Wyoming News Briefs
November 3, 2022
Campaign finance complaint against Vogelheim dismissed
JACKSON (WNE) — The Wyoming Democratic Party’s campaign finance complaint against Republican legislative candidate Paul Vogelheim has been dismissed, according to Jennifer Martinez, the office’s assistant elections director in the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.
Martinez said on Monday that she was not able to elaborate on why or provide documentation of the dismissal before press time.
Vogelheim is running against Democrat Liz Storer to represent House District 23 in the Wyoming Legislature, a seat formerly held by Democrat Andy Schwartz.
The state party, who Storer alerted of the now-dismissed violation, filed a complaint arguing that $10,000 Vogelheim’s campaign committee had received from his late wife’s mother was improper.
Per state law, individuals other than candidates’ immediate family cannot donate more than $1,500 to any one campaign. Statute defines “immediate family” as “a spouse, parent, sibling, child or other person living in the candidate’s household,” according to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office.
Because Barbara Carlsberg is Vogelheim’s mother-in-law rather than biological mother, Democrats argued the contribution flouted Wyoming’s limit for people outside the immediate family.
The goal, according to David Martin, communications director for the Wyoming Democrats, was to ensure an “even playing field” and answer if a “mother-in-law counts as immediate family.”
Democrats cited a state statute that defined a parent as a “natural parent or parent by adoption.”
Vogelheim said he returned the money soon after the complaint was publicized.
The candidate, however, accused the party of making “political fodder” out of his late wife Rebecca Carlsberg Vogelheim’s death. He argued the statute, entitled the “Termination of Parental Rights,” from which Democrats pulled their definition of “parent” from was inappropriate, implying that Barbara Carlsberg was no longer his mother-in-law.
Park County school districts watching state education lawsuit
CODY (WNE) —A recently filed lawsuit from the Wyoming Education Association alleging that the state Legislature has failed to adequately fund K-12 education has school districts around the state wondering if they are due more money in their coffers.
The Park County school districts have the option to join the lawsuit, but so far they’re waiting to see what happens.
“We are keeping updated through the Wyoming School Board Association,” Cody superintendent Vernon Orndorff said. “We are monitoring to see how things are moving forward.”
As costs have increased and inflation has skyrocketed, the WEA contends the Legislature has failed in its Constitutional duty to properly fund education in the state.
“The WEA has exhausted possibilities for correcting the funding deficit outside of litigation,” WEA legal counsel Patrick Hacker said in a press release. “The point of the litigation is to get the Legislature to do its Constitutional duty. The goal is to enforce the Constitution to secure proper funding for safe, high quality schools everywhere in Wyoming and to stop the deterioration of public education due to legislative failure.”
The lawsuit argues the Legislature could have done a few things to avoid the lawsuit such as providing external price adjustments, creating new revenue streams or adjusting funding during its school funding model review process, which occurs at least every five years.
During the Legislature’s session last spring, the education committee had proposed a $72 million external cost adjustment.
The full legislative body cut that to $10.1 million before scrapping it entirely.
Food bank nets grant for kids’ program
CASPER (WNE) — A grant given to the Food Bank of Wyoming will allow it to continue its Totes of Hope program, which provides food for children outside of school hours — on weekends, after school and in the summers.
Save the Children U.S. gave the food bank $50,000.
Totes of Hope has a focus on children living in Wyoming’s “most rural areas,” a release from the food bank said.
Moreover, the grant will be used as a way to raise awareness for the program; again, especially in less-populated areas of the state.
One in six children in Wyoming go hungry. With the end of federally funded school lunches and the rising inflation rates, the food bank is using these grant dollars to drive support for Totes of Hope, which is among other programs that the food bank uses to provide nutrition to people.
“We know that caregivers make tough choices every day. Paying bills like rent, utilities, and more typically end up being a priority over food. I’m glad that this program is here to give them peace of mind that they’ll have enough food on the table to nourish their children,” said Rachel Bailey, executive director of the Food Bank of Wyoming. “Children should be able to learn and play without worrying about their next meal.”
As the Wyoming Distribution Center for the Food Bank of the Rockies, Food Bank of Wyoming is the largest hunger relief organization in the state.
Family of missing woman, locals push awareness 8 months after disappearance
GILLETTE (WNE) — It’s been more than eight months since Irene Gakwa’s family last heard from her.
With the investigation into her disappearance ongoing but uncertain and her fiancé granted his second continuance in court on separate charges, the search team that has spearheaded the local citizen effort to find Irene hosted an evening at The Local in downtown Gillette, with community members in person and Irene’s family members in virtual attendance.
“Every day it gets harder and harder. It’s kind of frustrating … the news that we got today, that he got another extension. How many extensions is he going to get?” said Chris Gakwa, one of Irene’s older brothers.
Hightman’s initial pre-trial hearing was scheduled for September but was continued to Nov. 3 before being continued again this week. Hightman’s next court appearance is now scheduled for Jan. 4.
Hightman pleaded not guilty June 8 to five felonies suspecting that he stole from Irene and changed her banking and email account information in the time between when she was last credibly heard from Feb. 24 and when she was reported missing March 20, according to court documents.
“Today has been a hard day,” said Gyoice Abatey, Irene’s sister-in-law. “I don’t know what to say. This thing is not ending. We don’t have answers.”
The next citizen search in Gillette is scheduled for Nov. 12.
The police investigation into Irene’s disappearance is ongoing.
Carbon County coroner identifies human remains found near Rawlins
RAWLINS (WNE) — The identity of the human remains found near Rawlins on Oct. 16 has been identified, according to the latest update from the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, the Carbon County Coroner’s Office confirmed that the remains belonged to one Mark Strittmater, a hunter who went missing on Oct. 19, 2019, on a hunting trip in the Sierra Madres.
According to the report, confirmation of the identity was made through examination of the remains and known dental record of Strittmater.
His disappearance has been an ongoing case within the sheriff’s office.
“The missing person case has involved several searches in cooperation with the Carbon County Search and Rescue teams, Classic Air Medical and canine teams from both Carbon County and surrounding counties. The search also employed the use of drone aircraft. We thank the tireless efforts of those involved in those searches. Carbon County’s residents continue to answer the call when there is someone in need, no matter the weather or time of day,” the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office stated in a press release.
The report stated the remains were found in a “densely wooded area approximately 325 yards from prior search areas.”
As of Thursday, Oct. 27, CCSO and the coroner’s office have no evidence suggesting there was foul play. Both offices extend their condolences to the family and friends of Strittmater.
Old Gardiner Road opens to public, restoring access to Yellowstone’s North Entrance
JACKSON (WNE) — Contractors completed striping Saturday, and the Old Gardiner Road swung open Sunday to visitors to Yellowstone National Park, restoring public access between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Most visitor access to the park’s North Entrance had been closed since the second week in June when storms and flooding washed out several roads in the park, including the main North Entrance Road from Gardiner, which remains closed.
As a stop-gap, officials improved the historic dirt road, sometimes referred to as the old stagecoach road, so park employees and visitors could have access to Mammoth as quickly as possible.
Over the last four months, road crews modernized the Old Gardiner Road, turning the 1880s single-lane dirt road into two lanes, paving the entire four-mile stretch, installing over 5,000 feet of guardrail, expanding road widths, creating new pullouts and building a new approach into Mammoth to avoid a steep grade on the original road.
HK Contractors is the primary construction company on the project, which is being paid for largely through emergency relief funds.
Yellowstone is asking visitors to drive slowly and cautiously on the Old Gardiner Road, which has steep grades and sharp curves. Speed limits range from 15 to 25 mph. Park officials are advising oversized vehicles and vehicles with trailers to use extra caution while navigating curves.
Most other roads in Yellowstone will close Tuesday to prepare the routes for winter snowmobile and snow coach travel, which begins Dec 15.