GILLETTE, Wyo. — A group of Campbell County residents has launched its first petition to bring the community together to help support free speech.
People for Honest Politics said in a news release today that the residents want to bring civility and honesty back to local politics.
According to the political action committee’s website, www.peopleforhonestpolitics.com, the group began because the Campbell County Public Library Board decided to terminate former library executive director Terri Lesley and the county commissioners did not stop the board. The group believes the termination was unlawful and unconstitutional.
“Our community has been disrupted by dishonesty and leaders who care more about power than what is good for our community,” People for Honest Politics chair Sheri England said. “We have been shocked by some of our local political leaders and their decisions. We don’t recognize the community we all love. This started with the library and what happened to Terri Lesley. However, we feel strongly that if we do not stand up and say ‘enough,’ we will lose our community.”
Jane Gebhart, Jenny Sorenson, RJ Addison, Dara Corkery and Vicki Swenson are committee members, according to the website.
“The termination of Terri Lesley is the latest in a multi-year effort by some elected officials to undermine our constitution and our rule-of-law government because of their personal or religious beliefs,” the group said on the website. “Our goal is to bring our community together, united around our belief in American democracy. Specifically, we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to access information. The Constitution states that the government cannot limit free speech and that includes a prohibition on limiting the people’s access to information. Yet, our local elected officials have, and continue to, use their positions to erode the free exchange of information.”
Heading into the 2024 election year, the group wants leaders who are focused on the future of Campbell County to be problem-solvers and represent the whole community, according to the release.
“After two years of watching what local elected officials have done to the library staff, the group decided it was time local elected officials heard the community’s voice,” the group’s news release said.
England said the group wants to send a message to politicians and political parties regarding their behavior in the community.
“They are operating with a shocking disregard for the rule of law and respect for our constitution,” England said.
The group wants at least 5,000 people to sign a petition, here, that says, “As a Campbell County resident, I want my local elected officials to know I do not support laws and government actions that limit our constitutional right to free speech.”
County 17 is in the process of contacting commissioners and library board members for their response.
Former library board chair and current member Sage Bear said County 17’s text was the first time she heard of the group’s formation.
“I think Sheri has a right to do what she wants,” Bear said. “I stand by my decision concerning Terri.”
Campbell County Commissioner and former chairman Del Shelstad, who also said he had first heard of this via County 17’s text, said that while he cannot comment on Lesley, England continued to ignore many facts surrounding the library.
“All in my opinion, because it doesn’t fit her personal agenda,” Shelstad said. “There are two distinct sides to this library issue. I am on the opposite side from her and that is OK. Moving books to a different area of the library is not a violation of free speech.”
Commissioner Jim Ford said that he is not able to discuss it.
Library board member Chelsie Collier said that people should look at board member Darcie Lyon’s voting record in judging the decision.
“It’s called executive session for a reason,” Collier said. “We can’t give our true reasons as to why we made the decision we did until it is in court and HR [Human Resources] releases that information.”
Collier said she does not believe England will get the response she wants and that people should remember that Wyoming is an at-will state regarding employment.
“Her website is standing behind honesty in politics. Just because I can’t disclose information that happens in executive session does not mean I am dishonest,” Collier said. “No one except the five of us and Brandy [Elder, the county’s HR director] know the true reasons why we made the decision we did.”
Lyon said that people who want to change things in the community should run for office, like she did when she applied for the library board.
“However, anyone has the right to start an organization, and if that is what they believe they should do, then more power to them,” she said. “Regarding my vote decision, I will restate once again: Look at my voting record. That is all I can say for now.”
Lesley has sued three members of the Bennett family and filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission against Campbell County Public Library System and Campbell County Office of Commissioners.