The public has already won

Over the past quarter-century the News Letter Journal has published dozens of stories and editorials about open meeting and public record violations.


We’ve only filed one lawsuit.


But the leaders of the county commission against whom we filed that suit have now challenged us publicly to also file a lawsuit against their three fellow commissioners because they believe that another violation of the open meeting law has taken place — and this time they weren’t a part of it.


It just so happens that the challenge from Weston County Commission Chairman Ed Wagoner and Vice-Chair Nathan Todd coincides with an entirely separate and unrelated action by the Weston County School District #1 Board of Trustees that also raised questions about compliance with Wyoming’s transparency laws last week. 


So we welcome this opportunity to provide our perspective on the stories you read on page 1 of this week’s edition.


Let us be clear, in both cases, we believe the elected officials in question were wrong…


But we are satisfied that no lawsuit will be necessary because those elected officials immediately remedied the situation by making all of the information in question public and available.


It is important to know that the primary remedy in law for an open meeting or public records violation is to make the hidden information public as soon as possible. In both instances last week where a board or group of board members acted counter to the intent and purpose of the open meeting law, they responded by making the information that had been shared outside of a meeting (or concealed during a meeting) available to the press and public almost immediately.


In the case of the unannounced quorum of commissioners being in attendance for a meeting with some IT people, we even received a public apology from the commissioners in question and a promise to avoid such a situation in the future. That’s a far cry from the “we do not regret this decision” declaration made by Commissioners Todd and Wagoner through a statement read publicly by then-Commission Chair Marty Ertman on November 1, 2022. That statement was made a full year after the use of a secret ballot which eventually led to the lawsuit they are referring to (see “Statement issued on secret vote,” November 10, 2022 NLJ, page 1).


We would also note that 2 of the 3 commissioners in attendance at the recent IT meeting, including the late arrival, have only been serving as elected officials for 2 months at the time of this incident. We do acknowledge that mistakes happen and some confusion about the laws could exist for brand-new board members. That is why it is so important that they acknowledged their mistake publicly, discussed the situation publicly, and made all of the information discussed in the meeting available to the public immediately upon request.


That is also why the News Letter Journal will not be filing any lawsuits over actions of local board members as told in our page one stories, “County commission leaders question tech meeting” and “Controversy ensues over voting method.”


For the commissioners who seem to be confused over the nature of the lawsuit the News Letter Journal (and our co-plaintiffs) have pursued — and who seem determined to confuse the public about the suit as well — we think it is important to point out that the lawsuit wasn’t filed until months after the secret ballot was used. The decision to take legal action was only made after multiple requests for the information in question had been ignored or denied, and after the commissioners refused to even discuss the decision to use a secret ballot in public. They have since refused to even allow the public to comment on the decision in open meeting.


We would also remind those commissioners that any citizen is free to file a lawsuit against Commissioners Taylor, Borton and Huber if they would like - including Commissioner Wagoner and Todd. If they truly believe it will produce a better result for the people of Weston County than the discussion at the last meeting did, then we would certainly encourage them to file that suit themselves. (We would also remind them that Wyoming taxpayers won’t be paying for their representation this time if they choose to do so.)


We are, however, encouraged to note that Commissioners Wagoner and Todd no longer appear to think that “potential litigation” is justification for an executive session, since they decided to accuse the newer members of their board of that crime in more than one public meeting in the past week. After avoiding public discussions about their own potential violation of the law by declaring “potential litigation” as a reason for going into executive session on a regular basis for a year and a half, it is a relief to see the leaders of the Weston County Commissioners set this bold precedent. They have clearly demonstrated that they will not be going into executive session to discuss “potential litigation” any more.


We trust that the new commissioners will help them remember that precedent.


(Ed. Note: As always we invite anybody who would like to witness these conversations to go to the News Letter Journal’s Youtube page and view the videos of the county commission meetings that are made available to you there.)

News Letter Journal

News Letter Journal
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P.O. Box 40
Newcastle, WY 82701
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