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Incumbents and challengers agree board oversight merits change

Oct 10, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Both candidates challenging incumbents for spots on the Fremont County Commission say they would work, if elected, to improve oversight of county boards.

"I promise better leadership by staying informed of county boards and taking action in a responsible manner if necessary," Independent candidate Nathan Maxon said during a debate last month at Central Wyoming College. "The job of the commission is to be aware of what's going on."

He pointed specifically to the Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District, which has struggled to develop a functional waste management system for local residents.

"The commission can help solve (those problems) before they become much larger," Maxon said. "There are demonstrated problems, and the commission has to step up and take action to address the situation."

He also mentioned the county museums board, which has experienced recent turnover in leadership.

"There are ongoing problems there," Maxon said.

He suggested pushing the museums board to collaborate with the Museum of the American West in Lander.

"Right now that's not a great relationship," Maxon said. "(They could) create a better relationship that will go a long way toward opening the Lander economy and bolstering tourism."

He added that he would keep the public more informed about activities on county boards.

"There's a lot of frustration out there that stems from a lack of understanding," Maxon said.

Stephanie Kessler, the Independent running against Republican incumbent Pat Hickerson, agreed that the county board system could use improvement when it comes to checks and balances.

"We need to ... ensure there's public accountability for getting the job done," Kessler said. "Those boards are ultimately, in a great degree, the responsibility of the commission."

She said she has studied the bylaws governing county boards, calling them a "helter skelter mix" of rules and regulations.

"Some are very well established in terms of their mission, while others are very unclear about what their mission and purposes should be," Kessler said. "I think we need to have an overall template ... then interview to select people for those boards that fully understand the job."

Incumbents

Republican Doug Thompson, who is running against Maxon, said the relationship between commissioners and county boards is defined by state statues.

"All of our boards have a specific statutory responsibility and requirement," Thompson said. "They vary, (and) they're contradictory."

For example, he said, members of the library board are supposed to set their own salaries, which Thompson said "runs contrary" to the concept that commissioners control the county budget.

"It's kind of a hodge-podge," he said, agreeing with Kessler's description.

When it comes to filling board seats, Thompson said it is the public's responsibility to be more involved. When the county advertises for open spots on local boards, Thompson said people rarely volunteer. And if they do, he said they don't always know about pertinent issues.

"Many times we ask, 'Have you ever attended a meeting?'" Thompson said. "They say, 'No, I just want to serve.' It's hard to hold those people to the level of accountability that's been suggested here."

In addition, he said, commissioners who attend board meetings are instructed to merely communicate with members, not manage goings-on.

"There's a fine line between micromanaging -- which we get beat up for quite frequently -- and giving them advice," Thompson said. "If you try to control them, you stifle that creativity of the citizenry that sit on that board."

Hickerson agreed, describing the solid waste board, for example, which is equipped with its own revenue, budget and staff.

"We give them advice and make sure what they do is reasonable, but we don't get to vote," he said. "We don't have solid control."

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Fremont County Commissioners