Special meeting brings out tensions within county leaders

PINEDALE – Underlying issues returned to the surface at the conclusion of the Jan. 18 Sublette County Board of Commissioners meeting.

During the public comment portion, county attorney Mike Crosson stood and spoke about two issues that concerned him. One was that the county may ask too many policy questions of deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich during discussions when he should be there only for legal advice. Commission chair Joel Bousman said that Melinkovich could decline to answer a question if it strays too far from legal advice. Some questions are asked because commissioners don’t think of the distinction at the time, Bousman said.

Secondly, Crosson brought up what he called the “1,000-pound gorilla in the room.”

The board of commissioners held a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 13, to appoint outside legal counsel. About 16 minutes of that meeting’s 18-minute entirety was held in executive session. It culminated in the board hiring Holland & Hart to represent the county in the recently filed lawsuit regarding the county’s rezoning approval of Jackson Fork Ranch. Outside counsel was pursued because, as it was communicated, Crosson felt he couldn’t represent the commissioners in court proceedings involving Jackson Fork Ranch. At some point during that discussion, Crosson felt county administrator Matt Gaffney overstepped.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Crosson said he’s “endured tremendous disrespect from Mr. Gaffney over the course of the years.” He asked commissioners to “come up with a solution,” because he couldn’t continue with the current working environment.

In addition to pointing out there are five sitting county commissioners when the county used to only have three, he said there are three counties in Wyoming with administrators, one being Teton County. Crosson said he didn’t think Sublette County should model itself after Teton County.

Bousman addressed Crosson’s concerns, saying he’s felt Gaffney has done a “tremendous job” to the county as administrator.

“I think if you look at that job description and see what he’s done in terms of the money that’s come into this county, especially with all the COVID stuff, you’re talking several millions of dollars,” Bousman said. “None of us as commissioners are in a position to do that kind of paperwork. We’re not qualified and if we didn’t have him we’d have to hire someone else.”

Bousman then said he was worried Crosson had “some level of insecurity” that Gaffney was stepping on toes. Bousman said he’s never felt Gaffney was giving legal advice to spite the county attorney’s office.

This comes as the latest chapter of an ongoing saga. Crosson was elected county attorney in November 2018. At the time, most of the attorney’s office campaigned for the reelection of the incumbent. As reported in the Roundup at the time, a significant restructuring of the attorney’s office happened at the time. Gaffney used to be deputy county attorney, who gave legal advice to commissioners, as late as Aug. 20. The county attorney’s office posted a job vacancy for deputy county attorney on Facebook early that following September. Gaffney was then hired as county administrator and director of human resources on Oct. 1, 2019. His hiring was approved by a 3-2 vote. Current commissioners Doug Vickrey and Tom Noble were the votes against. Current board chair Bousman is the only yes vote that remains on the board.