Oct 30, 2015

Park County library, treasurer's office go all out for Halloween

Halloween came a little early to some of the Park County government offices in Cody.

With the spooky holiday falling on a Saturday, employees at both the Park County Treasurer's Office and the Park County Library decided to celebrate today (Friday) by donning a variety of costumes.

The Park County Treasurer's Office became the Land of Oz today. Courtesy photo
Staffers in the treasurer's office, under the leadership of the Wicked Witch of the West (a.k.a. treasurer Barb Poley), went all out in redecorating their work space as the Land of Oz.

A winged monkey (Pat Ford) steals Toto away from Dorothy (Ashley Scott) in the treasurer's office. Courtesy photo
Each employee dressed up as a different character from the classic novel and movie: the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Glinda the Good Witch of the North, a winged monkey and even as the yellow brick road itself.

The decor wasn't hindering the office from issuing new registrations and other usual business, though customers did seem to be smiling more than usual.

"Got to have fun," Poley explained. She added that her office celebrates all of the holidays and that they'd soon be brainstorming ideas to decorate for the Christmas season.

While they didn't go with one unified theme, employees over at the Park County Library also got into the Halloween spirit with a staff-wide costume contest. Library patrons were asked to cast a vote for their favorite costume throughout the day.

Outfits included several children's book characters, a "Book Review Queen," a gypsy, a magic genie, a sorceress, a geisha and Princess Leia.

You can check out some photos from the Cody library's Halloween eve festivities in the gallery below.

Halloween 2015

Newly formed ‘gash’ opens in Big Horn Mountains, draws national attention

The Big Horn Mountains really are all they are cracked up to be: large portions of the southern end of the range recently moved to create a crack or “gash” that’s about 750 yards long and about 50 yards wide, according to SNS Outfitters & Guides.

A crevasse recently formed in the sourthern end of the Big Horn Mountains. Photo courtesy SNS Outfitters & Guides
The new formation is likely the result of a slow-moving landslide, said Seth Wittke, the Wyoming Geological Survey’s manager of groundwater and geologic hazards and mapping. Landslides can move at catastrophic speeds, such as what is observed in Washington state, while others can be much slower.

The size of this type of opening can vary depending on the size of the hill and the stability of the land, he said.

“A number of things trigger them, moisture in the subsurface which causes weakness in soil or geology, and any process that would weaken the bedrock or unstabilize it somehow,” Wittke said.

The challenge for the Geological Survey crew is the formation is on private property, so finding out exactly what happened would require access permission from the property’s owner.

“All we have seen is pictures since it is on private land,” said Wyoming Geological Survey’s public information specialist Chamois Andersen. “It’s hard to assess without someone on the ground looking at it.”

Interest in the newly formed “gash” spurred several thousand likes and shares on SNS Outfitters & Guides’ Facebook page since the formation appeared earlier this month. It was a trending topic on Facebook this week and many national media outlets have posted about it.

There were apparently some people who even took to social media to worry that the slide is a sign that the volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park is about to erupt. Those fears may or may not have been fueled by Facebook, which paired the trending news about the slide in the Big Horns with a photo of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Facebook paired the trending news about the large slide in the Big Horn Mountains with a photo of Yellowstone National Park, which lies well to the west.
Based on prior mapping and what’s visible in the pictures, “the gash” is likely a slump, slide or detachment, Andersen said. But, without an on-the-ground investigation, it’s difficult to determine.

“There is some speculation on the web and with our folks, too, that an early, wet, spring and summer had a lot to do with it,” Andersen said. “It is not uncommon to have slides like that.”

If a formation such as the one found in the southern end of the Big Horns is found, Wittke suggests not approaching it since it can be difficult to determine if the land is still moving or if the ground has stabilized.

Landslides and other geological changes can be reported at www.wsgs.wyo.gov so the Geological Survey crew can investigate the scene to determine the cause and find out if it’s dangerous, Wittke said.

After 33 years in law enforcement, Cody police chief retires

“When you come out of this positon, you come out with a lot of battle scars,” says outgoing Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam. “A lot of battle scars.”

Rockvam said his 33 years in law enforcement made for a great career and he can't think of anything he would rather have done. He said he worked with remarkable officers who performed their jobs with care and compassion. He’s proud of what he accomplished as an officer and as a chief. But in taking a long-planned retirement and heading for a new job as a Billings area pastor, there are also things he won’t miss.

Perry Rockvam is retiring as Cody's police chief. Photo courtesy Cody Police Department
“The police work part of it, that is a blast,” Rockvam said in a recent interview. “It’s the other things that can wear you down: the personnel issues, the politics, those things that are hard to deal with.”

“And to do it for as long as I did, I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready and I’m excited. I’m excited to be moving on to the next chapter in my life.”

During his career, Rockvam served as a deputy sheriff, a patrol officer (in a vehicle, on a motorcycle and on a bicycle), a detective and an assistant chief at agencies in South Dakota, Arizona and Cody. He spent more than 20 years with the Cody Police Department, the last 11 as its chief.

Today (Friday) is his official last day.

Rockvam considers the management of the 2006 Hell’s Angels World Run in Cody as one of the highlights of his career — though he added that managing the event was the work of a “great group of team players” who worked together.

Behind the scenes, he said it was a complex operation for law enforcement.

“People don’t have a clue or an understanding of what it took to manage ... that event in the community and the conflicts and the things that were going on in the motorcycle world at that point,” Rockvam said.

He said his department treated the motorcycle club members “with great respect.” The chief’s philosophy was to treat the vistiors “the same as we do our own citizens; nothing more and nothing less.” Rockvam believes the Hells Angels felt it was fair “that we didn’t go out and target them or write them citations or things like that.”

A smaller group of the bikers returned to Cody in 2014 and, much like 2006, there weren’t any significant problems.

There was some criticism during both rallies that police overreacted, but “I’ll take the criticism any time. Any time,” Rockvam said, adding, “We were prepared and we had the capabilities of doing the things that we needed to do.”

In addition to avoiding trouble, he says managing the police response to the influx of bikers ultimately helped him manage the response to the abduction of a young Cody girl in October 2012.
Because of the skills learned during the Hells Angels rally, “we were able to get up to speed right away with what we needed to do,” Rockvam said.

The girl was found a few hours later and officers from Cody and other agencies used her recollections and police work (like pulling surveillance camera footage) to track down the perpetrator within a matter of days.

Rockvam said he most enjoyed working as a detective, but going into administration and making changes he felt were needed was also rewarding.

“I knew what I wanted to do and I knew where I wanted to take the department,” he said.

The Cody Police Department has experienced some internal conflict in recent years. As an example, court records indicate there was disagreement within the department about then-Assistant Police Chief George Menig’s actions during a 2010 arrest. (The arrest is now the subject of a lawsuit.)

Speaking generally, Rockvam said “we’ve had some internal struggles and so yeah, it has been frustrating” as chief. However, he suggested similar issues exist in any workplace.

Rockvam added that personnel matters are confidential by law, and it's bothered him to hear people expressing opinions without having all the information.

“To me, sometimes that’s even more frustrating — is that people will talk like they actually know,” Rockvam said, adding that, “I hear so many times, so many things and stuff, and I’m just going, ‘Wow! Where did that come from?!’”

The Cody Police Department, shown after Rockvam's Oct. 23 retirement party. Photo courtesy City of Cody
He similarly says that, unless someone has worked in law enforcement, they don't fully appreciate what it takes to do the job. He also thinks most people don’t see how officers are working to serve the community, make it safe and improve quality of life.

“People take for granted that, at any time, you can call the police department and we will be there. Any time,” Rockvam said. “That is a huge commitment and a huge service that law enforcement does and I don’t think it’s appreciated — and I especially don’t think it’s appreciated in today’s world.”

With the antagonism and scrutiny, threats seemingly on all sides and difficult calls to handle — ranging from domestic disputes to suicides to child molestation — Rockvam’s glad to be ending his career in law enforcement.

“Knowing that those types of things they’re going to be facing in the future, I don’t envy them,” he said of new officers.

A new chief is expected to be in place within five or six months.

Rockvam hopes someone within the department is picked to replace him, but “I know that the city will pick the best candidate that they feel will do the job that they want.”

In his new job as a Harvest Church pastor in Lockwood, Montana, Rockvam said he’ll miss the area’s mountains and Cody, which he called “a great place to raise our family.”

It’ll also be weird to be out of policing after three decades as an officer, Rockvam said, “but I know that it’s time.”

Oct 27, 2015

Not wanting to be ‘part of the problem,’ county declines to seek dollars from insurers

It’s not every day that a government agency turns down a chance to bring in more dollars and save local residents money in the process. But that’s what a split Park County Commission effectively did last week.

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton had suggested getting a service (for as little as $20 a month) that would allow the county to easily bill insurance companies for procedures such as vaccinations.

Park County isn't going to start billing insurer for vaccinations. File photo courtesy National Institutes of Health
Park County Public Health only charges citizens $15 above the cost of a vaccine, but health insurance companies will often authorize significantly more. So while a citizen is only charged $25 for a flu vaccination, their insurance company might pay as much as $85 if they were billed, Crampton said.

“It’s taking advantage of what the insurance companies are willing to pay versus what we charge,” he explained at the Oct. 20 meeting.

Crampton said Big Horn County brought in an extra $1,000 after starting to bill insurers.

But the dollar signs failed to convince the majority of the Park County commissioners that it was a good idea.

“I guess I have a little bit of a tough time just setting us up to take the money just because the insurance company is willing to pay it,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston, adding, “Does that just mean we’re part of the damn problem, excuse me (for the language), with the insurance companies?”

“It seems like, to me, we’re adding to that problem,” agreed Commission Chairman Joe Tilden, backed by Commissioner Tim French.

In contrast, Commissioner Bucky Hall thought the billing was worth exploring, with public health’s revenue on the decline.

Commissioner Loren Grosskopf also wanted to look at the options, noting that if the insurance company pays for a vaccine, it saves the person money. If it was him getting the vaccination, “I would want my insurance company to process it first,” Grosskopf offered.

French countered that it wasn't the county’s job to submit someone's claims to insurance, calling for “some personal responsibility in the world.”

While public health’s overall revenue has dropped, Crampton said the current rates for vaccinations cover those costs.

Both Tilden and Livingston indicated they might change their minds about pursuing insurance companies if the county ever begins losing money.

Park County Public Health had doled out about 1,300 doses of flu vaccine as of last week and has about that many doses remaining, Crampton said.

(Editor's note: This version adds a correction from Crampton that Park County Public Health charges $15 (not $10) above the cost of its vaccines.)

~By CJ Baker

Buffalo Bill Center of the West selling rifle replicas as fundraiser

The famed Model 1873 Winchester rifle has played many roles across the Western United States over the decades: an accessory for outlaws, a peacekeeper for lawmen and now, a fundraiser for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In partnership with Navy Arms and Winchester Firearms, the Center of the West has created and is now selling a new “Centennial” edition of the historic rifle. All proceeds from the replicas’ sales will benefit the non-profit museum as it celebrates its 100-year anniversary in 2017.

The Centennial Model 1873 Winchester. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Winchester introduced the original version of the lever-action rifle in 1873, at a price of $50. By 1891, they were selling for $19.50 (or around $500 in today’s dollars).

Many frontiersmen bought the rifle — more than 720,000 were produced — and it became a firearms legacy, according to the Center of the West.

“It’s easy to see why the Model 1873 Winchester is widely known as the ‘Gun That Won the West.’ Its production run was so high that it became the everyman rifle of choice,” Ashley Hlebinsky, curator of the Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum, said in a statement. “Factor in its reputation expressed in movies and literature, this was one popular firearm.”

“To replicate the Model 1873 as our Centennial Rifle here at the Center of the West is incredibly special,” Hlebinsky added.

While the original Winchester was used by outlaws like Billy the Kid, cowboys and everyone in between, the new centennial replicas will have a much more limited customer base.

The Center of the West is producing just 200 “Exhibition Models” (they’ll sell for a not-so-everyman price of $7,995) and 1,000 “Presentation Models” (listed at $3,499.95). Center officials say the ornate rifles follow in the tradition of the museums’ namesake — William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody — who gave highly embellished Winchester rifles to his friends and business associates.

One side of the rifle depicts Buffalo Bill Cody on horseback. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The new replicas include some unique local touches: the rifles’ buttplates, receivers, and nose caps are being completed at Wyoming Armory in Cody, the left sideplate is engraved with the iconic bison that graces Wyoming’s flag and the right sideplate features a rendering of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s iconic sculpture “The Scout,” which depicts Buffalo Bill Cody on horseback.

The Center of the West began in 1917 as “a quest to preserve the legacy and legend” of Buffalo Bill. It’s grown from one small building to five museums that house more than 50,000 artifacts and many books, manuscripts and photographs.

The Centennial Model 1873 Winchester rifles are expected to be ready for delivery in January 2017.

To learn more, visit www.codygun.com.

Oct 26, 2015

Supposed CIA agent, who addressed local tea party in August, alleged to be a fraud

Wayne Simmons convinced the federal government, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, local tea party supporters and media outlets across the country — including this publication — that he’d spent 27 years fighting drug traffickers and terrorists as an undercover operative for the CIA.

Federal prosecutors now say that’s a lie.

Wayne Simmons, addressing local tea partyers in Emblem in August. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
Simmons, who was one of the keynote speakers at August’s Big Horn Basin TEA Party Picnic in Emblem, was arrested at his home in Maryland on Oct. 15 and charged with allegations of fraud in Virginia.

“My jaw is still on the floor,” Big Horn Basin TEA Party organizer Rob DiLorenzo said in an Oct. 19 interview, calling himself “mystified.”

The pending charges against Simmons allege he lied about being a former CIA officer to win jobs with military contractors and to help defraud a Virginia resident out of tens of thousands of dollars.

The indictment alleges that — to get two military contracting jobs between 2008 and 2010 — Simmons told the companies and the U.S. government he’d worked as a top secret “outside paramilitary special officer” for the CIA from 1973 to 2000. Court filings from prosecutors indicate the federal government accepted Simmons’ claims, issued him secret security clearances and even deployed him to Afghanistan in 2010 as an intelligence adviser to senior U.S. military officials.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia now says it has discovered that Simmons is not actually a former CIA agent. Further, prosecutors say Simmons has a criminal past, including DWUI charges and felonies, that he either didn’t disclose or claimed were related to his CIA service.

Beyond fooling the government, prosecutors say that in 2011, Simmons used his purported CIA ties to help convince a Virginia resident to give him $125,000 for some supposed real estate projects. The indictment alleges Simmons actually used the money “for personal purposes.”

All told, Simmons faces seven felony counts, including two counts of major fraud against the United States. Last week, a federal magistrate in Virginia ordered Simmons to be held in jail while the case is pending. He pleaded not guilty on Friday.

It was an abrupt turnaround for a man who’s made dozens of appearances on Fox News programs as a conservative terrorism expert — and who was treated as a VIP at the tea party picnic two months ago.

DiLorenzo, who’s known Simmons for years and had dinner with him just a few weeks ago, said last week that he doesn't have an opinion to offer about the allegations as of yet, “because all I've heard is one side of the story.”

He's hoping Simmons will call and explain what's going on.

“My gut feeling tells me there's something else happening,” DiLorenzo told the Tribune of the charges. “I mean, it may be political.”

Simmons — who also spoke at the 2013 TEA Party Picnic — was introduced by DiLorenzo this year as a man who “knows everything about everything,” with DiLorenzo joking that his wife calls Simmons “the American James Bond.”

Simmons has given silver screen-caliber accounts of the dangers he faced while working undercover to track “hundreds” of drug traffickers, terrorists and their associates.

He had explained in a June 2008 column for the conservative publication “Human Events” that “No one, with the exception of those at the very highest levels, even knew of my Special Operations Group, much less that I was a part of it.”

Simmons described a supposed incident in 1980 where traffickers handcuffed him to a small wooden chair and knocked him to the concrete floor.

“With a nod, the narco-terrorist interrogating me signaled to his henchmen to sit me back in the upright position and ready me for another punch,” Simmons wrote in a May 2009 column for Human Events.

Simmons later wrote a fictional thriller about “a former operative in the CIA’s most clandestine division” who helps “prevent Armageddon in the Middle East.”

Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tweeted an endorsement of the book in 2012.

“Wayne Simmons doesn't just write it. He's lived it,” says a blurb for the novel attributed to Rumsfeld, who’s described Simmons as a friend.

In Emblem this summer, Simmons said he’d taken three trips to Guantanamo Bay during President George W. Bush’s administration and went “personally for Secretary Rumsfeld to observe the detainees and enemy combatants.”

Simmons’ lengthy speech in Emblem was a wonky, conservative-flavored rundown of international affairs. He generally made a case that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has weakened America. That included faulting the Obama administration’s actions in Benghazi, Libya, leading up to the 2012 attack on the U.S.’s diplomatic compound and suggesting the Democratic president’s actions in Libya have been aimed at setting up an Islamic “caliphate” in the Middle East. He also described Obama as “a communist, socialist, Muslim.”

Simmons’ strong, public opinions have included calling on then-CIA director Leon Panetta to resign in 2010, asserting in a column for Human Events that Panetta “was not ... and is not now an intelligence professional” and that he didn’t have the credentials for the job.

During August's Big Horn Basin TEA Party picnic, Simmons (at right) jumped in to help answer a question directed to Rev. Rafael Cruz. Cody News Co. photo by CJ Baker
A couple of Simmons’ friends told the Washington Post last week they wonder if evidence will emerge Simmons actually did actually perform some kind of secret work for the government.

“The CIA is such an underground organization in many respects (that) we don’t know what the hell is going on,” DiLorenzo told the Tribune.

The Washington Post quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Nathanson as saying in federal court last week that Simmons is “always using this supposed CIA affiliation as a trump card” and “frankly, it often works.”

Meanwhile, the conservative group Accuracy in Media has scrubbed all online references to the role Simmons has played in its unofficial investigation into the Benghazi attack; “Human Events” has removed all of Simmons’ columns from its website.

Last week’s indictment does not explain how the government became suspicious of Simmons. His attorney in Virginia — appointed by the court because he lacked the means to hire a private one — said Tuesday that the federal investigation had spanned two years.

The Washington Times reported that former CIA officer Kent Clizbe and another government worker were suspicious of Simmons’ credentials back in 2013. When questioned then by the Times, Simmons reportedly said he'd been vetted by the Department of Defense (DoD) and had files proving his story.

“Please note. I’m listed as CIA. DoD did the vetting,” Simmons reportedly told the Times in a 2013 email that the site published Sunday. “I did not just miraculously show up at GITMO (Guantanamo Bay) 3 times to assess the terrorists.”

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