GUERNSEY – Former Guernsey Police Chief Terri VanDam was “very insubordinate” in her position as the town’s top cop, Mayor Nicholas Paustian said during a town council meeting last week.
Paustian made the comment in response to questions posed by Guernsey resident Christopher Martinez during the Feb. 18 meeting.
VanDam resigned on Jan. 15, stating in a letter that she was forced from the position by the mayor and council. She had held the post since January 2018.
“We felt that the budget was one conflict…not following directions for me is a big conflict,” Paustian said.
Martinez said he heard from a recording that VanDam had failed to provide a work schedule to the mayor and that Facebook posts on issues between the department and the mayor “hit too close to home.”
Martinez then inquired why the mayor needed the schedule.
“Because I’m the mayor,” Paustian responded. “I need to know what is going on in our town. It’s very simple for me to do. It’s very simple for the chief to do. It’s always been done and it will continue to be done.”
Martinez also asked what from the Facebook posts hit close to home. Paustian said he couldn’t get into those posts right now because the town is in the process of answering anything that was in those posts.
“I’m the boss,” Paustian said. “You work for a lot of bosses in your life. If they tell you to do something and you’re not on the same plane as what I’m on, there are going to be problems. I’m very specific when I point out what I want to see done. I told that young lady that I would not get into her department affairs, which I didn’t. The problem was the budget was way out of proportion.”
According to Town Clerk Kate Farmer, a $45,000 budget amendment was completed on Nov. 19. The budget amendment funds came from the community development budget and were put toward the police wages line item, increasing that amount from $229,000 to $274,000 for total wages for the fiscal year.
Paustian added that there was “non-communication” between himself and the department.
VanDam stated her reasons for the resignation in a letter, which included retaliation against her for being a whistleblower, unethical acts and conduct by town employees and corruption of public officials.
Attempts to contact VanDam for comment were not immediately successful.
Following an executive session during a Feb. 4 town council meeting, Paustian announced the town had dismissed former Sgt. Misty Clevenger from her duties with the department.
Clevenger, a 14-year law enforcement veteran who taught for six years at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, also accused town employees and council members of unethical acts, which may have included accessing “sensitive law enforcement email communications.”
Clevenger told the Guernsey Gazette in an earlier interview that the department had reported that information to state and federal authorities.
Paustain said he could not comment on Clevenger’s termination.
Martinez expressed concern that information about police investigations was possibly being leaked to the public. He said his father was an officer in Guernsey for a long time and he had a case where auto parts were being stolen. Someone leaked the information and the case was compromised, he said.
“I would certainly hope that the leaking was not coming from us,” Paustain said.
Martinez also expressed concern about the recent firing of former Deputy Clerk Kathy Montgomery, who had been employed with the town for 13 years. Paustain replied that he also couldn’t comment on that firing.
Martinez then asked the mayor whether he was scared of strong women that tell the truth. The mayor said he was not.
“It seems like you are getting rid of people who are digging into wrongdoings in the past,” Martinez said.
New Chief sworn in
Police Chief Dwight McGuire was sworn to the post during the meeting by Paustain.
Council members on Jan. 21 selected McGuire to reassume the role. It’s his second stint in the post.
Responding to a question posed by a resident about the town’s problem with illegal drugs, McGuire said he knows about the problem and that people are working on it daily.
“We can’t solve the cases in an hour-long (television) episode,” McGuire said. “We do what we can.”
Paustain said a neighborhood watch program could help.
“If you see something, say something,” McGuire said.
According to his Facebook profile, McGuire has served as a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper and in the U.S. Army as a convoy commander at the rank of staff sergeant.
McGuire studied criminal justice at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.
Members approve tobacco sales amendment
Council members unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance amendment that would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21.
The amendment comes in response to recent legislation amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act raising the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years.
The legislation makes it illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco product —including cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes — to anyone under 21.
A second reading on the proposed amendment is scheduled for March 3 with council members considering a third and final reading on March 17.