Three weeks after DG Reardon’s resignation from the board, the Board of County Commissioners could have his seat filled as early as Thursday.
Commission Chairman Del Shelstad called for a special meeting to decide who might take Reardon’s spot on the board.
The process was put into place immediately when the Campbell County Republican Party Central Committee (CCRPCC) met Jan. 18 to vote on nine applicants and narrow it down to three candidates. Jim Ford, Traci Barkey, and Don Hamm were selected, and it’s now in the commission’s hands.
If the four commissioners fail to unanimously select one of the three GOP candidates, any qualified elector in the county could request that the decision goes before a district judge.
Once the unexpired seat is filled, it will be a short commitment as it expires this year, as do the seats of commissioners Rusty Bell and Bob Maul who are nearing the end of their four-year terms.
Ford, 48, is a homegrown candidate, living in Campbell County his entire life.
After graduating from Campbell County High School and Casper College, Ford built an extensive background in local and regional energy industries. He currently works exclusively in the development of low carbon solutions for Wyoming Energy Resources.
Ford’s background also includes Waypoints Wyoming, vice president of operations for Atlas Carbon, laborer and mechanic for Campbell County Road & Bridge, welder and machinist for C&F Repair Service, and management with multiple oil and gas companies.
In the political arena, Board of County Commission Administrative Director Carol Seeger said Ford’s current involvement is on the Energy Capital Economic Development Board of Directors along with commissioner Rusty Bell.
“I believe that I am duty-bound to serve my family, neighbors, and community when and where I am able. We all are blessed to live in a strong and vibrant Campbell County that owes much to past leaders,” he said. “Service to this community as a commissioner is one way that I can give back. I believe that conserving our standing and identity is critical, while also knowing that we must respond to very real changes in our society. Leadership at the level of the county in many ways is the most direct interaction citizens will have with their government.”
Ford’s commitment to community service has allowed him to work with the Women’s Resource Center and St. Matthews Catholic Church.
In sharing his belief in the top five issues facing Campbell County, Ford said those include; the declining utilization of coal in the United States; current and future negative impacts to oil, natural gas and coal industries driven by political, social and market pressures; difficulties tied to revenue collections, instability and overall declining trend in tax base; economic diversity and workforce participation; as well as city and county working relationships relative to the provision of services.
At the Campbell County Republican Central Committee, all applicants were asked two unannounced questions. The first asked what aspects they think the Campbell County Commission should be more involved, and what areas do you think the commission should be less involved.
Ford responded, “I think this (board) could be more involved in identifying good candidates for the boards that are appointed and approved by the commission. I really do think there is a bit of complacency in the public about serving on those other appointed boards. Things (the board can do less of), I think that’s going to be dictated by the financial condition of our county. We are going to have to make hard decisions based upon what money is available to focus on what must be.”
The second question, asked by CCRPCC Chairperson Heather Herr, was in the event of a budget surplus, which county services would take priority?
“We have a slate of services that are offered to the citizens of this county that are like no other,” he said. “I would advise savings rather than spending if there is a surplus. I think in the near term and the long term, we’re going to be faced with different scenarios than the county commission has faced with the last 30 years. Prosperity and growth, and financial abundance are things that do need to be managed. I’m not sure that’s going to be the case going forward just due to the condition n of our mineral industries, primarily coal moves away from oil and gas probably in our generation.”
Barkey, age 49, has spent her career in business. She has worked for Bucyrus International for Re/Max Professionals for a combined 17 years, and more recently, was the owner and manager of City Brew-Gillette for the last 11 years and City Brew-Spearfish for 7 years.
“Living and working in private business in Campbell County has felt like a gift,” she says. “I’m grateful to this community for the opportunities it has granted me which grew my skills in business, economic development, and planning.”
Barkey, who said she grew up as a railroad kid, has been active in the community as well. She has served as chairperson of the City Parks & Beautification Board, City Planning Commission and was chairperson of the Campbell County Economic Development.
Some of her past community services include community trash pickup days, volunteering at the soup kitchen, volunteering at the National High School Finals Rodeo, and organizing a fall bulb planting group through the City of Gillette.
The grandma of three said she believes in a reasoned approach to problem-solving. Barkey said she is a passionate spokesperson for Campbell County, has a desire to ensure prosperity for citizens, and has a belief in American Exceptionalism, especially in the west.
“After a trying and tumultuous few years, Campbell County is positioned for growth, and ensuring continued community stability is going to be critical,” she shared with the Campbell County Republican Central Committee. “Fresh, but experience eyes will be needed, and I’m up for the task.”
Barkey said the five top issues the county is facing are; ensuring it can attract and retain exceptional employees; navigate through the end of the global pandemic; diversifying employment opportunities for the citizens of Campbell County; manage current and future budgets; and ensuring the community will excel at hosting the Camporee.
When asked where the commissioners should be more involved, and what aspects they should be less involved, Barkey said, “I think had I not been sitting in on these meetings lately and watching meetings on the (Gillette Public Access) I would have changed my opinion on this, but I was pleasantly surprised with the level of professionalism (of the board of commission). Where should they be involved more? It appears they go to all the liaison meetings for all the boards. Just listening to the public, I know there has been some question about the meetings not being open, but I know for the most part you can reach out to all of them.”
When asked in the event of a budget surplus, what county services would take priority, Barkey said, “Our assessed value went down last year, and I have a feeling it will be right where it was last year and possibly higher. I don’t know that you need to spend extra money, just because,” she said. “We have a pandemic, hopefully, and God willing, is on the downside, I think it’s frugal to keep some money in the back in case the next surprise.”
A 65-year-old Rozet resident, Hamm was born and raised in Campbell County. Agriculture and rodeo have been his life, before and after he graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Masters Degree in Agriculture Economics.
“My family homesteaded north of Rozet. We have been involved in ranching and the community ever since,” he said. “I’ve seen Gillette grow from a small, sleepy town to the wonderful city it has become today. With this, I have seen many booms and busts in Campbell County, as well with the problems associated with both.”
Hamm has been a self-employed rancher since 1978 and remains active. His career also includes state statistician for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, state economist for the USDA-Soil Conservation Service, Director of Johnson County Weed & Pest, and agriculture professor at Sheridan College.
Hamm believes in shopping local and keeping money in Campbell County.
“I think it’s very important to spend as much tax money with local businesses. I realize that it’s not always possible, but it’s something I think if we keep that money in the county then it helps the county economy,” he said
Hamm’s past political experience is lengthy and dates back to 1980 when he was elected to the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Board of Directors. He remains active on the board 42 years later.
He has also been on the Campbell County Public Land Board, County Healthcare Foundation Board, Farm Service Agency Committee, Farmer’s Cooperative Association Board, and Power River Energy Board.
When it comes to community service, Hamm’s contribution is extensive over the decades. He has worked with the Campbell County Fair (Energy Town Pro Rodeo, “R” Youth Rodeo, Team Penning, Cow horse classes, Youth Horse Show, Round Robin), Wyoming Junior Rodeo Association, Wyoming Junior High Rodeo Association, Gillette high school rodeo, Wyoming High School Rodeo Association, 4H/FFA, Gillette Little Levi Rodeo, and Wyoming Reined Cow Horse Association.
Hamm said the top five issues the county is facing include; maintaining and broadening the tax base beyond minerals; COVID-19 and the stipulations that come with accepting related funds; President Joe Biden’s 30-30 proposition and its implications to the area; the county’s expenditures and balancing tax revenues with the needs and wants of the community; and the implementation of government grants/funds with their burden on local citizens.
When facing the CCRCC for two unannounced questions, Hamm said of the question regarding the board of commission, “Things they probably shouldn’t be as involved in maybe is not working with boards and trying not to micromanage. There are times that you have to step in, but there are times you need to step back.”
In the event of a budget surplus, when asked which county services would take priority, Hamm said the county doesn’t need any more buildings.
“I’m a strong advocate of maintaining what we got before we build anything else,” he said. “Try to fill the savings account so that we can weather the storms we have had in the past budget sessions. We need to make sure we maintain our roads and bridges. I’m a strong advocate of maintaining what we got before we build anything else.”