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New-look county commission seated

New-look county commission seated; nighttime meeting possibility raised

Jan 14, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

It's the first time two women have served since 2008.

A more diverse Fremont County Commission met for the first time Jan. 8. The county board discussed beginning of the year business, talked about changes and took a tour of the court house.

Two new commissioners are on this year's board: Stephanie Kessler and Larry Allen. Kessler narrowly defeated District 4 incumbent Pat Hickerson in November's general election.

Allen gained his seat by by beating out incumbent Dennis Christensen in the District 2 Republican primary. The primary went into a special election after election judges made mistakes in the first round with Christensen the apparent winner the first time, Allen the second.

The new commissioners alter the county board's gender and political diversity, but the board has had similar variation in the past.

With two women and three men, there are twice as many women on the board. Further-more, there are now three Republicans, one Democrat and one independent on the board compared to last year's four Republicans and one Democrat.

The last time two women sat on the commission was 2007-2008, when Jane Adamson and Keja Whiteman were at the table. From 1995-1996, three women were commissioners, Adamson, Valerie Hafner Phifer and Alama Nicol.

For a stint between 1999 and 2004, though, all commissioners were men, and in the past 22 years, there has been an average of about one woman on the board.

The period 1995-96 was also the last instance fewer than four Republicans held commission seats. At that time, Democrats Hafner Phifer, Nicol and Ralph Urbigkeit were on the commission.

For eight years 1999-2007 the commission was a solidly Republican board.

One of the commission's first decisions was to designate all banks in Fremont County as depositories for the county government.

Chairman Doug Thompson said the commission designated to all the banks as such so the Treasurer can use them as necessary.

The commission also decided to keep The Ranger and Lander Journal as its official newspapers, where all county public notices will be published. The newspapers make the space available at a substantial discount from retail advertising rates.

Kessler raised the question of a change in the meeting schedule.

"Has the commission considered holding regular meetings in the evenings so that they are more accessible to people who work during the day?" asked Kessler.

County Clerk Julie Freese said changing the county board's schedule could have logistical and financial implications.

If the commission met after normal business hours, the commission's staff and other county employees who attend the meetings would have to adjust their schedule or be paid over time, she said.

Some issues interest many members of the public and considering those items in evening meetings could be a good idea, Thompson said.

"It hasn't really been discussed," he added. "It would be a good point of discussion."

The commission plans to discuss its meeting schedule at its Jan. 15 meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 2 p.m., but the day was not over yet. Thompson led the other commissioners in a tour of the Fremont County Courthouse to introduce Kessler and Allen to county staff and to familiarize them with government departments.

The group first went into the Fremont County Assessor's office, where Assessor Tara Berg gave everyone a primer on tax abatements. The tour then visited the county treasurer's and clerk's officers and met their staffs.

Afterward, commissioners packed into an elevator and rode down to basement. Thompson showed them more offices and the old county jail, where the cells now are full of county records, unused equipment and props from a haunted house sometimes created in the former lock-up.

Then, the group walked through the jail and met Fremont Coroner Ed McAuslan at the morgue. McAuslan showed commissioners the exam room, viewing room and freezer in his department's area.

The tour continued on, moving up stairs to the Fremont Count Attorney's office, and then up more stairs to the rest of the courthouse.

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