Volume 105, Number 30 - July 24, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Jonathan Van Dyke
The Sublette County Commission appointed Lucky McMahon to fill the county attorney position vacated by the resignation of Ralph Boynton earlier this month, a move that increased the glare on the office for better or worse.
deputy attorney in the county attorney’s office, will be the first female county attorney ever in Sublette County.
“I feel pretty busy,” McMahon said of her first day on the job. “There’s a lot of responsibility and a lot of things to do. We’re not behind and there’s nothing to catch up on, but we have more cases filed than usual because of the recent influx of tourism. I’m very optimistic about [the job]. We have a really good staff and really good attorneys.”
McMahon was one of three nominees selected by the Sublette County Republican Party to go before the commissioners. After interviewing the three candidates in executive session, the commission voted by secret ballot to determine the choice for the position. McMahon was chosen by at least two of the three commissioners.
“I think we picked the best person, I’ll simply say that,” Commission Chairman William Cramer said. “She’s been working there, she has experience — the other two do as well — but I just thought to be consistent it would be best to have Lucky in there and continue, rather than bring someone new in.”
The other candidates, Michael Crosson and Marilyn Filkins, had both previously served as attorneys for the office. Crosson’s current job was as a county investigator for the office, and he said he performed some deputy attorney duties as well. However, on Friday Crosson was fired from the county attorney’s office.
“I was told this: ‘I suppose you knew this was coming, choose to resign or be fired,’” Crosson said.
Other than Crosson, legal secretary Julie Bell was also given this ultimatum despite her stating to McMahon that she was ready to give the office “100 percent.” Bell was a supporter of Crosson for the open position. She chose to resign and now works for the Pinedale Roundup.
During the Republican nominating process, some of the applicants contended that tensions were high in the office. Deputy Attorney Meredith Oakes Peterson even likened the environment to the Yellowstone fires of 1988. Other candidates hinted at a disconnect between the county attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office.
The commission had been dealing with Boynton’s impending resignation in multiple executive sessions, and did reserve the council of lawyer Ford Bussart on the matter.
According to Bell, a “hostile work environment” complaint was filed against Boynton in the office, although she did not know who filed the complaint.
“I didn’t think Ralph caused a hostile environment, but maybe some of the other employees did,” Bell said.
Shortly after the investigation, Boynton resigned. An agreement between Boynton and the commission stated that “for personal and professional reasons, it is in the county attorney’s best interests to resign from his position” and “it is in the best interests of Sublette County for the Sublette County Commissioners to effectuate the resignation, now, therefore.”
The agreement pays Boynton $35,600.06, a combination of remaining salary for the year and retirement contributions. The position will run through the end of Boynton’s term until the general election of 2010, at a yearly salary of $85,000.
Crosson said he was disappointed that the interviews were conducted in executive session, after interviews with the Republican Party had been held publicly.
“What was the motivation for secrecy?” Crosson asked.
He also took issue with the commission using secret ballot to make its decision. Crosson stressed that this process might be unusual as far as how other commissions operate, noting that in 2006 Sweetwater County was faced with a similar situation, one in which they had open interviews and open commissioner votes. State statute is very vague on how a commission must choose a replacement, concentrating almost solely on the amount of time allowed to pick that replacement.
“This is the same process we used for the last county attorney and also the last sheriff’s appointment we made,” Commissioner John Linn said. “The process is fair to the nominees as far as I can see and it’s fair to the situation. I think the commission handled it the way it should be handled.”
Cramer said the interviews were conducted in executive session because the situation was a personnel issue — state statute allows executive sessions for any personnel issue — and because information could be delicate or inappropriate for a public session. He also refuted the notion that a secret ballot was wrong.
“Nothing in state statute says you have to have a motion and a second to vote openly,” Cramer said. “I feel our vote is our vote and we did that in open session.”
Crosson also objected to the fact that before the interviews, deputy attorneys Jonathan Foreman, Allegra Davis and Peterson spoke with Commissioner Joel Bousman and Cramer to express their support for a candidate.
“There was a secret meeting with [those attorneys] and the two commissioners that was obviously in support of Lucky,” Crosson said.
Crosson wondered if the decision had not already been made after this meeting, and why there was not more transparency during the whole process.
Cramer and Bousman were open about the meeting, although they would not comment on whom any of the attorneys did or did not lobby for.
“Yes we did [listen to them],” Cramer said. “They said they would like to talk to us about the upcoming choice. Joel and I did not discuss anything. They told us who they preferred to be the choice for county attorney… We met with them, they’re citizens just like anybody else. They have a right to express their opinion and we’ll listen to their opinion.”
Bousman noted that each commissioner was inundated with messages and phone calls with opinions regarding the position, which he thought was valuable in making an informed decision.
“I concur with Bill’s comments,” Bousman said. “I talked to a lot of people, solicited and unsolicited.”
Regardless of what occurred in her office, McMahon is pushing forward, and looking to different initiatives to start working on. “I’m going to start meeting with my attorney’s next week, and there are some things we want to get started with right away,” she said.
The county attorney’s office will work on involuntary hospitalization for the county jail and on the idea of what it would take to initiate a traffic school locally.
The office will, for the time being, move forward without Crosson’s former investigator position.
“I want to respect Mike’s privacy, and I’ll make no comment on [the firing],” McMahon said.
The commission is satisfied with both its process and selection, and is ready to move forward into the new fiscal year.
“The Sublette County Republican Party provided us three qualified candidates,” Bousman said. “I think any one of the three would have been a successful county attorney, but we couldn’t have three, we could only have one.”
As far as the current office climate, Cramer said he felt McMahon was prepared to handle it.
“You probably heard there was a lot of dissension in the county attorney’s office, and she handled herself very well, in my opinion,” Cramer said. “I saw her conduct herself in a very professional manner.”
Deputy Attorney Jonathan Foreman said he felt McMahon had the full support of staff going forward.
“Everything in the office is going very well with Lucky McMahon, and everyone in the office is getting along,” Foreman said. The county attorney’s office will look to continue to enforce Wyoming law and provide legal guidance to Sublette County, but with a new face at the helm.
“I’m just going to do my best, and I’ve got a really good group of attorneys and staff to move forward with,” McMahon said. “We’re going to work harder to make Sublette County a safer place with a justice system they can be proud of.”
Photo credits: Jonathan Van Dyke
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