Shay Lundvall's resignation from the Gillette City Council cut short his term in office, but it sparked protests, local political unrest and calls for the mayor and rest of the council to step down.
Lundvall was asked to resign by Mayor Louise Carter-King and rest of the City Council on June 10 after he "liked" what they deemed to be racist, sexist and offensive Facebook posts by Gillette resident Bob Vomhof.
Lundvall has since apologized and admitted that as a public official, he has to be more mindful of his behavior in public and on social media.
That hasn't quelled the unrest fueling the critics of the mayor and council, who say the way they threatened to go public with the situation unless he resigned was underhanded and an attempt to keep the public in the dark.
Since then, Lundvall has kept a relatively low profile.
“I apologized and accepted my responsibility,” Lundvall said in an interview last week with the News Record. “I don’t know how many more times a person can apologize.”
He said it was because he was told by the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office to not talk to anyone about an ongoing investigation, which Capt. Eric Seeman said concerns allegations made by people on Facebook about the City Council’s behavior.
The investigation should be wrapped up sometime next week, Seeman said, adding he would not comment more until then.
At the last City Council meeting, Lundvall's father, Dennis Lundvall, said the FBI was investigating something. Seeman said the FBI's investigation was related to the allegations the Sheriff's Office is investigating.
The FBI, however, has since stopped its investigation because it stated it did not have jurisdiction for what was being investigated, Seeman said.
‘Something that took a life on its own’
Since Lundvall’s resignation, Carter-King and the council have been bombarded by some residents to address their decision to ask for Lundvall's resignation. In the last four City Council members since, dozens of people have protested at Gillette City Hall.
Lundvall said he has been "very humbled and grateful" for the support he has received, but that he did not plan the protests and hasn't egged them on.
“I wasn’t riling up the troops and so forth,” he said. “I think it was something that took a life on its own.”
Lundvall did not answer questions about whether or not he has communicated with the protesters since the protests began and if he thinks they ought to continue.
He did say he is concerned about misconceptions that he and Vomhof, one of the most vocal protesters, have been working together. That's not the case, Lundvall said, adding that the men also do not pal around with one another.
“(The Vomhofs are) a really good family, but he does his thing and I do my thing,” Lundvall said. “Unfortunately, in this situation we were labeled with pretty harsh words.”
Lundvall is referring to the city publicly releasing Vomhof's posts as examples of why they asked for Lundvall's resignation.
Vomhof has repeatedly said that by publicly identifying him as the source of the allegedly offensive posts, the city has caused him and his family to receive backlash from parts of the community.
“I was a little bit surprised, but not,” Lundvall said about putting Vomhof's posts out to the public. “That was something (the mayor) was going to do anyway. I would have guessed they would have blocked off names, but that didn’t happen.
“There lies the other issue with Bob.”
The protests regarding Vomhof's posts are his fight only, the former councilman said although he did not state why he felt that way.
Lundvall also understands why Vomhof is so upset.
“What they did to him was wrong and he wants answers on his end and that is only fair,” Lundvall said.
Three days after his resignation, Lundvall put up a post on his Ward 3 election campaign page stating that the city confronted him about the "likes" on June 9.
"I was informed if I did not resign by 8 a.m. the next day, the mayor would release a letter detailing certain Facebook posts I had liked, which would degrade or disgrace me," he wrote.
Lundvall told the News Record that the City Council had confronted him before the June 9 work session over the phone while he was at National Jewish Health in Denver for testing hours before the council was scheduled to meet in an executive session to discuss personnel and litigation.
"I spoke to the mayor a couple times that day when all the threats were made and then (to) all of the council that night," he said. "The council had met prior to the executive session without me."
Councilmen Bruce Brown and Billy Montgomery said they had no comment on this.
Lundvall said he has not threatened or contemplated legal action against the city or vice versa.
The city has not formally addressed the Lundvall situation other than issuing a press release hours after the City Council had a closed-door meeting on June 15, five days after his resignation. This executive session was also called to discuss personnel and litigation.
The statement outlined the city's process to ask Lundvall to resign.
“The City Council and staff conducted a cursory review of Mr. Lundvall’s social media activity and were appalled by the abhorrent nature of the content,” the statement says. “Until June 9, 2020, the city was unaware of Mr. Lundvall’s systematic support on social media of views regarding violence toward citizens, misogynistic views toward women, disdain for the handicapped and racial and ethnic slurs.”
The council then informed Lundvall that it “intended to publicly call for his resignation.”
Lundvall was told that if he didn’t resign, the council would go public with its concern over the councilman’s actions on social media.
The decision to resign "was out of a place of love, dedication, and protection for my family," he stated on his Facebook campaign post.
"I was threatened. My wife and my children were threatened. I was told that my family would face public ridicule and embarrassment if I did not resign immediately. My decision had to be made in a matter of minutes and hours," Lundvall said. "The threats I refer to sounded very real and very serious.
"They went on to threaten that the repercussions of those likes could have an impact on my wife's career as a school counselor in the (Campbell County) School District as well as our children's future living in Gillette."
The city released the information anyway after he came out and said he was forced to resign.
Lundvall believes that Carter-King needs to admit that what she did was premeditated.
After a July 21 meeting when Carter-King continued to listen to protesters asking for her resignation, she did not respond to concerns Lundvall supporters had and reiterated that the city had already issued a statement on the issue.
She reiterated this week that she is standing by the city's June statement and will not comment further on the issue.
A member of the council did address the protesters Aug. 4, but not about Lundvall.
Instead, Brown admitted that he is on probation following a November arrest for driving while under the influence of prescribed medication.
Lundvall said that while he respects Brown for admitting his mistake, he wonders why Brown did not have to resign for doing something that was more egregious than he did.
“How is that OK when what he did was illegal and I liked some Facebook posts? (My actions were) not illegal. I did not endanger lives,” Lundvall said. “I think this mayor needs to accept her responsibility about her double standards. She needs to own up to that.”
Lundvall did not say whether he thinks Carter-King should resign, but he believes she should at least admit her wrongdoings.
“How much would that help? I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “We have to remember we work for the people and that’s something that’s been lost in translation.
"I’m not saying you’re going to be perfect at it. We are replaceable. We’re not above the law and that attitude and that mindset has got to stop.”
'The ball is in their court'
Lundvall is running for reelection to his Ward 3 council seat and his Facebook campaign page has 1,015 likes as of this week.
He did not say how he is campaigning other than that.
“A magician never reveals his secret,” he said. “I’m working hard, let’s put it that way. I’m going to do what I can do to the best of my abilities and I think that is all the people can ask for."
He had filed for reelection in May before the brouhaha over his social media activity. He's also unopposed on the ballot, which means barring a successful write-in campaign, he'll be back on the council.
His successor on the council, Laura Chapman, has mounted a write-in campaign.
Lundvall admits that things then may be uncomfortable at first if he is successful in his reelection bid.
“I think I’ve said my 2 cents. I said what I needed to say,” he said. “The ball is in their court. If they choose to not move forward and own up to it, that’s on them. I can’t force them to. I can’t force the mayor to.
“At some level the council needs to accept its level of responsibility and move forward."
Few people in a community have the privilege of intersecting with so many lives as a reporter.
No one in Gillette has done it recently as long and as well as Kathy Brown, who was a reporter for the News Record for 37 years.
“KB,” as we called her, died Wednesday night in Casper at the Central Wyoming Hospice and Transitions of complications from cancer, a disease she had valiantly fought for the past 13 months. She was 64.
She had retired from the News Record in March after working as a journalist for 41 years.
In a perfect world, there would have been a proper send-off, a party or an open house to properly acknowledge the decades that she devoted to this community. Instead, we faced a national shutdown aimed at protecting everyone from the COVID-19 pandemic, but particularly those like KB whose health was compromised by cancer and the chemotherapy she undertook to try to beat it.
She restarted the chemo after a much-too-short remission and was bound and determined to beat it.
In a perfect world, she would have beat it. In a perfect world, there would have been more stories that she could have written about all of you, her favorite people. In a perfect world, she would have enjoyed her retirement.
But the world is not perfect.
Today, we honor her with a front-page obituary, not because she would have wanted it — indeed she would have been appalled at the attention.
We do so because she deserves it.
In Gillette, she spent more than 20 years as a sports reporter, and in those years covered thousands of young athletes in the school system as well as younger and older ones in different athletic pursuits.
Kathy was the sole sports reporter at the News Record — and the only female sports reporter in the state — for most of that time. No one worked longer and harder than she did because she was committed not just to her job, but to the kids.
She made an effort to talk to every single athlete on a team — not just the stars, but every single one. She tried to make sure that they appeared in a story over the course of a season because she believed that each one of them deserved attention as part of the team. Each athlete, competing alone or on a team, had a story that deserved to be told.
A criticism that haunted her most would be those that came from some disgruntled parent who thought she was giving one player too much attention. In sports coverage, it’s hard to ignore the stars. But her admiration often was focused on those whose efforts were just as noteworthy, if not as splashy.
“Always talk to those involved in events, not just a coach or teacher,” she wrote in notes she handed out to younger journalists who wanted to listen to her advice. “You can use the coach or teacher’s comments to build on what you’re writing, but the athletes or the students are the ones who are involved in it. They have a lot to say, too, and shouldn’t be ignored.”
In 2012, she moved from the sports beat to education and the community section. The move was made for health reasons, but she ended up working just as hard covering those beats as she did sports.
She was a prolific writer and still holds the byline record at the News Record. There was never a topic too small, but there were some that she could write reams about, usually involving her love of history, particularly local or Western history.
She once decided to write about the Pumpkin Buttes, a story that originally was supposed to anchor the front page.
She wrote so much that it ended up being a special section.
That was true of the Recreation Center when it opened 10 years ago. The story was supposed to be a comprehensive look at what the new facility was like.
It ended up being a 28-page special section with multiple stories, all written in a very short amount of time by KB.
In both of those cases, just like with most stories she wrote, she approached them with an enthusiasm that is rare.
“I’m sucking the life out of this interview in three different ways,” she once said about an interview with one of the National High School Finals Rodeo contestants.
She loved journalism because no two days are alike. “Every day is a new adventure,” she said in 2017.
She also loved it because it put her smack-dab in the middle of people and their stories, which is where she liked to be.
“I really feel it’s a privilege to cover the stories of the people in Campbell County and to be able to tell about their lives,” she said.
She has been honored many times for her reporting and her leadership. Three years ago, she was chosen as Veteran Journalist of the Year by the Wyoming Press Association, an occasion that made her reflect on her career, as well as to find humor in the “veteran” part of the name.
“Heck,” she said. “It’s just one for old farts.”
“I want to tell the stories we all want to read — the important ones that teach us about life, ourselves and our community at the same time,” she said at the time. “No one else can tell the story of a community as well as a newspaper, so it’s a service to a community and a calling to those of us on the job.”
It was her humility that made her sum up the award by saying, “I guess it means I’m doing OK at the job.”
That prompted a reply from frequent letter writer Brad Schofield.
“In my opinion, the ability to ‘write and relate’ is not only a gift she has shared and worked so hard to achieve, it is a dedication to a life of serving a people and a community she obviously loves and respects,” he wrote.
A newspaper contest judge once called KB “a consummate pro.” And she was.
People in Gillette were lucky to have her on their side for 37 years.
We were even luckier to be able to call her a colleague. Even more so a friend.
If necessity is the mother of invention, the struggling coal industry and COVID-19 are close relatives.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to monkey-wrench most areas of everyday domestic and economic life in Campbell County and Wyoming. It’s also forced teams slated to occupy research bays at the Integrated Test Center to tinker with and retool their work in finding viable ways to capture and reuse waste carbon dioxide emissions.
But there will still be plenty for U.S. senators to see when the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works holds a field hearing at the ITC at the Dry Fork Station power plant north of Gillette next week.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, chairs the committee and said its visit to Gillette is a significant step in Wyoming’s continuing push to be a global leader in CO2 research and innovation.
“Clearly, Wyoming — and specifically Gillette and Campbell County — is leading the way in the world for carbon capture technologies,” he said during a phone interview with the News Record. The ITC “really is the state-of-the-art facility and groundbreaking research is happening.”
That’s what he hopes the rest of the committee members see during their hearing Wednesday. While he continues to push Wyoming’s mineral resources and ability to develop new ways to use them, Barrasso said being on the ground at the Integrated Test Center will be eye-opening for many.
“There is a big difference in how we think about things in Wyoming rather than in some big, liberal city,” he said. “The best way (to counter that) is through innovation with the free market.
“I’ve been at this for 10 years and we know what we’re doing here in Wyoming. There’s so much energy here and it needs to be used and cannot be locked away.”
When the committee members visit the ITC, they’ll see two NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize teams that are competing for a piece of $20 million in prize money to develop and demonstrate technologies that can capture and repurpose CO2 into valuable products. One makes concrete building material from it while another converts the carbon dioxide into a fuel.
An indicator of the importance of the research happening in Campbell County is that the committee would still make its field trip as the coronavirus is surging around the country, said Jason Begger, managing director of the ITC.
“There are only a handful of field hearings that happen in a year anyway, and to have one come to Wyoming and the ITC is just fantastic,” Begger said. “It speaks volumes about how important of an issue this is for the senators.”
He also agreed with Barrasso that there is no substitute for seeing the facility and the research firsthand.
“Nothing puts this into perspective better than seeing it,” Begger said. “You talk about research and projects and we all have our personal images in our minds of how that looks. That can be beakers and Bunsen burners to things in the ground to something more extravagant.
“Here, we’ll show them this is really what these projects look like.”
Without the pandemic, the five smaller research bays at the ITC would have now be occupied with teams of people exploring ways to turn one of the planet’s most problematic waste byproducts into new, economically viable industries.
Instead, only two of the five XPrize finalists are in place to show how their technologies work. They are both United States-based teams that were able to get their research units to the ITC. Three other teams are still stuck in their home countries as the pandemic continues its stranglehold on international travel.
Already in place are CO2Concrete and Dimensional Energy. Not able to be at the ITC are:
While the XPrize Foundation originally had extended its schedule to allow for teams showing up later to do their research, Begger said it has since modified the rules so the international teams can continue their work at home.
After years of planning, construction and expectations, to finally have even some of the XPrize finalists on site is exciting, Barrasso said.
“I’m very excited to be right there at ground zero and with the research teams that are really doing some innovative work,” he said. “I think all of us in Wyoming know we use carbon dioxide in our (oil and gas) wells, but there is so much progress in actually converting that captured carbon into building materials.”
He said the solutions that could come from research in Campbell County have the potential to be “game-changing” well beyond the borders of the United States.
“No. 1, this strengthens our economy as we continue to find ways to make marketable products from carbon dioxide,” Barrasso said. “No. 2 is the technology we can then distribute around the world.”
One of the most important benefits of impressing the committee is to secure more financial backing for CO2 research, especially in grants and financial incentives for private industry to innovate, Begger said. Although the Committee on Environment and Public Works doesn’t hold the purse strings, it makes recommendations to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The field hearing won’t be livestreamed online, but a video of it will be uploaded to epw.senate.gov at a later date.