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.