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Pay for absences will continue

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Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

AG response leads to death of proposal to forfeit commissioner pay for absences

A resolution adjusting commissioners’ pay for meeting absences is dead after a response from Brandi Monger, Wyoming deputy attorney general, outlined the reasons that the proposed resolution is questionable under state law.

The resolution, proposed by Board of Weston County Commission Chair Don Taylor on May 7, would have taken away pay for missed meetings over the allowed four per year without board approval. At the time of his proposal, Taylor said that absences had been an issue and that the board should lead by example and forfeit pay of commissioners who were not there to do the work.

The other commissioners questioned the legality and need for the resolution, which ultimately died for lack of a motion to approve it.

But on May 21, Commissioner Garrett Borton suggested that the board reconsider the resolution at a future meeting. At the time, Commissioner Nathan Todd said that he would like to see an answer from the Attorney General’s Office. He noted that if the opinion said the resolution was OK, then it was OK.

On June 4, the resolution was discussed again after the receipt of the “informal” opinion from Monger, who noted that she provided the opinion due to the potential time-sensitive nature of the request.

The response, provided by County Attorney Michael Stulken to the News Letter Journal, suggests the resolution is in conflict with the Wyoming Constitution, specifically Article 14 Section 1, which states that “importantly” there is a requirement for “fixed and definite salaries” for most public officials, including county commissioners.

“All state, city, county, town and school officers, (excepting justices of the peace and constables in precincts having less than fifteen hundred population, and excepting court commissioners, boards of arbitration and notaries public) shall be paid fixed and definite salaries. The legislature shall, from time to time, fix the amount of such salaries as are not already fixed by this constitution, which shall in all cases be in proportion to the value of the services rendered and the duty performed,” the constitution states.

Monger also explained that the Wyoming Supreme Court has considered the issue in several cases. Although, she acknowledged that most are related to changes in compensation during the term of office.

“However, the language in these opinions provides some guidance on this question,” Monger said.

In Blackburn v. the Board of County Commissioners of Park County, the state Supreme Court stated that “there is further provision in section 1, art. 14 that has an important bearing on this case, and that is that the salaries of all officers shall be ‘fixed and definite.’”

“These words have a precise and certain meaning. They mean a certain, precise, exact and clear salary; not one that shall be sliding up or down with the fluctuations of the assessment of the county,” the decision says. “Construing them with the constitutional provision fixing salaries of county officers, they mean a fixed and definite salary per year; construing them with the constitutional inhibition against an increase or decrease during the term of an officer and after his election or appointment, they mean a fixed and definite salary for the term of office.”

It continues to state that “thus, construing these different constitutional provisions together, there is no doubt that they interpret themselves, and that they mean that the salaries of county officials cannot be increased or diminished during the official term, including the interval between the election or appointment and the induction of the official into office.”

Monger summarized that “the proposed resolution would essentially act to decrease the commissioners’ salary during the term of their service for any commissioner that misses a meeting, this does not appear to meet the requirement of “fixed and definite salaries.”

Finally, Monger stated that this was not an official attorney general opinion and had not gone through an official AG review. Rather, it was her initial thoughts after looking at the issue.

Stulken stated that he thinks the opinion is “pretty solid.”

Due to the response from Monger, Taylor said that the resolution was a “dead issue” and that he wanted to kill the proposal because he didn’t “want to stand in the middle of the road.”

He did note that at some point the commissioners would have to hold themselves accountable for missed meetings, noting that he still believes there has been an issue with attendance in the past.

Commission clips

Notes from the June 4, 2024, meeting of the Weston County Commissioners

• The board approved a resolution for a special prosecutor in a case per the request of County Attorney Michael Stulken, who did not provide details on the case but noted that it did not involve the board.

• The board discussed a potential endowment fund for the Weston County Fairgrounds to handle donations. It was determined that at this time the fair board should continue to use a bank account for donations and keep track of where the funds are spent.

• Commissioner Nathan Todd’s motion to move forward with the advertising notification process for the proposed EMS District for Weston County was approved.

• County Attorney Michael Stulken requested approval to send a complaint to Vaultside referencing funds that are yet to be received by the county per its contract. Stulken noted that he would give Vaultside 10 days to respond before officially filing the complaint with the court.

• A resolution regarding dogs running at large and the effect on Osage residents was tabled until more information could be reviewed by the board.

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