

We honestly have no idea why that information should be kept secret, but unfortunately we’re kind of used to that around here.

After all, it was right here in our own backyard that the Board of Weston County Commissioners, along with the commissioners from Goshen and Niobrara counties, used a secret vote to seat Rep. J.D. Williams, R-Lusk, to represent us in the Wyoming State Legislature.

Over 40 individuals approached the commissioners to express or support grievances against the board regarding the secretive nature of the vote, and Weston County Republican Party Chairman Kari Drost even made it clear at the time of the vote that citizens had a right to know how the commissioners who were elected to represent the people voted on an appointment to fill the vitally important vacancy.

But the commissioners have dug in and steadfastly refused to comment, indicating instead that the issue is under legal advisement (i.e., hiding behind their lawyers).

We honestly have no idea why that information should be kept secret, but … What are any of these people trying to hide? What conflict of interest could possibly exist regarding EcoTech’s desire to stimulate the local economy? Why doesn’t the public deserve to know what is going on with a report on the Black Hills National Forest — a report that is supposed to benefit the public? Why does a vote by the people who are supposed to speak for us — to choose another person who is supposed to speak for us — need to be taken
in silence? 

In an era when so many people question whether the government is honest and truly serving the people, these agencies who claim they are doing the people’s work should be willing to provide this type of information to the people they are supposed to serve. 

None of the topics we have sought information on are covered under executive session rules, and none of these issues should be considered so sensitive that the public’s right to know should be sacrificed. 

Enough is enough. It is time that government agencies and those who work for them in service to the people remember whom they were elected, appointed or hired to serve — and to remember that part of the job is answering to those people.

We honestly have no idea why the information we’ve noted in this editorial should be kept secret, but …

We do know that these public servants won’t stop keeping secrets if you don’t speak up and tell them it isn’t right and you want them to stop.

Category:

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
14 W. Main St.
P.O. Box 40
Newcastle, WY 82701
Ph: (307) 746-2777
Fax: (307) 746-2660

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