Hamm appointed Campbell County’s newest commissioner

Commission Chairman Del Shelstad (left) places a hand on the shoulder of newly appointed Commissioner Don Hamm minutes after the deciding vote was cast on Jan. 27. (Ryan Lewallen/County 17)

Following a three-hour special meeting Thursday night, the Board of County Commissioners has appointed Don Hamm to serve as Campbell County’s newest commissioner.

Hamm was selected from three finalists submitted for consideration by the Campbell County Republican Party Central Committee to take over a commission seat left vacant by the resignation of DG Reardon earlier this month.

He joined Jim Ford and Tracey Barkey in being interviewed, one at a time, by the commission that asked and considered their answers to a series of questions to determine each candidate’s qualifications to serve as a Campbell Count commissioner.

Question by question, the commission listened attentively to Hamm and the other candidates’ answers to questions such as why they believed they were the best candidate for the job and their opinions on what the county is doing, or could do better, towards diversifying the local economy.

Hamm, for his part, is well acquainted with the community, having seen booms and busts come and go during decades of living in Campbell County, he said.

In response to a question by Commission Chairman Del Shelstad, Hamm clearly stated his belief in the importance of government staying out of people’s lives as much as possible.

To another question regarding the ongoing kerfuffle at the Campbell County Public Library, he acknowledged that there are sexually explicit reading materials that children should not be reading.

He said that simply moving those books to a new location in the library, out of reach of children, would not be out of line.

On the topic of economic development, in response to a question asked by Commissioner Rusty Bell, Hamm said that it is a touchy subject and that he has no desire to take taxpayer dollars to attract companies that would be in direct competition with the companies that supplied those taxes.

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On that same issue, however, Hamm said that he wasn’t too familiar with what the commission was doing to diversify Campbell County’s economy.

“As far as other things, I’m kind of at a loss because I haven’t been involved in them,” Hamm said.

To a question posed by Commissioner Bob Maul about why he was the best fit for the board, Hamm indicated that his experience serving on the Campbell County Joint Powers Public Land Board, as well as the fact that he’s been in the community for a long time, would serve the commission well.

“I would think that just being me would be an asset,” Hamm said.

When it comes to using federal dollars that come into Campbell County, an issue brought up by Commissioner Colleen Faber, he said that they can be helpful if they are spent wisely, and leaders keep an eye on any strings attached to the money that could come into play 10 or 15 years down the road.

“Usually, the feds have an agenda,” Hamm said. “And they don’t tell you until you’re in too deep you can’t get out.”

A motion to appoint Hamm to fill the vacant commission seat, after the commission listened to nearly two and a half hours of additional answers from the other candidates, initially failed as did two other motions to appoint Ford and Barkey.

“I don’t think there is any way to do it when you have two people that are not going to vote for anyone else,” Bell said- both Faber and Maul voted yes for Hamm and no for Barkey and Ford- after all three motions failed. “We’re stuck.”

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Bell, who voted against the initial motion to appoint Hamm to the board, ultimately cast the deciding vote in Hamm’s favor when Faber made another motion.

“I think this is where we are at,” Bell said. “We’re at loggerheads and- I’ll get criticized either way for this- I’m going to vote for Don because I feel that half our board is not going to vote. Don is going to make an incredible commissioner.”

He based his decision on the fact that, even if they voted dozens of times over until midnight, the results would be the same if no one else was willing to compromise and move from their position.

“Everyone’s in here and nobody’s stupid, right? If two people aren’t going to move, then one or the other one has to or you don’t,” Bell said.

Shelstad expressed his gratitude for Bell being the one to move.

“The last thing that we want is to drag these people through an argument between four commissioners, right, because that’s really what it boils down to,” Shelstad said. “I appreciate that willingness to say ‘we’ve got three good members and there’s no reason to do what we’re doing; that’s just ridiculous.’”

The second motion to appoint Hamm to the commission was approved with a majority vote with only Shelstad voting against it.

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“It’s a wonderful opportunity to serve the citizens of Gillette, Campbell County, and Wright,” Hamm said moments after his appointment, adding that he expected that it would take some time before he found his feet on the commission.

When asked if he felt prepared to step into his new role as a Campbell County leader, Hamm said, “No. I plan to get that way, but no.”

“At this point in time it’s a wide-open deal,” he continued. “Until you get involved, you can’t really be prepared.”