Gillette resident, Jeff Rainey, holds a sign Tuesday outside City Hall stating “Mayor King: No More Blackmail!”
Protestors began lining up in front of City Hall a good hour ahead of Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Gillette City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Some carried signs about First Amendment freedoms, others pushed back on government overreach by elected officials when it comes to a person’s right to privacy while others demanded Mayor Louise Carter-King step down along with the entire remaining city council.
The protest was in response to the forced resignation of Councilman Shay Lundvall by the Mayor and other council members last week following his liking someone else’s posts on Facebook that were found to objectionable by out-of-towners and, eventually, the Mayor and council as well. The “liked” posts in question were mostly comments made by Bob Vomhof on his own personal page, which they argued could be perceived as sexist and offensive.
Last Tuesday night, following a closed executive session Monday evening in council chambers, Lundvall said he had been asked to resign. Writing on his “Re-Elect Shay Lundvall For Gillette City Council Ward 3” Facebook page, Lundvall said he had been confronted by the Mayor and council members that night who told him that if didn’t resign by 8 a.m. the following morning, they would release a letter detailing certain Facebook posts he had liked, which they said would likely degrade or disgrace him.
The posts made on Gillette resident Bob Vomhof’s page, which the City of Gillette shared on social media in a post detailing their decision to force Lundvall’s resignation, outlined Lundvall’s activity on social media. The city said they received written complaints regarding these liked posts from individuals who are not residents of this community. When members of the public make a specific complaint regarding a sitting councilman and his or her public behavior, the City said that they have an obligation to investigate.
The City’s statement further said that council and staff conducted a cursory review of Lundvall’s social media activity and were appalled “by the abhorrent nature of the content.”
Until June 9, the statement continued, “the City was unaware of Lundvall’s systematic support on social media of views regarding violence toward citizens, misogynistic views toward women, disdain for the handicapped, and racial and ethnic slurs
In response, the statement continued that Lundvall was informed by council that day that the city did not support “his divisive and alarming views,” at which point they said they intended to publicly call for his resignation.
“After careful consideration, as a courtesy to Lundvall, Council unanimously agreed to give Mr. Lundvall until June 10 to accept responsibility for his behavior and resign,” the statement on their social media page said.
Later that evening, Lundvall contacted the Mayor and resigned from the Council, per the post, at which point, on June 10, the Mayor and Council accepted Lundvall’s resignation in writing to vacate his seat in Ward 3.
The post goes on to say that since Lundvall’s resignation, there have been inaccurate statements made publicly.
“The Council initially did not make public the posts in question because he resigned,” the City’s statement said. “But based on his misstatements, the Council believes it is necessary for the public to understand the exact nature of his resignation.”
They further refuted Lundvall’s assessment that they had forced him to sign but instead it was his decision.
“The City Council supports the right to freedom of expression,” the post continued. “However, every individual is responsible for what they say in public, on social media, or otherwise.”
Given the fact that the Council passed an anti-discrimination resolution supporting all members of the community in 2016, they further stated that “they cannot support Mr. Lundvall remaining a member after his abhorrent views were made public.”
For his part, Lundvall plans to run for his open seat in the next election. “Well, it is official!” he wrote on his re-elect Shay Lundvall page May 14, which he reconfirmed in a subsequent post June 12. “I am running for re-election to Gillette City Council Ward 3!”
Lundvall did not respond to comment from County 17 prior to publication.
Meanwhile, supporters of Lundvall flooded the City Council chambers Tuesday night, stating their support of Lundvall and calling for the resignations of both the Mayor and Council in the wake of what they claim was effectively blackmail.
“He was in fact, intimidated and this council member was forced to resign,” Chris Smith stated during public comment. “This is a criminal act and needs to be investigated.”
Vomhof was present at the meeting, too, and also took his turn at addressing the Mayor and Gillette City Council directly.
“This is ridiculous,” he told them, “and I’m embarrassed to be here. I don’t want to be in your politics. Why is my name being smeared around town? You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”
The Mayor and council did not respond to Vomhof or any of the other residents’ comments, nor did they make any references to Lundvall during the meeting.
Lundvall has since apologized for liking these “indiscrete and inflammatory posts” and recognized the “unintended consequences and can put the City in situations that are not ideal.” He’s not a divisive person, he went on to say in his post, and that he was deeply sorry “for the confusion his “like” had caused.
Other council members were also implicated in the protests, including Councilman Bruce Brown, who was arrested for a DUI last year. When Brown went outside to talk to the protestors, Robert Boekhouht called him out on what he said was a double standard.
“You just got a DUI last year, right?” Boekhouht said. “Why are you still a councilman? You broke the law. Shay didn’t and you guys blackmailed him into leaving office.”
Meanwhile, outrage has ensued online.
Gillette resident Renee Edwards shared the city’s post with comments in support of Lundvall, including, “It’s CLEAR that this has been “a witch hunt,” we should all be terrified by the Mayor and city council’s behavior in this situation. It is unacceptable, illegal and a gross overreach of government.”
Another Gillette resident, Robert Kimbrough, posted to the Gillette Wyoming Rants and Raves page, upset.
“I find it really infuriating that the holier than thou completely useless mayor and her horde blackmailed this poor guy to resign because he happened to hit the like button on several Facebook pages,” he said.
Lance Wheeler also spoke out in a Facebook comment in support of Lundvall in saying, “We are not defined by our mistakes, we are defined by how we respond to those mistakes. You are a good man Shay, and taking responsibility shows that. All anyone can ask from their leaders is that they recognize their faults and work to overcome them. No leader is faultless.”
Seemingly in the city’s defense, although she noted that she doesn’t know Vomhof, have a vendetta against Lundvall or thinks the City did everything perfectly, Gillette resident Stacie Sumner McDonald said on her personal page, “This all became public by Shay disclosing the situation to the public. Which made it necessary for the City to respond to the allegations with their findings. Shay knew this would be the case.”
Lundvall and Carter-King were not available for County 17’s immediate request for comment prior to publication.
By Wednesday afternoon, more than 1,000 people have responded to the statement made by the City of Gillette made by the “City of Gillette (Government)” page. Many residents expressed their outrage while others, like Shawna McDonald, defended the city’s actions writing, “Thank you City of Gillette, for being calm, measured, and making the right decision. There is no room for hatred in our community and I stand behind you!”
Many residents vowed to reelect Lundvall, an issue, which will ultimately be decided at the ballot box.
Jen Kocher and Stephanie Scarcliff contributed to this story.