GILLETTE, Wyo. — Campbell County Commissioner Rusty Bell has called for commissioners to publicly discuss whether two members of the Campbell County Public Library System Board of Trustees should be removed from the board.
Bell forwarded to County 17 an email this morning that he sent to Campbell County officials, to which he attached screenshots of two library board members and two Campbell County commissioners that suggested Board of Commissioners Chairman Del Shelstad, Commissioner Colleen Faber, Library Board Chair Sage Bear and Library Board Member Chelsie Collier are part of the private Facebook group Wyoming MassResistance. The images showed membership join dates and the individuals’ Facebook profile photos.
Bell said the group’s statements regarding the Gillette library’s employees have “caused division, hostile working environment, and put extreme stress on county staff in the last year and a half” and it’s unconscionable to see that two of the group members whom commissioners appointed to the board are part of the group.
“They certainly did not disclose this in their interviews, in fact, one of the commissioners told all the other commissioners that ‘Sage Bear does not have an agenda’. This is not only misleading to the commission, but dissolves trust in not only the individuals but the body as a whole,” he said.
He said that if the commissioners in the Facebook group solely wish to monitor it, then they shouldn’t have appointed group members to the library board. He said he believes the four individuals have an agenda.
“Knowing what our employees have been put through for the last 18 months when 2 of the Board of the Commissioners were part of that treatment, I feel we have been duped,” he said.
He said that the two library board members shouldn’t remain on the library board.
“I feel not only did they not disclose this information in the interviews, but they don’t deserve the respect from he employees that they seem to think they should get,” he said. “The employees, the staff and the new commissioners deserve to interview people that truly do want to work with the library staff and director to move the library past this issue. The board members in question are conflicted in the issue and also do not have the best interest in mind for the library or the whole of Campbell County residents.”
He said he’s wondering if illegal activities occurred “(besides refusal to provide public records and open meeting law violations)” or if it’s solely “very very unethical.”
“Knowingly conspiring to place people in positions that put our employees in harms way seems to be very wrong,” he said.
He said the issue should be put on the Campbell County Board of Commissioners’ Managers meeting agenda for discussion and the two members’ removal should be put on the Dec. 20 Board of Commissioners agenda.
Shelstad told County 17 Dec. 15 that the board will decide as a group whether to add those items to the agendas.
Since it’s a private Facebook group, only members can see who’s in the group and what they post.
Bell said he told the person who shared the screenshots with him that he wouldn’t identify him or her because they would most likely get kicked out of the group, which the individual wants to observe.
Shelstad told County 17 in a phone interview that in fall 2021, someone approached him about being part of the Wyoming MassResistance chat group on Facebook Messenger. Shelstad said at the time that he didn’t know anything about his participation via Facebook Messenger since he doesn’t use the application very often.
He discovered he was in the chat group and decided to learn what Wyoming MassResistance is, he said. He found the group’s Facebook page and private Facebook group. Since Wyoming MassResistance doesn’t have its own website, Shelstad joined the Facebook group and read the MassResistance national group’s website to learn more, he said.
He said he liked that it’s a grassroots organization that was started by parents.
“And I agree with a whole lot of what they say and what they’re about,” he said. “There’s a couple of things that I had a problem with, and one was the aggressive nature of their field director, that Arthur Schaper.”
Shelstad said Schaper began sending emails to all the commissioners, which Shelstad didn’t respond to because he didn’t want to connect with him. Shelstad said he needed technical help to leave the Messenger group.
Shelstad said he didn’t realize he was still part of the group.
He said that when he was trying to learn more last year about magician Mikayla Oz, he went to her Facebook page too, without joining a Facebook group, since he was trying to become informed. He said he also watched a couple of Oz’s YouTube videos.
“I hope that doesn’t make me a member of her group,” he said.
He said he’s also a member of the private Facebook group Gillette Rants and Raves, and he doesn’t endorse all the content in that group.
Shelstad said he doesn’t even know how to become a member of MassResistance.
He said it’s not true that commissioners had an illegal meeting to appoint Bear. He said he sent a text message to commissioners regarding the 13 applicants to the board. Board candidate interviews took place before the Oz controversy and before another board member left. He said other commissioners said it was important to exclude candidates with an agenda regarding the controversy. Shelstad said that to limit the risk of appointing someone with an agenda, it’d be best to choose Bear, who’d expressed interest in serving on the board before the Oz incident.
Some other commissioners disagreed and wanted to interview all the candidates, but the board still ultimately chose Bear, he said. While he didn’t ask whether Bear and Collier were affiliated with Mass Resistance in the appointee interviews, he didn’t ask them about affiliations with any other groups either, since that would be inappropriate, he said.
“Their activity as a private individual is probably none of my business,” he said.
Shelstad said that saying moving books in the library violates free speech while criticizing Shelstad’s social media activity is a double standard.
At the commissioners’ Dec. 6 meeting with the library board, Shelstad told “both sides” of people on the library books debate that each group has made mistakes and has created division in the community. Everyone’s complaining, and nobody’s solving the problem, he said. The point of the meeting was to be transparent on a subject that’s polarizing, he said. He said he wants a solution.
Shelstad said that while Bell explained in the Dec. 13 email why he sent it to each recipient, Bell didn’t explain why he didn’t send him or Faber the email. Shelstad said that if he, himself, were to be sending an email that involved individual commissioners, he would have included the commissioners. He said he thinks it’s odd that Bell, whose term will end in January 2023, is sharing this information this week.
“I think Rusty Bell has an axe to grind before he’s being done as a commissioner,” he said.
The board was going to review collections policies at a public workshop this afternoon, which was canceled due to weather conditions. Shelstad said Bell’s presentation of the screenshots is a “Hail Mary” from people who want the challenged library books to remain in the library, just before the board makes policy changes.
He said that the real issue is whether the books are appropriate for any children.
“If they are, leave it like it is,” he said. “If they’re not, move them to a section where a parent has to check it out for them. That’s the debate. Anything else is just deflecting away from that topic.”
Faber said she followed the private page that was created in July 2021 to watch what information was being put out as the events with the library unfolded. She said she’s not a member of Mass Resistance and doesn’t know what being a member would constitute, but she’s listened to heated public comments from them and those who disagree with Mass Resistance. She said that she’s no longer a member of the private Wyoming MassResistance page, which she forgot that she joined. She said she will monitor the public MassResistance page that was created in October 2021.
She said she’s a member or follower of more than 600 social media pages and belongs to the private Facebook page Gillette Rants and Raves, which Bell is also a member of. She said she wants to stay informed and communicate with constituents, and many people only use social media as an outlet.
“The litany of complaints come from a commissioner who initiated a halt to public comment at public commission meetings,” she said. “This latest move continues to prove Bell’s desire to deny citizens and their representatives of their 1st amendment rights, it seems he takes the easy path of trying to intimidate and mislead rather than listen to others ideas or work to understand a differing position.”
Faber said she doesn’t believe any library board applicant was asked specifically about any associations to any group by any commissioner and Bear specifically applied for the library board in June 2021, before any issues regarding books in the youth collection. Faber said she was part of the minority vote for Bear at the time.
Faber said residents can do their own research regarding the library materials and she’s confident the library board and staff will seek a solution to add a layer of protection for Campbell County children regarding materials their parents should approve before viewing.
Bear also said in an email this afternoon that she isn’t a member of Mass Resistance and wouldn’t know how to become one and that she just followed that group to keep up with community opinions.
“Since when is Rusty Bell the arbiter of what associations anyone appointed or elected makes? Rusty has never asked me about such an association or the reason why,” she said. “He simply throws out an accusation impugning anyone he disagrees with. The proper way to judge the character anyone being appointed or elected would be based on their actions. You will find my behavior respectful of both sides. I have repeatedly met with and talked to both sides of the argument and intend to continue to do so.”
She said Bell is accusing her of misrepresenting herself in the interview with the commissioners prior to her appointment to the board. She said she wouldn’t have likely remembered being in the Facebook group, but she would have stated, like she has many times, that she isn’t a member of Mass Resistance. She said she was forthright in her opinions on the material for children in her interview with the commissioners.
Collier said she’s never been a MassResistance member. She said she joined the Wyoming MassResistance Facebook group after a Gillette citizen invited her and she’s also a member of many other Facebook groups, including Friends of the Library. She said she also “follows” the American Library Association Facebook page. Collier said her goal is to gain a basic knowledge of what’s happening in the community.
She said she’s received emails from the MassResistance group, which she never responded to. She said she’s also received information about their meetings, which she’s never attended. Collier said she hasn’t “liked” or responded to any of the group’s Facebook posts and she listens to anyone who makes public comments, even if she disagrees with their responses.
“Commissioner Bell’s claim that I am putting librarians in harm’s way by being for the removal of pornography and perversion within our library is not true,” she said. “I truly care for our librarians and would never seek to harm them or wish them ill. Some of the statements that Mass Resistance makes are agreeable, but not all of them including the mistreatment of others, staff and fellow board members. The Commissioners knew who I was when they appointed me. The fact that I chose to follow a Facebook page says nothing about my character or my confidence.”
Wyoming MassResistance Facebook group administrator Ben Decker said MassResistance doesn’t really have a membership and everyone has the freedom of association. Rusty Bell is out of line, he said.
“He provided no evidence for his statement saying the county commissioners chose ‘to place people in positions that put our employees in harm’s way,'” Decker said. “This is patently false. The issue is simple, you are either in favor of sexualizing children, or you are against it. MassResistance is against it. When people can’t defend their position, they often attack the messenger. That may be what is happening here. I think we should keep the focus on the message.”
County 17 emailed Ferris, Perkins, Elder, Knapp and Wallem at 11:36 a.m. Dec. 15 to ask whether Campbell County will be taking any action on this matter. As of 9 p.m., none of them have responded.
Here’s the email Bell forwarded to County 17.