County Commission

Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent offered a legal opinion Tuesday on whether commissioners are required to hold a meeting on the first Tuesday of each month.

After further study of commas and a thorough analysis of the word “or” by legal interns, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent has changed her mind about when county commission meetings are required to be held.

Trent delivered a legal opinion to the county board Tuesday after controversy arose at September’s debate for elected county positions. At the forum hosted at the Albany County Public Library, candidate Pete Gosar contended incumbent Heber Richardson’s assertion that commission meetings are required to be held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

Gosar, who earned the most Democratic votes in the August primary, has made the timing of commission meetings a recurring topic this election season.

He suggested the commissioners’ historic practice of holding meetings during business hours on Tuesdays stifles public engagement in county government.

At a July debate, Richardson defended the practice with an erroneous assertion that Wyoming statute requires meetings to be held during business hours on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

Gosar later said during the Sept. 20 debate Richardson’s statement was “unbelievable.”

“That’s not what statue says. That’s not what it says at all,” he said. “They could change the meeting to be Sunday at 1:30 if they want to, as long as the county resolves to do that.”

When Trent was asked during the forum to offer a legal opinion, she repeated Richardson’s assertion that meetings need to be held on the first and third Tuesday, while also noting the meetings are allowed to be held during the evenings. Shortly after the forum, she corrected herself and clarified only the first Tuesday meeting is required.

In fact, state statute provides “each board of county commissioners shall meet at the county seat of their respective counties on the first Tuesday in each month or at such other times as may be designated by resolution of the board or when it is necessary to meet for the transaction of urgent county business.”

The Wyoming County Commissioners Association says in a candidate’s guide that meetings are required to be held on the first Tuesday of each month — a practice all 23 counties in Wyoming abide by.

In recent weeks, Trent and her staff have undertaken an analysis of what she calls a “poorly written statute” concerning meeting times.

That’s meant reverting back to middle school grammatical exercises to interpret the statute’s meaning.

She tasked her interns with creating sentence diagrams of the statute and defining the word “or.”

Fortunately, the Wyoming Supreme Court has already established clear precedent on “or.”

“The word ‘or’ ordinarily used as a disjunctive generally corresponding to “either” or as “either this or that,” the Supreme Court said in a 1996 decision. “Where two clauses or phrases are expressed in the disjunctive, they are coordinate and either is applicable to any situation to which its terms relate. Generally, use of the disjunctive indicates alternatives and requires separate treatment of those alternatives, hence a clause following a disjunctive is considered inapplicable to the subject matter of the preceding clause.”

By that definition, Gosar was correct.

No county needs to hold a commission meeting on a month’s first Tuesday, so long as the county board designates other meeting times, Trent said.

“I will say to all candidates: There is confusion in the interpretation of this statute,” Trent said.

Trent said the effort to offer a legal opinion “was not directed by any candidate.”

“I know this took a tremendous amount of time but I’m sure it was also very interesting,” Commissioner Terri Jones said.

(3) comments

Watch-Dog

One would have to think the county attorney and her legal interns would have better things to do then to worry about what the word "OR" means. This reminds me of Bill Clinton and the word "IS"- oh that's right they are both democrats. It looks like Trent is using the tax -payers money to help her fellow democrat Pete Gosar win the election. Trent should have played one of her famous "I have a conflict" cards. Also, whatever happened with the evidence in the 1985 Shelli Wiley murder case where Trent had a Laramie man arrested and charged with murder. Trial date was set and "oops "she had no evidence. Trent had to dismiss this case. She said she was going to refile charges when she had the evidence that was 2 "or" 3 years ago- what happened? I'm pretty sure you need to have the evidence before you charge someone with a crime. Apparently Trent goes by the your "guilty until proven innocent doctrine". "OR" means one or the other "and" not both.

Laramie Works

Respectfully, your argument seems to be that it's a problem when a prosecuting attorney sees a conflict and moves to recuse herself. Justice demands precisely that. Prosecutors don't collect evidence, law enforcement does that. If the evidence was not available, or was of such a poor quality that the prosecution of defendant wouldn't have been ethical as there was not a substantial likelihood of a guilty verdict, AGAIN, this was the ethical thing to do. Transparency in public meetings is also a matter of ethics.

In short, you seem to be asserting that Ms. Trent has an overdeveloped sense of fairness and ethics. Thank you, I've recently moved to the area and didn't know much about her performance. You've cleared that up for me. The foundation of your attack on her is the best endorsement I can imagine.

Wyovanian

Interpretation and clarification of law is often based on language and grammar. It most certainly falls on an attorney to analyze and understand statute language. Ms. Trent most certainly was doing what she is paid to do.

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