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MAY 20 Wyoming News Briefs

Yellowstone unveils strategies for decision-making

Yellowstone unveils strategies for decision-making

JACKSON (WNE) — The federal officials who oversee Yellowstone National Park unveiled last week five “strategic priorities” that will guide decision-making in the short and long terms.

New Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly devised the conceptual goals with his senior leadership team. Each priority includes “measurable actions” that will be refined as work progresses, according to the park.

“It’s important that our priorities and actions are clear,” Sholly said in a statement, “not only to the NPS team here in Yellowstone, but to ensure our partners and the public understand our direction in these very important areas.”

Yellowstone’s first priority is to “focus on the core,” which is, in essence, its workforce. Actions to be taken under the goal include improving employee housing, financial responsibility and developing more efficient organizational structures.

The park’s second priority is to strengthen its ecosystem and cultural heritage resources. Steps to be taken in this vein include planning for the impacts of climate change, shoring up historic structures, and integrating environmental and historic preservation law into internal decision-making.

A third strategic priority is to “deliver a world-class visitor experience.” Yellowstone will focus on understanding and responding to more tourism, protecting people and resources, connecting people to the park and improving visitor amenities.

Investment in Yellowstone’s infrastructure is the fourth priority listed. The goal is broken into four parts: improving the condition and capacity of employee housing, transportation infrastructure, historic structures and building an “effective administrative framework.”

Yellowstone’s fifth and last priority is to build coalitions and partnerships, a goal that encompasses strengthening relations with gateway communities and establishing global partners.


Man charged with murder in mother’s death

CHEYENNE (WNE) — A Cheyenne man has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of his 80-year-old mother.

If convicted, James Wallace, 48, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison or the death penalty. His mother, Carol Wallace, was found dead last week in the home the two shared.

According to court documents:

Laramie County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the 1100 block of Green Mountain Road, northwest of Cheyenne, for a possible weapons assault at 7:30 a.m. May 10.

Glenn Wallace called to report his brother, James Wallace, was “high on meth and freaking out, said he hit his mother with a hammer.”

When deputies arrived on scene, they discovered Carol Wallace’s body in the basement on the east side of the home. She was lying face down, and deputies noticed what appeared to be drops of blood on the stairs from the basement to the first floor.

A large hammer found outside the room where Carol Wallace’s body was found appeared to have blood and hair on it, as did a knife found in the vicinity.

During a May 11 autopsy, pathologists said Carol Wallace suffered blunt force trauma to the head and chest, a gunshot wound to the head and a cutting wound on the chest. Pathologists also identified what they believed to be several defensible wounds on one of Carol Wallace’s hands caused by a sharp object.

James Wallace had previously been arrested for domestic violence against Carol Wallace. He was released on bond March 25 in that case, and failed to appear for his May 6 court date.


Gillette, Campbell Co. decide against opioid lawsuit

GILLETTE (WNE) — Neither the city of Gillette nor Campbell County have plans to join a nationwide lawsuit against a major prescriptions drug company after more than a handful of Wyoming municipalities and counties have joined the lawsuit.

City Administrator Patrick Davidson said the city’s attorney, Tony Reyes, has looked into the feasibility of joining the lawsuit but found that it wouldn’t be financially beneficial to Gillette.

“There are over 2,000 plaintiffs suing one drug manufacturer and distributors and with that, it’s been a race to the courthouse,” Davidson said. “One issue with these class-action lawsuits is the first groups can settle up fairly effectively and then funds start to diminish.”

Davidson said Reyes and he looked at how the city could join the lawsuit, but the upfront costs and work from the city’s side didn’t line up with what it would bring in if it were to join the lawsuit.

Campbell County has chosen to stay out of the lawsuit as well. County Administrative Director Robert Palmer said commissioners discussed it last year, but decided not to join because they were not sure what the benefit would be to the county.

Green River joined Rock Springs, Casper, Cheyenne, Carbon County, the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the state of Wyoming in the lawsuit against the opioid pharmaceutical industry that was filed in Ohio.

In total, there are more than 2,000 people, cities, counties and other entities around the United States that are suing Purdue Pharma and other drug companies for allegedly misleading the public of the dangerous and addictive qualities of opioids.


Teton Co. provides raises rather than housing aid

JACKSON (WNE) — As Jackson Hole’s cost of living climbs, Teton County commissioners decided last week to invest more than $1.4 million in pay raises for all staffers instead of offering housing stipends.

“To me the goal is staff recruitment, staff retention, staff morale,” Commissioner Luther Propst said. “The best way to do that today is an all-staff increase.”

In 2015 commissioners agreed to a new compensation policy under which county salaries are calculated based on a comparison with those paid in a list of similar mountain communities. For each position that list is used to calculate the average market salary. Given Teton County’s high cost of living, commissioners decided to add an additional 5% to that market average.

A consultant’s study last month performed the comparison analysis anew and found that 43 percent of jobs in Teton County were paid below that standard.

As part of their annual budgeting process, commissioners voted to not only raise those salaries to 5% above market but go even further, raising all salaries to 7.5% above the market rate. The budgeted cost for that totals $1,414,588.

Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr asked commissioners to budget $1,489 per month in housing assistance for all his office’s employees, totaling $536,040 for the year. He said only four sworn deputies live inside Teton County, jeopardizing law enforcement’s response to emergencies when Teton Pass or the Snake River canyon close.

But housing stipends, including Carr’s request, didn’t make it into the county’s budget.

After analyzing the numbers, commissioners chose the 7.5% above market salary approach rather than providing $500 monthly housing stipends to employees.

Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Natalia Macker said she was “not comfortable creating different classes of employees.”


Science Initiative needs money to realize original goals

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming is likely to pitch for an increase in 2021-2022 biennial funding for the Science Initiative.

The Legislature gave the program $2.3 million for the current biennium. If the Science Initiative is to achieve the goals set out by the 2014 report created by former Gov. Matt Mead’s task force, Science Initiative Program Coordinator Greg Brown said the biennial funding should increase to $7.7 million in 2021-2022 and then to $10 million for 2023-2024.

The need for more funding for the Science Initiative before its namesake building opens in 2021 was a significant part of the discussions during this week’s budget hearings with four members of the university’s board of trustees.

Brown, who’s a botany professor and associate dean of Arts & Sciences, said the $2.3 million given to the Science Initiative has been used to “halfway implement” the Wyoming Research Scholars Program and the Learning Actively Mentoring Program.

The research scholars program pays undergraduates, even freshmen, to participate in research with the goal of increasing the level of research experience for UW graduates.

The LAMP program aims to train faculty on increasing the amount of hands-on learning that happens at UW.

During the 2019 legislative session, the Science Initiative was given another $1 million in one-time funding for the current fiscal year.

Almost all of that funding has been used to provide seed funding for 13 grant proposals.

If all of those projects were funded, Brown said there would be a roughly “30 to 1 return” on the state’s investment.


State’s first solar power trade group forms

GILLETTE (WNE) — The cost of installing solar power has dropped 70 percent in the last 10 years and Wyoming solar installs have increased accordingly. In response to this growth, installers around the state recognized aneed for a coherent voice for the state’s growing solar energy industry.

Last month in Casper, the Wyoming Solar Energy Association (WYSE) celebrated the industry’s growth at its kickoff event, the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s annual Spring Solar Celebration.

“As solar energy continues to grow, it is important for the solar industry to be unified,” said Stacey Schmid, a solar installer and president of WYSE, in a press release. “We need to make sure solar energy in our state stays locally based and helps our local economy. A trade organization created by and for Wyoming solar professionals will help to ensure that the state benefits from the continued growth of solar energy.”

To be a voting member of WYSE, solar companies must maintain an office in Wyoming. This provision helps ensure that revenue invested in solar energy remains in the state. If out-of-state companies want to be part of the organization, they can do so as long as they are willing to open an office here, provide local jobs and invest in Wyoming’s economy.

WYSE will host educational events, provide information on solar energy, and be a part of the conversation around Wyoming’s changing solar landscape. Anyone working professionally in solar energy is eligible for membership.