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Special hospital meeting muted

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Mary Stroka, NLJ Reporter

Hospital board approves consulting contract after surprise executive session

At least two members of the public were told they could not attend a March 11 special meeting of the Weston County Health District board because it planned to immediately enter executive session.

According to a video of that meeting released by the hospital board, the board unanimously approved both a contract for advisory solutions and operational review from a consultant and a not-to-exceed amount for that consultant to bring in an interim chief human resources officer for the district.

H&H Leadership Solutions will be paid a total of $45,000 for three months of advisory solutions and operational review work, which includes team building, documenting concerns and actions, public relations, organizational risk mitigation, stakeholder interviews, documentation review and identifying organizational risks, according to a presentation slide. The board also approved up to $108,000 for expenses, plus or minus 10%. The 10% variance exclusively accounts for costs associated with flights and rental cars, since the rates that H&H principal Stephen Hartz projected are “a best guess.”

Walter Sprague, the photographer and art and culture reporter for the News Letter Journal, and William Curley, a resident, said they attempted to attend the meeting, which was described in a notice as featuring “a H&H Leadership Solutions Proposal Presentation Potential Executive Session under Wyoming Statute 16-4-405(a)(ii).” Both were asked to leave the meeting because the board intended to go into executive session.

Curley said in an email that Newcastle NLJ’s news editor, Alexis Barker, received on March 11 that the notice with that description was posted on the main hospital door. The meeting agenda, on the other hand, which was handed out at the meeting and followed, did not list a reason for the executive session and did not note that the executive session was “potential.”

“It appears that the decision – that the H&H matter would be dealt with in executive session –was made prior to the meeting itself (in time for the Agenda to be printed up in advance of the actual meeting) in contravention of the WPRA (Wyoming Public Records Act),” Curley said in the email.

Sprague confirmed this, reporting that he was told when he arrived prior to the meeting that the board was going to be going into executive session immediately, and that they had been informed by their attorney that it was legal for them to do so

According to Curley, a quorum was declared, the pledge recited, and immediately a motion to go into executive session was made, seconded and carried.

“I observed on the record prior to leaving the board room that it would have been nice for the board to have identified on the record what the matter was that was to be dealt with in executive session,” Curley said.

He said he also failed to see why the “H&H Leadership Services Presentation” was a matter that could be discussed in an executive session under Wyoming Statute 16-4-405(a)(ii).

The NLJ attempted to contact the hospital board’s attorney, Allison Gee, to learn why she counseled the board to hold an executive session, but she has not responded to those questions.

Unlike most meeting recordings that the Newcastle News Letter Journal has received from public officials, the recording of the March 11 meeting that the newspaper staff received from WCHS Marketing and Public Relations Director Denice Pisciotti did not include a public comment portion, a quorum confirmation or a pledge of allegiance recitation.

Instead, after an unintelligible comment that lasts a couple of seconds, the first comment in the video is someone saying, “So now we have a presentation from H&H Leadership Services for our public meeting.”

WCHS Board Chair Dorothy Briggs submitted a letter to the Newcastle News Letter Journal on March 12, just hours after the meeting, that claimed trustees knew they “were accepting many challenges that were years and years in the making,” when they took on their positions.

“We listened to you, and we remain committed to addressing each challenge as transparently as law and policy will allow,” Briggs said.

News Letter Journal Publisher Bob Bonnar refused to publish the letter, however, and responded with an email that instead questioned the legality of the executive session, the board’s increased use of special meetings and Briggs’ claims of transparency.

“This letter from Ms. Briggs is an absolute insult to the people of Weston County, as are your claims that you are making any effort whatsoever at transparency,” Bonnar wrote.

Editor’s note: NLJ attempted to contact the hospital board’s attorney, Alison Gee, for further explanation of the legal justification for last week’s executive session. On March 15, NLJ called her office, Lubnau Law, and emailed her at the email address that office staff provided after saying that Gee was not in. Messages to Gee requesting a response by 10 p.m. March 17 (to meet the deadline for this week’s edition) have gone unanswered by press time on March 19. Read those questions above.


Questions for the board attorney

NLJ asked Gee the following questions in the email sent on March 15:

1. I understand that you believe this discussion with a potential consultant/contractor was legal justification for an executive session. Am I understanding correctly? If so, why do you believe it’s legal? If not, why would you allow such action to take place?

2. Why did the original notice say “potential” executive session, but the agenda listed “executive session” as the first order of business?

3. Do you believe the board should have indicated that they intended to take action by hiring the consultants at the special meeting? The notice only said they were hearing a presentation. Why or why not?

4. What else do you want Weston County residents to know about these matters?

Gee was also asked to respond to concerns over the legality of this executive session and others that were expressed by NLJ Publisher Bob Bonnar in an email he sent to both hospital and newspaper personnel. A full copy of that email, as well as the letter submitted by Chairman Dottie Biggs, can be viewed with this story on

Public Meetings Statute

Wyoming Statute 16-4-405(a)(ii), the statute that was the basis of holding the meeting as an executive session, states that governing bodies can hold executive sessions that are closed to the public “to consider the appointment, employment, right to practice or dismissal of a public officer, professional person or employee, or to hear complaints or charges brought against an employee, professional person or officer, unless the employee, professional person or officer requests a public hearing. The governing body may exclude from any public or private hearing during the examination of a witness, any or all other witnesses in the matter being investigated. Following the hearing or executive session, the governing body may deliberate on its decision in executive sessions.”

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