The Wyoming Business Council and the State Loan and Investment Board — made up of Gov. Matt Mead, Secretary of State Max Maxfield, Auditor Cynthia Cloud, Treasurer Mark Gordon and Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill — ultimately approved $485,391 in May to help build a planned multi-use facility at the Park County Fairgrounds.
They expressed no concerns with the project in unanimously approving the funding, although Donna “Dee” Guelde of Meeteetse had urged them not to do so.
“If community improvement is the actual goal of the State Loan and Investment Board and the Business Council, then use the money to fund a professional certified (CPA) audit of what appears to be a local government steeped in dishonest culture,” Guelde wrote to the council and board on May 1.
Guelde specifically leveled two serious accusations against the commissioners: 1) That they had tried covering up $100,000 of the county’s fairgrounds funding with a suspicious road and bridge project and 2) helped pay for $750,000 worth of upgrades to West Park Hospital in exchange for the hospital providing free care to a commissioner’s parent.
However, Tribune research shows the information and assumptions behind Guelde’s accusations are either wrong or non-existent. For example, the county never gave West Park $750,000, let alone for hospital improvements.
“I wouldn’t do it again and I do regret it,” Guelde recently said of sending the letter. “I guess that’s all I can say.”
Park County commissioners had more to say.
Last week, the commission shot off a response to the State Loan and Investment Board and Business Council, saying they were “shocked and offended” by the false allegations and debunking each point raised by Guelde.
“We cannot allow the insinuation of ‘dishonest culture’ to color future decisions or opinions of this County,” the commission wrote in the Aug. 5 letter.
Commissioner Tim French, who’s running for re-election against Guelde and six other candidates, called the letter “outrageous,” “pure B.S” and “almost litigious” during a June interview.
“She did her best — as a candidate for county commissioner — to derail the funding for the new building at the fairgrounds,” French charged.
“I look forward to not working with her for the next two years,” chimed in Commission Chairman Bucky Hall.
Guelde told the Tribune that when she wrote the letter, she had not been planning to run for the commission and only intended the letter to be used during the grant process.
“I was just frustrated,” Guelde said.
Guelde’s accusation that the county had somehow disguised fairgrounds funding as a road project appears to stem from misunderstandings of roadwork and the county’s budgeting.
Guelde’s letter said the county made “two unusual payments” to Pavement Maintenance Inc. for winter crack sealing that totaled exactly $100,000.
“Crack sealing roads in January and February in Park County?” Guelde had asked.
She suggested the payments had actually been a part of some effort to drum up the $500,000 the county has hoped to raise in private donations for the new multi-purpose building at the fair.
“Had I not been curious been curious about these expenditures, it seems there would have been $400,000 more of these unusual payments,” Guelde wrote.
Then-Park County Engineer Greg Meinecke began laughing upon his first read-through of the letter.
As to Guelde’s incredulity on the timing of the work, “We always crack seal in the coldest months possible, because that’s when the cracks are the widest,” Meinecke said.
As for the work totaling exactly $100,000, Meinecke said that’s because the county budgeted $100,000; he told Pavement Maintenance Inc. to stop sealing roads whenever that amount was reached.
“I need to look up the word ludicrous, I guess. ‘Not true, but laughably funny,’ something like that,” said Chris Voth, the owner of Pavement Maintenance Inc., after being read the relevant portion of Guelde’s letter.
Voth noted his Cody-based paving company — made up of about nine employees — has been incorporated since 1998, is licensed and bonded and has worked for the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Park County in the past.
“I always do it in the wintertime,” he said of crack sealing, saying the state recommends October to May.
Asked if Guelde had lost his vote, Voth said, “if you kind of don’t know what road maintenance consists of, maybe you’d better re-check your compass.”
Guelde told the Tribune she’d found the payments strange because they were made around the same time commissioners announced they would at least temporarily cover whatever of the $500,000 goal wasn’t raised by June.
“Maybe that wasn’t a good implication,” Guelde said of connecting the roadwork and fundraising. “I just thought it was a strange coincidence.”
Guelde’s letter also accused the county of “highly questionable” uses of funds, saying “commissioners provided $750,000 of ‘their money’” for West Park Hospital enhancements rejected by voters.
Guelde was apparently referring to a $421,533 payment the county made to West Park in 2012, along with a $290,000 payment to Powell Valley Healthcare (for a total of $711,500). That money was not for upgrades but was instead what the county owed the hospitals under state law for care provided to indigent, mentally ill patients. The payments settled a decade-long dispute between the county and hospitals over how much was owed.
“If she had read our publicly available audit (Park County has a CPA audit each year), budgets or newspaper reporting, she would have known that her comments were completely without merit,” the commission wrote in last week’s letter.
Guelde implied in her letter that the county paid West Park because of a personal favor.
“Although unverified, rumor has it that at least one of the county commissioner’s elderly parent is receiving free nursing home care at the West Park facility,” Guelde wrote, calling it a significant benefit.
One commissioner’s mother-in-law does live in West Park’s long-term care center, “but she is paying those costs,” said the commission’s letter, calling it a serious accusation.
West Park CEO Doug McMillan told the Tribune the accusation “is incorrect and we are disappointed that this accusation has been made publicly made or made at all.”
Told of the denials from the commissioners and hospital, Guelde responded that, “I think if they’re part of a situation they’re not going to say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s true.’ But I’m not implying that it is. I’m just saying, ‘Hey, you know, there is a sense of dishonesty.’”
Asked for evidence to support the accusation, Guelde said she “wouldn’t be willing to discuss that further.”
Guelde similarly refused to discuss her accusation at a county commission candidates forum in Cody last month after someone submitted it in the form of a question.
The other five candidates on stage either blasted the accusation or said they didn’t believe it.