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Lawsuit Claims Sheridan County Commissioners Conspired To Rig Nomination

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This story first appeared on Cowboy State Daily.

Although the Sheridan County Republican Party ended up getting its top pick to fill a vacant seat on the county commission in September 2023, the local party is still fuming over what it believes sas a rigged appointment process.

The county party filed a lawsuit last week against four of the five Sheridan County commissioners for the way they handled the vacancy appointment process, calling for their removal and accusing them of deliberately not upholding their statutory duties. They also say personal biases against some in the local party influenced the commissioners, and included excerpts of text messages to back up the claim.

When it came time to select from one of three finalists presented by the local Republican Party, the commissioners voted to not select any of them and handed the decision off to a local judge.

In a statement posted to the Sheridan County GOP blog Wednesday morning, the party says it filed its lawsuit to hold the commissioners accountable.

“We have a disagreement with the county commission regarding their duties under Wyoming statute,” the statement reads. “Our hope is that this complaint helps to clarify the proper roles of the county commission and the judiciary with regard to filling vacancies on the county commission.”

Representing the party is Cheyenne attorney Caleb Wilkins. Wilkins represented the Uinta County Republican Party in a case that he eventually lost before the Wyoming Supreme Court last spring.

State law provides for the removal of county commissioners who fail to perform their duties or knowingly commit acts that violate their oaths.

The party claims members of the Sheridan County Commission “sought to undermine the democratic selection process choosing to blatantly disregard their statutory duty in an attempt to handpick the next member of the board,” the lawsuit says.

Sheridan County Attorney Dianna Bennett declined to comment on the filing. County Commission Chairperson Christi Haswell, who like the other three comissioners is named individually as a defendant, said the board is not commenting on the lawsuit at this time.

What Happened?

The appointment process became extremely heated last August when the commissioners declined to accept any of the three nominees selected by the Sheridan County Republican Party to fill a fifth seat that had become vacant on the board, finding that none of the three qualified for the job.

The three candidates were the top runners-up from the 2022 commission election.

A judge ended up selecting Sheridan resident Holly Jennings, who is the only current commissioner not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

A total of 823 votes separated Jennings and Commissioner Allen Thompson, the third-place vote getter, in the 2022 election. It was Thompson’s seat that was vacant after he resigned in late July.

The results of the 2022 election were cited in not selecting any of the nominees because it showed they didn’t have enough support from county voters, Haswell told Cowboy State Daily in August 2023.

“These candidates were not supported by Sheridan County voters,” Haswell said. “We would not be doing our job if we selected one of these three that were not supported by the county.”

Although the three nominees technically qualified for the job, Haswell also expressed doubts about their community involvement and ability to participate as part of the commission in a positive manner.

What Does The Lawsuit Say?

Under Wyoming law, within 20 days of receiving notice of a vacancy, the chairman of a county central committee belonging to the party previously represented in the vacant seat shall call a meeting and select three people qualified to fill the vacancy.

Next, the law states that the county commissioners “shall fill the vacancy within 20 days after receiving the list from the county central committee by appointing one of the persons whose names are submitted by the county central committee.”

The plaintiffs argue that the commissioners ignored their statutory requirements by not selecting a replacement commissioner.

But the law also lays out a roadmap for scenarios where commissioners fail to fill a vacancy within 20 days, which is what played out in Sheridan. In this scenario, any qualified elector of the county may file a petition with the clerk of the district court and request a judge fill the vacancy.

The local party argues in its lawsuit that it has evidence proving not selecting one of the party’s nominees was premeditated by the commissioners. It also accuses the commissioners of having an executive session under false pretenses.

Comments Show Guilt?

A public records request of commissioner’ phone texts show certain members criticizing the Sheridan GOP and the appointment process.

In one conversation between Commissioner Nick Siddle and Sheridan City Council member Terry Weitzel last June when they learned Thompson was going to resign, Siddle indicated he wouldn’t like anyone the local party could put forward and made a disparaging remark about two people who ended up being nominated by the party.

“WTF! Allen Thompson is resigning? That screws up I (sic) of things,” Weitzel texted to Siddle.

Siddle responded: “Sure does. Gonna be a CF who the Republican Party gives us.”

“F***ed up,” Weitzel texts, later in the exchange adding, “You’ll have fun having Roger Miller or Holly Jennings on the BOCC.”

“Or Arzy or Helferich,” Siddle responds.

The text conversation demonstrates “an early bias and hostility toward the Party and its prospective nominees related to the vacancy,” the lawsuit says.

The party accused the commissioners of laying the groundwork for their “plan” of not selecting anyone by mentioning during their June 19 meeting that a tie vote from the board would result in a court picking the replacement candidate. The Sheridan GOP also said the commissioners made a number of public comments after this meeting leading the public to believe it would not select a candidate.

This led Secretary of State Chuck Gray sending the commissioners a letter the day prior to selection day telling them he interprets the law as saying they must select a candidate.

Bennett responded to this letter, saying she informed the board of its legal duties for filling the board seat.

Gray described this response to Cowboy State Daily at the time as angry and inappropriate with “inaccurate assertions” made by Bennett “that failed to address any of the widespread concerns” Gray had with their approach to the vacancy process.

About three weeks earlier, Sheridan County Deputy Attorney Clint Beaver had emailed Haswell, explaining the board had flexibility in how it handled the vote for the vacancy, according to the court filing.

Do Nothing Approach

The commissioners decided that by not making a decision, under state law, it would be up to a court to decide who would fill that seat. The lawsuit lists several conversations to support this assertion.

In one text, Haswell expressed frustration that the party had already voted to file a lawsuit in the event the board didn’t select a replacement candidate. According to the Sheridan County GOP blog, the commitment to file a lawsuit was reiterated at a Nov. 1, 2023, central committee meeting.

Haswell also said the party set a deadline for people to apply for the vacancy before the commissioners even sent official notice to the party about it.

On the day of the selection, Sheridan County Republican Party precinct committee member Gail Symons sent Haswell a text giving her legal interpretation of the situation. Symons also told Haswell that she would file the petition to have a judge make a decision on the matter. Haswell thanked her.

The party accuses the commissioners of not entering into executive session on the day of the appointment vote to consider picking a candidate, but rather to “formulate a plan by which to disregard their statutory duty to appoint one of the nominees.”

It comes to this conclusion based on various conversations included in the court filing that the commissioners had with members of the public discussing problems with the candidates and the possibility of not voting for any of them.

In a radio interview two days after the judge chose Jennings, Commissioner Tom Ringley said he made his decision based on constituent feedback and his personal conscience.

After the vote was made, Haswell sent a text to another person saying the board “had no choice” but to take the action it did.

The day after Symons’ petition was filed, two more candidates applied with the court to be considered for the vacancy.

On Sept. 1, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Darci Phillips issued a court order that she would only select from the three candidates provided by the Sheridan GOP. She also indicated in her original order that the commissioners acted legally and accepted the nomination process in her court.

Later that month, Phillips selected Jennings.

The Sheridan County Republican Party’s lawsuit also has been assigned to Phillips, with a 9 a.m. Feb. 13 bench trial scheduled.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at



  1. Avatar photo

    mark steingass

    January 25, 2024 at 10:51 am

    The problem isn’t with the Sheridan County Commissioners the real problem lies with the Sheridan County Republican Party…attorney Caleb Wilkins will lose this ridiculous lawsuit…this case will be thrown out of court (as it should be)…The Sheridan County Republican Party has moved too far to the right…simply stated many within the local republican party are no longer “good neighbors”

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      Dennis Fox

      January 25, 2024 at 3:15 pm

      The local Republican Party followed the law exactly. The Four commissioners Failed to do so. In fact, it looks like the “Failed Four” deliberately intended to circumvent the law. The Four refused to follow the law, proper procedure and honor the will of the voters and Party. This has nothing to do with left/right on the political spectrum and everything to do with not following the Law. Law-abiding citizens, be they elected or not, make the very best neighbors.

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      Dennis Fox

      January 30, 2024 at 9:47 pm

      The “Problem” lies directly with the Four commissioners who Failed to follow the law and select one of the three nominees.
      The “Problem” wouldn’t have happened, if the Failed Four had simply read the Law and followed it.
      The “Problem” was the Four commissioners Conspired to subvert the Law.
      The “Problem” is, the Four colluded to try to “end-run” both the will of the Party and the ’22 Election Voters.
      The “Problem” is, we have Arrogant, Smug, Failed commissioners, who believe they are above the Law.
      The “Problem” is, the Lawlessness that has infected the DC Swamp, has taken root here in Sheridan County.
      The “Problem” is, Lawlessness is like a cancerous tumor.
      -If neglected, it will grow and spread.
      The “Solution” is to have a Dr./Judge Remove the Tumor of Lawlessness, before it spreads and kills the Whole Body.
      And please note, the Sheridan County Republican Party is exactly, main-stream center, with the vast majority of Republicans.

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    Dennis Fox

    January 25, 2024 at 11:12 am

    The law clearly states that the commissioners “Shall” select from the Party nominees. “Shall” means “Must” and the Four commissioners Failed to follow the law. It’s as straight-forward as it gets. They also Failed to follow the correct procedure (Roberts Rules) that has the Chair abstain and then cast the tie-breaker, if needed. It’s would appear that the Four chose to break the law, use an improper “nomination” procedure and deliberately Fail to select a nominee, thus throwing it to a Judge. Bottom line: the Four Failed commissioners violated the Law, the will of the Party and the Voters. They set themselves up as “judges” of who’s “qualified” to join the board. No where in the law does it say that commissioners are to act as judges of qualification. The Republican Party (and voters) already did that. All Four commissioners Failed the Citizens of Sheridan County and should be fined, then removed from office. This lawlessness should never happen again.

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      mark steingass

      January 25, 2024 at 12:45 pm

      reply to dennis fox…you say above “Shall” means “Must”?…LOL…not in my dictionary…Wyoming Statute 18-3-524 (Appointments To Fill Vacancies) is not a mandate for Commissioners this statute describes the lawful “procedure” of Appointments To Fill Vacancies including therein paragraph (b) reading: If the remaining members of the board of county commissioners fail to fill any vacancy in a board of county commissioners within the time specified in this section, any qualified elector of the county may file a petition with the clerk of the district court of the county in which the vacancy occurred requesting the judge of the district court to fill the vacancy

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        Dennis Fox

        January 25, 2024 at 9:46 pm

        In legal terms, “shall” means “must”. The four commissioners “shall select one person” from the three fully-qualified candidates the party puts forward. The party followed the law, the four commissioners deliberately “Failed” to do so.
        It would appear, that the Four Failed commissioners conspired to deadlock and throw it to a judge, in order to open the vacancy to anyone in the county. People not filing and running for office. People not going door-to-door and meeting voters, would have magically been eligible, had the Four Failed commissioners plot worked. It didn’t. The “Failed Four” tried to end-run the law and get their own hand-picked insider on the board. Luckily, we have an entire team of dedicated patriots in Party leadership and a judge who saw through their illegal scheme. The “Failed Four” will have the truth come out in open court and Justice will prevail. And remember, the first one to come forward with the Truth, may get a reduced sentence!

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          mark steingass

          January 26, 2024 at 10:51 am

          Reply to Dennis Fox…you calling the Sheridan County Commissioners the “Failed Four” is plain silly…Haven’t you failed in four different election attempts for a commissioner seat?…I think the “fox” (you) is trying to guard the hen house…lol

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            Dennis Fox

            January 26, 2024 at 2:51 pm

            When liberals are losing an argument, they always resort to personal attacks.
            The “Four” commissioners “Failed” to follow the law. And a great many people want to see their brazen act of Lawlessness punished. “Fire the Failed Four” commissioners is a very popular idea in Sheridan County and justifiable so. If we let the lawlessness that has infected DC and most of our FedGov get a foothold in Wyoming….we may lose our American Freedom. That really is what’s at stake. Did the “Failed Four” break the law? Yes. Did the Four conspire to do so? The evidence says: Yes. Is colluding to break the law a “firing” offense. Yes, if we intend to stop this spread of Lawlessness infecting our beloved state.

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          Mick Johnson

          January 29, 2024 at 10:15 am

          As it turns out, “shall” is not a word of obligation. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that “shall” really means “may” – quite a surprise to attorneys who were taught in law school that “shall” means “must”. In fact, “must” is the only word that imposes a legal obligation that something is mandatory. Jan 27, 2019

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            Dennis Fox

            January 29, 2024 at 2:52 pm

            Thanks for the informative post. Is SCOTUS always right? Does it apply in this case? The fact remains that the R-Party followed the law to a “T” and nominated three qualified people to fill the vacancy. All the “Four” commissioners had to do was select one of the three. They “Failed” to do so and thus “Failed” to do their job under the statute. They “Failed” to uphold the Law and “Failed” to honor the decision of both the Party and the ’22 voters. And what’s really the most damning is that they planned and plotted to Not do their job! The evidence shows that they colluded and conspired to break the law. Such criminals should be punished and removed from office. When the “Failed Four” come to trial, their conspiracy to break faith with the Sacred Public Trust and their collusion to Intentionally Break the Law, will be evident for all to see. We cannot allow this Lawlessness to further infect the State of Wyoming.

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      Darren Rogers

      January 25, 2024 at 1:48 pm

      Not a single lackey candidate had taken the time to read the Sheridan County 2020 Comprehensive Plan documents. They were not educated to the process or the plan established for the County. Therefore, not a single candidate was qualified. Furthermore, I’d wager Jennings still hasn’t read the plan remaining unqualified to serve.

      Next time I’d recommend doing the work i.e. reading the basic documents readily available before the job interview. Pure stupid arrogance of the current local republican leadership.

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        Dennis Fox

        January 26, 2024 at 3:42 pm

        The only qualifications to serve as commissioner are: Adult, resident of Sheridan County. Also, the law governing vacancy (18-3) specifically states that the Party is responsible for nominating 3 candidates. All the commissioners have to do is select one from the three already qualified (by the Party) nominees. The Law says nothing about commissioners acting as “judges” of who’s qualified. Besides, the commissioners had already pre-planned to “Fail” to do their job and throw it to a judge. They just didn’t get the judge or the outcome they’d hoped for. Commissioner Jennings was just 2% of the vote behind the vacating Thompson, so she was the logical choice for the job.
        This whole “Failed Four” commissioner scheme does make one wonder about their motivation to go to such an extreme (risking removal from office) to try to block the will of the People. Are the “Four” hiding something? Are the rumors about rivers of dirty money true?

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    Solomon Carrick Morris

    January 25, 2024 at 1:57 pm

    I am saddened by the super far right freedom caucus minority in the Sheridan County GOP,and this vengeful lawsuit. The members of this Freedom Caucus cry the loudest when they don’t get their way. If any GOP member argues with the Freedom Caucus the members of the extreme far right Freedom Caucus bully and call the GOP member a “RINO” and then bring a frivolous lawsuit against an upright GOP member all in the name of “I didn’t get my way.” Bully tactics all around. For Shame. For Shame Miller,Jennings, Windsor, Klopfenstein, Pollack(a 2021 transplant to Sheridan),and Trampe.

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      Ray Olson

      January 26, 2024 at 10:42 am

      Solomon- Think about the Whigs, it might make you smile. For about 40 years the Whigs were nearly as big as Democrats and managed to put 4 presidents in the White House. Then a 150 years ago the Whig party fell apart because their radical fringe elements started calling out the rest of the party for, I suppose, not being Whiggy enough. The fringe element of the Whigs didn’t call themselves the Freedom Caucus they called themselves The Know Nothings (at least there was Truth in advertising back then). The sane Whigs got together with disaffected northern Democrats and the Republic Party was born and put Lincoln in the White House (obviously this is a really compressed version). Mark Twain, my favorite smart Aleck, once said “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. Looking at the insanity of the far right I sense a sonnet coming on. And I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I’m looking forward to the day the sane Republicans at every level of government take over. I’m curious what that party will look like.

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    Dennis Fox

    January 26, 2024 at 3:04 pm

    The headline is correct. The Four Failed commissioners did “Conspire to Rig the nomination”. They planned, plotted and prepared to NOT follow the law governing how to fill a vacancy (18-3). They colluded and conspired to violate the law, the will of the voters and the Republican Party. Their intent was to deliberately throw it to a judge and therefore “open” the vacancy to anyone in Sheridan County. They had their hand-picked, establishment, liberal-democrat-socialist, waiting in the wings. Luckily the People, the Republican Party and a great and impartial Judge, saw thru the scheme and stopped it. If we allow the arrogant disregard of the law by the “Failed Four” to go unpunished, it will happen again. If we allow the Lawlessness of DC to infect Wyoming…we may lose this country. Our Freedom is at stake.

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    Dennis Fox

    January 31, 2024 at 3:07 pm

    One commissioner is a former US Military Officer. He knows the meaning of the words, Honor and Integrity. He’s already publicly admitted to following his “conscience” instead of the Law, in regards to filling the vacancy. Maybe he’ll be the first to realize his legacy will rest solely on this issue. Maybe he’ll honor a higher-calling and come forward with the truth. Breaking faith with the Sacred Public Trust is almost un-recoverable….but confession, contrition and sincere regret, are grounds for Forgiveness. Of course that all goes out the window, if convicted and removed from office. Tik-Tok.

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    Dennis Fox

    February 2, 2024 at 3:39 pm

    One of the Failed Four should realize that conspiracy to break the law is a serious offense. They are not all equally responsible for this plot. One of them should come forward with the truth and spare themselves a lot of trouble. Maybe one only went along reluctantly. They can make a public admission, tell us who planned this and then retire or resign. They will still go to trial, but the Judge might look favorably on the first one to come forward with the truth. We can only hope that at least one of the Failed Four has enough Honor and Integrity to do the right thing.
    A descent respect for the Sacred Public Trust and their Oath of Office is called for. Remember, the only thing we leave this earth with, is our good name and reputation.

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    Dennis Fox

    February 3, 2024 at 1:36 pm

    Maybe the newest member is the one least culpable for this conspiracy? Maybe he gets off with the lightest punishment, if he comes forward? You can bet this will be an election issue no matter what happens. Sure would be better to run for re-election as an honest broker…..that is if ANY of the Failed Four actually run for re-election. The Judge may prohibit that. Conspiracy has it’s Price.

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