Hard Questions for Six Commission Candidates, Decision Expected by Dec. 27

The interviews for the six commission candidates selected to appear before the court are done, now all that’s left is for District Court Judge Michael “Nick” Deegan to make a final decision on who will fill the vacant commission seat.

Deegan is expected to make his final decision by Dec. 27.

Beginning at 2 p.m. yesterday, Elgin Faber, Ralph Kingan, Mary Silvernell, Del Shelstad, Christopher Fare, and Allision Ochs- Gee were called upon to answer a series of six, identical questions:

1. What conflicts of interest do they perceive arising with their current employment?
2. How do they maintain good working relationships?
3. What value would they bring to the commission that sets them apart from the other candidates?
4. What issue, currently facing the county, are they the most passionate about?
5. Given the current hardships facing the county and the many funding demands, how would they go about distributing the funding?
6. Could they give a detailed account of a time they had to resolve a conflict?

Deegan said that their answers to each question would be limited to two- minutes and any time leftover from their responses would be added at the end to a three-minute period for closing remarks.

Each candidate, confined to the jury chambers, were called into the courtroom one by one in random order. None of the candidates were informed beforehand what the questions were going to be nor were they allowed to sit and listen with the audience until after their interviews were complete.

Mary Silvernell

Mary Silvernell, executive director of the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, given her current employment, it’s hard not to have conflicts of interest. If she was chosen, Silvernell indicated that she would be willing to resign as CVB director and would recuse herself from voting if any other conflict arose.

Having spent several years working for Disney theme parks and hotels along with her time as CVB director, Silvernell said that she has the experience necessary to fill a role as a county commissioner.

“You can never make everybody happy,” she said, drawing on her years of experience resolving conflicts. In her mind, dealing with conflicts takes a willingness to listen.

Silvernell is most passionate about ensuring the county can offer reliable air service and that it will cease its sole reliability on the energy sector as it’s primary economic driver.

She maintains good working relationships by being a “servant listener,” a leader that other follow because their needs are being met. To her, being a county commissioner is more than attending weekly meetings and discussions, it’s about leading the people.

When it comes to funding, Silvernell said she would turn her attention to the budget. She would look to see which areas the county could start each budgetary cycle from zero rather than rolling over excess funds from year to year.

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Del Shelstad

Del Shelstad, chairman of the Joint Powers Fire Board, said that he did not perceive any conflicts of interest with his current role.

Shelstad did not believe he could identify anything that would set him apart from the other candidates waiting in the jury room.

“There are a lot of good people in that room,” he explained. But he does feel that his experiences with budgets, gleaned from years of being a local business owner and his role on the fire board, make him an excellent candidate.

Shelstad said that he’s had many years’ experience resolving conflict, both from his time serving in the U.S. Army as a Ranger and a business owner. He’s learned that’s it’s important to listen to all sides of the story to see where an amicable solution can be found.

The issue Shelstad’s most passionate about faces the commissioners directly. With the commission welcoming three new commissioners in January and the upcoming legislative session, he said that a lot of things are going to change.

Shelstad firmly believes that he would have a good relationship with the existing commissioners.

In terms of funding, Shelstad said that the public and agencies around the county appear to expect the commissioners to nod their heads every time someone asks for money. He’s dealt with a similar problem on the fire board, but, he says, the county needs to prioritize what needs to get done.

Shelstad said that he’s had a lifetime of public service, starting with his time in the army. When he was gearing up to separate from the military, his commanding officer told him that if he didn’t go into public service, then everything he had learned from the army would be for naught.

Allison Ochs-Gee

Allision Ochs-Gee said that she does not see any conflicts of interest arising but would be willing to abstain from votes if any were identified.

She acknowledged that the court had a strong pool of candidates, each with their own set of strengths to bring to the table. But she also “has a lot of talents that each of them have individually.”

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Combining her talents with her time serving on the Powder River Energy Board of Directors, she feels that she is a cut above the other candidates.

When dealing with conflicts, Ochs-Gee also feels that it is important to listen.

She’s most passionate about making sure the county continues to support the energy industry and wants to find ways to ensure the energy industry has a place in the county’s future.

Ochs-Gee’s ability to maintain good working relationships revolves on the way she treats others.

“I treat everybody with a level of respect,” she said and works diligently to get to know new people.

Ochs-Gee wants to make sure the county’s necessary services, like the sheriff’s office and road maintenance, are taken care of funding wise. Once the necessities are taken care of, she would turn her attention to the county’s wants and consider cutting funding.

She said that cutting funding would hurt, but she wouldn’t leave it out to dry and would look for different avenues to fund county wants through grants or other avenues.

Elgin Faber

Elgin Faber, local business owner and minister, also did not believe he would have any conflicts of interest. On the contrary, he said that his ties to agriculture and the energy industry would give them much-needed representation and would prove to be nothing but an asset to the county.

Faber said that he’s a good manager, which is the value that he would bring to the commission and is what sets him apart from the other candidates.

As a manager, he’s learned over many years to deal with conflicts between businesses, employees, members of his church. He feels that he can continue to do the same as a county commissioner.

The issue facing the county that Faber is most passionate about is its people.

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“Campbell County has got the greatest people who dream big,” he said. The bountiful opportunities of Campbell County have made it a haven for current residents and Faber wants to keep it that way.

He feels that the county needs to budget better in order to get itself out of a destructive cycle of riding the constant ups and downs of the energy sector.

Faber thinks the best way to distribute funding is to leverage the county’s department heads. He thinks that using the people who have the most experience will prove invaluable in deciding who gets funding and who does not.

Christopher Fare

Christopher Fare, local resident, believes that the only conflict he could have is with his current employer, a local construction company. But he said the company has agreed to give all the time he requires to serve as a county commissioner.

Fare has several years working as an environmental engineer and manager, for his current company and for Cloud Peak Energy. He feels that his value to the commission is his intimate knowledge of environmental affairs.

Fare said that he’s recently been tasked with working in human affairs, which has given him an excellent ability to deal with conflict between employees.

He’s most passionate about the people’s mental state and feels that addressing mental health issues needs to be one of the county’s top priorities.

Suicide, depression, and anxiety “shouldn’t be a problem in our community,” Fare said.

He believes that the county should look to existing funding models for the answer to it’s funding needs, saying that other organizations and governments have used them to great success.

Ralph Kingan

Ralph Kingan, mayor of the Town of Wright, does not believe he would have any conflicts of interest should he become a county commissioner.

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“I can retire,” he said simply. If he is chosen, he’s indicated that he would step down from his position as mayor and would allow someone else to fill the vacated role.

Kingan believes that his 5 terms as Wright’s mayor have provided him a wealth of experience when it comes to governing, which is the value he would bring to the commission. Over the years, he’s built relationships with state legislators, city council members, and county commissioners.

He feels that Gillette College is the topic he is most passionate about.

With its nursing, trade, and academic programs, Kingan said that the college is “one of the most important things,” to diversify Gillette’s economy.

When it comes to cutting funding, Kingan suggested that the county follow the model he’s used in Wright, which is to cut the budget by one percent across the board.

Everybody loses something, but it’s better than losing programs, Kingan said.