SUBLETTE COUNTY – Sublette County Attorney Mike Crosson, one of the county’s top elected officials, made allegations of mistrust and disrespect from other elected officials and the county administrator – a man who abruptly left his job as deputy civil attorney after Crosson was sworn into the Sublette County Attorney’s Office.
Crosson’s Feb. 8 letter, emailed to the Examiner, is printed as a guest column today.
He also sent it to all five county commissioners, County Clerk Carrie Long, Sheriff KC Lehr and County Administrator Matt Gaffney.
Crosson said commission chair Joel Bousman requested law enforcement presence after he arrived at their Jan. 13 executive session, held to hire a private attorney to represent them in the civil complaint against their Jackson Fork Ranch rezoning decision. On Jan. 12, Crosson recused his office from representing the county commission in the civil suit.
Citizens protesting their 3-2 decision to rezone a portion of Joe Ricketts’ Jackson Fork Ranch for a resort filed a 9th District Court petition asking a judge to review their decision – made against the county planning and zoning board’s recommendation. Judge Marv Tyler reassigned the civil complaint to newly installed Judge Melissa Owens in Teton County.
‘Letter of declination’
Earlier, the planning and zoning board and commissioners both staged public meetings at the Pinedale Library filled with citizens, many speaking against Ricketts’ plan to build an exclusive resort on his historical ag-zoned property.
On Jan. 12, Crosson sent his “letter of declination,” calling it “necessary based upon the conflict presented, given the inconsistent decisions of the Sublette County Planning & Zoning Board, who recommended denial of the Jackson Fork rezoning request pursuant to a 3-2 vote, and the (Board of Sublette County Commissioners), which subsequently granted the rezoning request in a 3-2 vote, both boards being concurrently represented by the County Attorney’s Office.”
Therefore, Crosson and deputy attorney Clayton Melinkovich could not provide legal advice either in open meetings or executive sessions and it “would be appropriate for you to consider promptly hiring independent counsel if that is your desire.”
Crosson stated he went to the Jan. 13 executive session to see if commissioners needed assistance with the process and, after he arrived, chair Joel Bousman asked Clerk Long to contact law enforcement.
After Bousman said he could stay, Gaffney objected and said that Crosson should leave.
“After his recusal in the case, I thought it was inappropriate for him to advise the Commission in any capacity,” Gaffney said on Monday. “I would reference his language in the recusal letter: ‘From this point forward we are unable to advise you regarding the appeal, and will not be able to provide legal advice to you on this specific topic during a future meeting, whether in open or executive session.’ The County Attorney became enraged after I voiced my concern.”
County officials did not clarify whether or not Gaffney has authority to eject Crosson or whether Crosson could stay, silent, in the executive session.
After the executive session, Crosson questioned Lehr, who told him there were “concerns” about his presence because of his declination letter and some people found him “threatening” or “intimidating.”
After receiving Crosson’s editorial Feb. 8, the Examiner went to the Sublette County Courthouse and spoke with Sheriff Lehr, Chair Bousman and Clerk Long in her office for responses to Crosson’s allegations.
Bousman admitted asking Long to call the sheriff after Crosson arrived. Long and Bousman both said they didn’t know Crosson would be at the Jan. 13 meeting.
“Yes, I did,” Bousman said about the call.
When asked why, Bousman said, “I have no comment further as to why or anything. … I think it’s premature for me to answer that.”
Another interaction could have colored or cautioned their responses to Crosson’s email.
Crosson also attended commissioners’ Jan. 18 regular meeting, where Lt. Dave Siefkes again arrived shortly after.
Commissioners verified that on Jan. 13 they had hired the firm Holland and Hart to represent them in the Jackson Fork Ranch civil suit.
At the end of the meeting, Crosson addressed them “respectfully” during the public comment period.
His first request was that they not draw Melinkovich too deeply into “policy issue discussions … that should probably be addressed by Mr. Gaffney” when Melinkovich’s “field of expertise ... is legal advice.”
“The second issue I guess, the thousand-pound gorilla in the room, is where we go from here,” Crosson said. “I’ve endured tremendous disrespect from Mr. Gaffney over the course of several years. I don’t know where we go from here … to find a solution and I want a solution.”
If commissioners didn’t find a solution, he said, “I guess I’ll be forced to.”
He said having five Sublette County commissioners, plus a county administrator, was similar to Teton County “and I don’t think we want to be modeling ourselves after Teton County.”
He continued, “I ask that you just come up with something. I want to make this work. I don’t want any problems, but I can’t continue to go on like we have. I’m open to discuss it further now or later, however you guys want to handle it.”
Bousman had responded that commissioners “are not certain whether we need legal advice or not” and Crosson could advise Melinkovich to say “OK, that’s not my bailiwick. I’m fine with that.”
As for Crosson’s second point, Bousman said: “In my opinion Matt Gaffney’s done a tremendous job for this county as county administrator. … I sometimes worry that maybe you have some level of insecurity that makes you think Matt’s stepping on your toes. I don’t see it; I don’t think it exists so I would please ask you to give that some consideration...”
Sheriff Lehr said Long called him about Bousman’s Jan. 13 request but he had a scheduling conflict so he asked Lt. Siefkes to cover while Crosson was there.
“Whether it was because Mike Crosson was there or not, it’s a known fact that we get called to several town council meetings, commissioner meetings, just to be present. It doesn’t necessarily have to be threats,” Lehr said. “It doesn’t have to be a threat; all it has to be is a concern.”
After Crosson was told to leave, however, the officer remained in the executive session. Long said it was “irrelevant” if he was in the meeting or not.
Bousman said he didn’t tell Crosson he had to leave the executive session, he said, nor did he tell him he could stay.
“I didn’t tell him he couldn’t stay in but we had in front of us a letter saying that he would have nothing to do with us … so I saw no need for him to be in there,” Bousman said. “But I asked him to leave because he started making comments that were outside the reason for having an executive session … and to do that is a violation of executive session rules and he was violating those rules.”
He and Long said the Jan. 13 executive session was under way at the time.
Crosson said the same officer appeared after Crosson’s arrivals on Jan. 18 and Feb. 1 but no mention is made in meeting minutes, nor are Crosson’s Jan. 18 public comments noted.
Bousman and Lehr again declined to detail why except for certain “concerns,” although Bousman said no one has filed an official complaint with Gaffney or himself about an elected official’s “intimidation” but that would be the proper avenue.
In his editorial, Crosson pressed county officials about who or why someone felt physically threatened by him as of Jan. 13 and questioned “a nefarious character assassination.”
Asked if he felt threatened by Crosson up to the point of his Feb. 8 editorial/ email, Bousman again declined to comment on Crosson making any “perceived threats” to county employees.
Lehr said he and Crosson “have had some heated discussions, Mike and myself, and he is going to run his office the way he sees fit and I’m going to run the office the way I see fit for the betterment of the community.”
Gaffney, who was employed by the Sublette County Attorney’s Office and worked for commissioners, ended employment there shortly after Crosson took office. He was then appointed by commissioners as the new county administrator and human resources director.
“I did try to work with Mr. Crosson when he became County Attorney. Obviously things did not work out and I regret how things ended with him in 2019,” Gaffney said Monday.
Bousman said he “wasn’t aware of” any friction between Crosson and Gaffney. “So did he tell you that? How did you know? Where do you get your information?”
Bousman, meanwhile, said he didn’t have a problem with Crosson’s election but declined to meet with him one-on-one.
“I did talk to him later,” he said, adding he called Crosson “once, very briefly.”
Bousman would not clarify if Gaffney or Crosson had filed formal complaints about the other.
As the human resources specialist, Gaffney is point man for one county employee’s complaint about another.
“Then in this case we would not go to Matt Gaffney” but contract an outside consultant, Bousman said. “It would be totally inappropriate to Matt Gaffney – you know that.”
If Gaffney himself feels “harassed,” he would likely go to Bousman; commissioners would have an executive session and contract an outside consultant to investigate.
“I haven’t seen any official complaints, let me put it that way,” Bousman said.
No one wanted to wade deeper into that territory.
Long expressed sadness about the entire matter.
“I have always had a good working relationship with the County Attorney’s office and I think it is unfortunate and sad that there are hurt feelings and feelings of betrayal on the part of any elected official or employee,” she said Friday.