Feb 19, 2015

Events coordinator to replace fair director; fair board members unhappy

The director of the Park County Fair could be out of a job by July, as county commissioners intend to eliminate her position to a create a new, bigger one.

Commissioners said Tuesday they want to replace the fair director with a proposed Park County events coordinator. The coordinator would oversee not only the fairgrounds, but all the large events held on county property throughout the year — such as gatherings on the grounds of the Park County Complex in Cody. In another change, the events coordinator ultimately would answer to commissioners instead of the Park County Fair Board, whose five volunteer members have historically been in charge of fair staff.

Commission Chairman Joe Tilden said in an interview that the fair board’s role in putting on the annual fair will remain the same.

“They’re still going to be charged with the production of the fair, they’ll just be coordinating it with an events coordinator instead of a fair manager,” Tilden said. He added later that, “Really, I think everybody’s blowing this whole thing out of proportion here because ... all we’re doing is creating a new job.”

But that’s not how some members of the fair board see the commission’s action.

“I think it’s really messed up that they’re doing that, because they put the fair board in place to manage the fair and the fairgrounds,” said Fair Board Chairman Mike Demoney in a Tuesday interview, saying it feels as though commissioners are taking over the fair.

Board members also expressed concern about losing Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz.

“I just want to know why we’re cutting someone (loose) that has done a tremendous job in the past few years ... and putting in someone else that doesn't necessarily have the experience or the training,” Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen told commissioners on Tuesday. “We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit.”

Responded Commissioner Bucky Hall, “I’ve felt for a long time that this particular position — especially with the new building going up over there and all the events that are happening around the county, not just at the fairgrounds — that we needed to expand that position.

“And quite frankly,” Hall added, “The last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard.

“It’s not all our fault, but .... the only way I personally feel we can get a handle on it is (to) have that person be a department” head that answers to commissioners, he said.

County buildings and grounds staffers, who are overseen by commissioners, received greater control of the fair's upkeep after a series of electrical problems were discovered in 2010 — leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars of electrical improvements — and the roof of the large exhibit hall was found to be in danger of collapsing later that year.

“The board was not doing their job,” Tilden said. “They just weren’t.”

The subsequent demolition of that large exhibit hall and some nearby buildings created the need for the new $3.1 million multi-use facility now under construction.

“Quite frankly, the last two or three years, the communication between this board, the fair board and the director has been incredibly substandard,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall.

In September 2011, the fair board OK’d having buildings and grounds staff take over facility and grounds management, groundskeeping and custodial responsibilities, but conflict over who those staffers answer to — and what duties they should have — has persisted.

“When you have basically one person in charge, it should smooth everything out,” Tilden said of switching to an events coordinator.

Fair board members, however, questioned whether having an employee who reports to commissioners but works with the fair board will just continue the conflict. Further, board members believe commissioners may be underestimating the amount of work the fair director already has by seeking to enlarge the job.

Commissioners said they may end up having to hire more personnel to help out the events coordinator and they encouraged input from the fair board on what the current job entails.
Park County Fair director Jennifer Lohrenz gestures as she speak to representatives of the Wyoming Business Council (at left) while commissioners Joe Tilden (center) and Loren Grosskopf (at right) listen in this March 2014 file photo.

As noted Tuesday, communication between the fair and commission has been strained in recent years. For example, commissioners' have made no secret of their frustration with the board’s lack of progress on a $500,000 fundraising goal.

“The way it's always operated, if they had a question, all they had to do is call,” Demoney said of the Hall’s criticism on the communications. He faulted Commissioner Tim French, the commission’s liaison to the fair board, for missing numerous board meetings last year.

“You want communications? Then come to the meeting,” Demoney said.

French, however, said in a Wednesday interview that he stopped going to meetings because the board was “hostile” to him and conducted much of their meetings in closed-door, executive sessions.

“To this day, if they ever have a question, comment, anything they never call me,” French said, adding that some people on the fair board “are not good board members.”

French did attend last week’s board meeting, which followed commissioners’ announcement that they planned to create an events coordinator. However, French didn’t mention the commission’s pending plans for the fair staff during the public portion of the meeting, nor did fair board members ask about the plans.

“We feel like our legs were kind of cut out from underneath of us on this, a little bit,” said Fair Board Vice Chairman Linda Nielsen.

Lohrenz told the Tribune that, “no matter what the final outcome is, I sincerely hope that I am allowed to administer the 2015 fair in the very least,” saying a tremendous amount of work has gone into the event.

Demoney echoed that wish.

However, Tilden said he expects the fair director’s position to conclude at the end of June, with the events coordinator running the 2015 fair in July. He said he hopes Lohrenz will apply for the new job.

Commissioners plan to finalize a job description and salary range for the position at their March 3 meeting. Advertisements seeking applicants for the events coordinator position will begin running in local newspapers next week, advising them to check the county's website on March 4 for more information.

Northrup, Laursen support $12.5M in assistance for local governments

A pair of Powell legislators said they are confident a $12.5 million infusion of state dollars will be provided to counties, cities and towns this year.

State Reps. David Northrup, R-District 50, and Dan Laursen, R-25, both Republicans, said Gov. Matt Mead had pledged $25 million for local governments during his 2014 campaign for a second term. The Legislature has since cut that figure in half.

Some of the two dozen people who attended the one-hour meeting at Hansel & Gretel’s were concerned that the figure, once cut in half, may be eliminated entirely. The House will examine the request as budget amendment; work on that started Tuesday.

“Oh, it’ll go through,” Northrup said. “It’ll go through the House. I don’t know about the Senate.”

Mayor Don Hillman said local governments would welcome the assistance.

“Well, we appreciate anything we can get,” Hillman said. “There’s certainly a need for it.”

He said Park County governments cannot be as “progressive” as they once were, and instead try to keep things operating with the dollars that are available.

“We’re in survival mode, and we’re maintaining,” Hillman said.

Republican Representatives Dan Laursen (at right) and David Northrup of Powell talked about their work in the Legislature at meetings in Cody and Powell.
The legislators came home during a four-day break over the Presidents Day holiday weekend. It’s the middle of the session, as bills that passed in the House head to the Senate and vice versa.
In other topics from the town hall:

• Northrup and Larsen have different views and cast differing votes on House Bill 114, the Wyoming Repeal Gun Free Zones Act. It passed the House on a 42-17 vote on Feb. 2.

Northrup of Powell and Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, whose district contains areas in rural Powell, voted against it, while Laursen and Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, supported it.

Northrup said he based his vote on beliefs he forged while serving on the Park County School District No. 1 board.

Laursen said he voted for it because of his interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Northrup’s wife, Astrid Northrup, said she had a different take on the bill and the Second Amendment.

She said the constitutional amendment is designed to protect gun owners from intrusion by the federal government and this bill focuses on state and personal issues.

Astrid Northrup works at Northwest College, and she it has an “integrated safety plan” that is effective on weapons. NWC President Stefani Hicswa, who has lobbied Big Horn Basin legislators to oppose the law, was at the meeting.

Laursen listened to what his colleague’s wife had to say but he shook his head and said he still disagrees with her on it.

• Mike Specht, who owns Dragon Fighters, a Clark firefighting firm, said state money budgeted for firefighting should be spent on Wyoming firms.

Instead, $54 million that was budgeted for firefighting efforts in 2013 was almost exclusively spent on reimbursing federal agencies or hiring firms from other states and from Israel, Specht said. Wyoming used to have five private firefighting companies, he said; now it has three.

Specht said talk of supporting small businesses is not backed up by action.

“If they think that about my business, what do they think about your business?” he asked the crowd.

Northrup said he has broached the subject with the state forestry office but they are “very reluctant” to change their hiring practices. Specht said there is a lot of “fraud and abuse” in how fires are managed and fought.

Northrup said the process is to use the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to fight fires. But he said Specht should have been allowed to stamp out a fire that erupted by his house in Clark

“And that’s what’s wrong,” Northrup said. “If you’re the closest to the fire, get it out, is the way I feel.”

• The state tax on beer, which was 2 cents per gallon, was proposed to be raised to 17 cents. It had not been hiked in more than 80 years.

Instead, Northrup said, the Legislature decided to repeal the tax. It brought in less than $300,000 last year, he said, and caused paperwork headaches for businesses.

“It was more hassle than it was worth,” he said.

• Northrup said four bills that proposed tax increases were introduced, and all are dead.
Three died in committee and one on the House floor.

• A bill to set aside $100,000 to study converting federal land in Wyoming to state control is a waste of money, Northrup said.
Senate File 56 passed by a resounding 26-4 vote in the Senate and has moved over to the House. Northrup said he has concerns about “billionaires buying up land” from the state, so he opposes it.

• Northrup introduced an amendment to the budget bill to change a bill proposing a four-year adjunct to the University of Wyoming studying business and environmental science. The original bill called for locating the facility in Jackson; he changed that to Powell, but his amendment failed Tuesday.

• Money for University of Wyoming projects is moving through the Legislature easily, the lawmakers said.

Phil Nicholas, the president of the Senate, and Kermit Brown, the speaker of the House, are both from Laramie, they noted. A proposal for a new facility to enhance UW athletics, including a special dining room, will pass, Northrup said.

“The University of Wyoming is getting everything they want this year,” he said.

• Several people wanted to discuss the federal government’s spending habits with the state officials.
Both representatives said they supported a bill to mandate that the federal government, which is operating with an $18 trillion debt, balance its budget. It passed the House and is now headed for the Senate.

Northrup and Laursen said they support calling for a convention of the states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ordering Congress to balance the budget. To be called, 34 states, or two-thirds, would have to support the concept; then 38 states, or three-quarters of them, would have to approve the amendment to add it to the Constitution.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering a run for president in 2016, spoke on the subject in Cheyenne last month.

While there is some concern that a constitutional convention could become a runaway engine altering the American government, Laursen and Northrup said delegates sent to a convention of states — not a constitutional convention — would be legally prevented from that happening.

They would be guilty of a felony for going off-topic, they said, and would face a $7,500 fine and up to 10 years in prison. If they attempt to consider another issue, they are recalled and cannot take part in the convention.

• The House provided funding for the state Department of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, to study science standards.

A footnote in a bill last year defunded research on science standards over concerns about imposing Common Core Standards. This money, if approved by the Senate, will allow them to “do their job,” Northrup said.

• Northrup co-authored a bill with Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, to allow farmers to operate most farm equipment without having to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The bill also loosens restrictions on firefighters, the military and people operating recreational vehicle.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee first looked at the issue, which would return the CDL policy to the way it was years ago, but then the Senate “substituted” the bill Northrup and Sommers wrote.

The Senate passed it as a committee bill. It is now coming to the House, and it has an excellent chance of passage there, Northrup said.

• Hansel & Gretel’s owner Brock Ninker asked if more gambling could be allowed in bars.

He said if he could offer poker and blackjack, he would make more money and could give his employees raises. Right now, the bar allows private games to be played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with occasional tournaments.

The legislators said they had not heard of efforts to expand gaming.

Questions about the Wyoming Lottery, which was launched last year, were asked, and Northrup and Laursen deferred to former Rep. Dave Bonner, the Powell Tribune publisher and a member of the WyoLotto board.

Bonner said the board decided to pay back the $2.6 million it borrowed to begin operations — it receives no state funding — before paying money to schools and local governments.

But he said revenues were on track.

“It’s going great,” Bonner said.

• Hicswa said she appreciates the efforts of the legislators and their willingness to “listen to the Big Horn Basin.”

Laursen and Northrup headed for Cody for a second town hall in the morning. Eight people showed up and many of the same topics were explored, Northrup said.

Feb 18, 2015

Warm weather makes Big Horn Lake ice unsafe

Due to recent temperature increases and warm winds, plus the raise in water level, Big Horn Lake's ice has become unsafe.

Bob Croft, Friends of Big Horn Lake Board of Directors secretary, made the announcement.

Temperatures have topped 60 across the region in recent days, making ice precarious in several spots.

Croft said Barry’s Landing is open and boats can be launched. There are no docks, however. Boaters will encounter ice as they travel south toward Horseshoe Bend.

The lake elevation is slightly more than 3,629 feet. Full is 3,640 feet.

Feb 17, 2015

Sorority and crafters donate to new fair building

One of the Park County Fairgrounds’ longest-standing users has stepped up to help furnish the fairgrounds’ new building.

Members of Laureate Rho — the Powell chapter of the sorority Beta Sigma Phi — presented the fair board with a pair of checks totaling $1,700 on Tuesday night.

Park County Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz beckons fair board members into the frame to pose for a photo with members of Laureate Rho, the Powell chapter of sorority Beta Sigma Phi. Shown (from left) are fair board members Robby Newkirk, Steve Martin and Mike Demoney, Laureate Rho members Gladys Schwab and Mary Wenzel and fair board members Kimberly Barhaug and Linda Nielsen (obscured).
The sorority has used the fairgrounds for decades to host its annual Kappa Kraft Fair. In recognition of the facilities’ importance to the group and the community, Laureate Rho collected donations at November’s craft fair for the multi-use building now under construction.

Outside of the fair itself, the Kappa Kraft Fair is the largest public event held on the grounds each year. It brings in vendors from around the region and somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 attendees.

At November’s fair, craft vendors and customers chipped in $600 and Laureate Rho itself added another $1,100; sorority members expressed appreciation for all the help provided by fairgrounds staff over some 35 years.

Laureate Rho’s Ardyce Busboom said the group hopes the money will provide a good start toward new tables, chairs and display cases.

“We look forward to the completion of this new building,” Busboom told the board, adding that, “Hopefully there are other organizations that will jump right in and get some of the needed amenities for this facility.”

County commissioners had hoped the fair board would raise $500,000 in private funding for the $3.1 million building, but progress has been slow.

At Tuesday’s fair meeting, board members discussed a couple fundraising ideas, such as running a pool tournament and raffling off a dinner with a knight from the “Knights of Valour” jousting troupe when they perform at the 2015 Fair. Board members also have talked about sending out letters to potential donors.

The new multi-use facility is scheduled to be completed this summer.

One year later, sheriff is ‘confident’ Badger Basin homicide will be solved

If you’d have asked Park County Sheriff Scott Steward a year ago whether authorities would solve the murder of the man whose mutilated body was found in Badger Basin — and if Steward was completely candid — he might have told you, “There’s just no way.”

But now, some 13 months into the investigation, “I’m getting a lot more confident that we will solve it,” Steward said in a recent interview.

Sheriff Scott Steward
The body was discovered Jan. 9, 2014, along a remote dirt road informally known as Little Sand Coulee Road, about a mile and a half west of Wyo. Highway 294. The body was missing a head and left arm, among other damage.

Since that time, authorities working the case — chiefly the sheriff’s office and the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation — have determined the man was shot to death, identified him as 30-year-old Juan Antonio Guerra-Torres and come up with a couple “persons of interest” in connection with the murder.

Further, authorities now feel comfortable in saying that — despite rampant public speculation to the contrary — Guerra-Torres’ murder doesn’t appear to have been at the hands of a foreign drug cartel.

“I think we can safely safely say that it’s not going to (turn out to) be cartel-type action, like you hear of on the borders,” Steward said. “It’s more a of personal deal ... a personal argument.”

Guerra-Torres was a Mexican national, believed to have been illegally in the United States. He had lived in both the Clark community and Tulare County, Calif., south of Fresno.

“I think we can safely safely say that it’s not going to (turn out to) be cartel-type action, like you hear of on the borders,” said Sheriff Scott Steward.

People who knew Guerra-Torres have said he lived with a significant other, had five children and worked manual labor jobs in the Clark area.

The sheriff’s investigator works on the murder case when he has time or new information, and sheriff’s personnel meet with their counterparts at DCI whenever they’ve got a lead or a sustained lull in the investigation, Steward said.

Juan Guerra-Torres
“Obviously, we’re not like a major metro P.D. or something that has a cold case unit that that’s all they do,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately, we’ve got one investigator, and we’ve got DCI helping, and it’s just a matter (of), you can’t work it full-time.”

He said it’s been a frustrating case.

“We feel that we’re close, but we just can’t seem to nail the coffin,” Steward said, adding later that, “Every time you think you’re making progress, it’s like ... you take that two steps forward thinking, ‘Here we go,’ and then you fall five steps back; something just doesn’t pan out or (it’s) bad information.”

That said, Steward also believes there will come a point where the investigation begins picking up momentum and “once that snowball goes, you’ve got to kick it downhill fast and get moving, because you lose so much and people obviously can talk and get stories straight,” he said.

The sheriff said tips have been scarce in recent months. However, “when somebody else (in the country) has a headless homicide, boy, all of a sudden we get these calls, ‘Hey, could it be connected?’” Steward said.

He called a connection to other such killings “highly unlikely.”

Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the Park County Sheriff’s Office at 307-527-8700 or Wyoming DCI at 307-777-7545.

Highway cracks being sealing across Big Horn Basin

A $2.3 million highway crack sealing project is under way on Big Horn Basin highways with possible delays of up to 20 minutes, according to a Wyoming Department of Transportation news release.

The project began in Big Horn County.

When completed, highway cracks will be sealed in Big Horn, Park, Hot Springs, Washakie and Fremont counties, and a small piece of western Natrona County between Shoshoni and Casper.

Crews with prime contractor Highway Improvement, Inc., of Sioux Falls, S.D., are scheduled for three weeks of work in Big Horn County, two and a half weeks in Park County and one and a half weeks in both Hot Springs and Washakie counties.

Work in Fremont and Natrona counties is scheduled to take about six weeks to complete.

"These work time estimates are based on one crew working, but the contractor expects to have two crews working by mid-February," said Ben Steed, Wyoming Department of Transportation resident engineer in Basin. "Workers will return to Park County later in the spring to complete work between Cody and Yellowstone National Park on U.S. (Highway) 14-16-20."

Steed said commuters should expect stop delays of up to 20 minutes with single-lane traffic. Vehicles will be led through the work zones by pilot vehicles.

"We apologize for the inconvenience of this work, but crack sealing is an important part of maintaining our highways in Wyoming," Steed said. "Thank you for your patience."

Contract completion is scheduled for May 31.

Show of Harry Jackson artwork opens in Clearmont

An art show in Clearmont, a small town near Buffalo, is featuring a broad survey of abstract expressionist work by Harry Jackson.

Jackson (1924-2011) was a painter, sculptor and sketch artist from Cody who mastered a diverse range of styles and is widely considered one of the most important and acclaimed artists of the 20th century.

The show is now open at the Ucross Foundation gallery in Clearmont and will run through April 10. The gallery is at 30 Big Red Lane.

This show constitutes the first major new look at Jackson's abstract art since it received broad critical acclaim in the 1950s. It will include works from 1995-2006.

The show will also feature new commentary and analysis from artist and former Yellowstone Art Museum senior curator Gordon McConnell examining the importance of Jackson's body of abstract work.

State record perch caught in Boysen Reservoir

Wyoming has a new state record yellow perch.

Casper angler Troy Schnepper who reeled in a 2.28 pound yellow perch the first week of January was jigging through the ice at Boysen Reservoir.

Schnepper’s fish was 15.25 inches long and had a girth of 12.5 inches. It bested the previous state record, which had stood since 1991, by a little more than an ounce.

Casper angler Troy Schnepper poses with his record-setting perch. Courtesy photo

Schnepper has the distinction of being the only person in Wyoming now holding two state fish records. He is the current black crappie record holder for a fish he caught two years ago, also out of Boysen Reservoir.

Schnepper, who fishes Boysen often, said he was fishing primarily for crappie, jigging a small spoon tipped with a minnow head when the perch struck. He said the fishing had been good and he had earlier caught three 15-inch crappies, each weighing around two pounds. When the perch took his lure, he thought it was a walleye and on landing the fish thought it might be a new state record. His fish was confirmed as the new record later that day after being weighed on a certified scale, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said.

Perch are found in a number of waters in Wyoming.

The world record caught in New Jersey in 1865, weighing four pounds, three ounces, has been the longest standing fish record in North America.

A complete listing of Wyoming state record fish is on the Game and Fish website at wgfd.wyo.gov.

New winter travel regulations to have limited effect in Big Horns

The U.S. Forest Service’s recently released rule governing winter travel in national forests will have little effect in Bighorn National Forest, forest managers say.

The rule, released in late January, said national forests must designate routes and areas where over-snow vehicle use is allowed. Bighorn Forest Supervisor Bill Bass said he expects the Big Horn’s current designations to be in compliance with the rule.

Bighorn National Forest offers 391 miles of snowmobile trails including 342 miles of groomed and 49 miles of un-groomed trails. With a few exceptions, most of Bighorn National Forest is open to snowmobiles, as long as there’s enough snow to prevent damage to the land.

Snowmobile use is restricted seasonally or year-round in the Cloud Peak Wilderness, downhill and cross-country ski areas, research natural areas, the Rock Creek area, wildlife winter range, recommended wild and scenic river corridors and the area around the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark.    

Most, if not all, Bighorn’s designations were made in the revised forest plan approved in 2005. Bass doesn’t anticipate changes in areas that are open now, but managers will know more after the evaluation.

“We’ll evaluate the areas open to snowmobiles to determine if we’re in compliance with the rule,” he said in a statement.

For more information about winter travel in the Bighorns, contact the ranger district office in Lovell at 307-548-6541.

Young artists sought for Arbor Day poster contest

The 2015 Wyoming Arbor Day youth Poster Contest is underway.

In celebration of Wyoming’s 127th Arbor Day, the contest theme is “Celebrating Wyoming’s TREE-mendous Future.”
Myzek McArthur was a fifth-grader at Lovell Elementary School when he took first place in last year's Wyoming Arbor Day youth Poster Contest. Myzek’s parents are Mel and Jen McArthur of Lovell. Courtesy photo

The contest deadline is March 27.

The annual contest educates children about the importance of trees and the benefits they provide us in our daily lives.

All Wyoming fourth- and fifth-grade students and home-schooled students are invited to participate. Posters are not judged by grade level.

The student who wins the state contest will receive $100, a plaque and a framed copy of their winning poster while their teacher will receive $100 to buy classroom materials. The second place artist will get $50 and a framed copy of their poster.

The contest is sponsored by Wyoming State Forestry Division and Wyoming Project Learning Tree.

For full contest rules, visit the Wyoming Project Learning Tree website.

You now can text to turn in poachers

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has launched a new method for the public to report poaching incidents: by text or an Android app.

“Many of our biggest poaching cases come from tips received during the months wildlife is on their winter range and even during the summer,” said Aaron Kerr, law enforcement coordinator, in a statement.

Anyone with a cell phone can now report critical poaching information to the Game and Fish by sending a text message to 847411 (TIP411). Make WGFD the first word of your message, followed by the poaching information you'd like to report. Critical information includes descriptions of the suspect and their vehicle, the exact location of the violation and what they observed. The Internet-based service, Tip411, enables anonymously texted tips.

“The information people provide is critical to allow game wardens to follow up on a case,” said Kerr. “This new tool is going to be invaluable, as it will give the public a way to report wildlife violations in a timely manner, which in turn will give wardens the needed information to investigate and solve poaching cases.”

In addition to texting, Android users can download the WGFD Tips app to report wildlife violations.

Last year, 451 tips were submitted through the Game and Fish Department’s Stop Poaching Hotline. The resulting cases involved 53 people and accounted for fines totaling over $353,000. The Wyoming Wildlife Protectors Association rewarded $15,300 to people who provided poaching tip information to the Game and Fish.

Anonymous tips can also be submitted directly on the Game and Fish website or by calling 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847).

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