(Lander, WY) – At the July 13th, County Commissioners’ meeting, County Coroner candidate interviews were conducted to replace the recently vacated position left by Mark Stratmoen. It was ultimately decided that the application/interview process would continue until the Republican Party provides more qualified candidates.
The 3 candidates chosen and interviewed during the Commissioner meeting included Larry Degraw, Karl Falken, and Joseph Lucero.
Erin Ivie, current Chief Deputy Coroner and acting interim Coroner, whose credentials can be found here, came heavily recommended by Stratmoen and local officials, but was not on the Republican Party appointed candidate list presented to the County Commissioners.
When the Coroner position is vacated, it is required by state law that the candidates chosen as potential replacements be from the political party of the current position holder, in this case the Republican Party, and that the opening be publicly advertised.
Ivie, a lifelong Republican Party member, was named Deputy Coroner in 2003 and served as Chief Deputy Coroner for the last 7 years. She claimed she was not permitted to submit the letters of recommendation she received for the position during the interview process, and used the Commissioners’ meeting to present the letters in a public forum.
After she gave the Coroner’s Office monthly report and mid-year summary to the Commissioners, Ivie teared up as she began to present her letters and speak on her own behalf.
“I am disappointed by the Republican Party, and saddened for the citizens of Fremont County who deserve better,” Ivie stated. “I was not allowed by the party chair to submit my letters of recommendation at the time of my interview. I will be submitting those now so they are entered into the public record.”
“This process was in no way merit, experience, or qualification based,” Ivie continued. “However, should the new administration choose to keep my appointment as Chief Deputy, I will continue to serve my community with my whole heart, and in adherence to applicable law, and assist the new Coroner. I feel the public deserves this at the very minimum.”
Also speaking on her behalf was a Fremont citizen who received Coroner services from Ivie, as well as former Coroner Mark Stratmoen and current Operations Deputy Tony Simmers.
“During my terms, we’ve worked hard to make sure the office acts within the law, regardless of mine, or any other personal opinion, and that has not pleased some people,” Stratmoen commented. “We swear to uphold the constitution and the law, not any personal agenda, and the next person you select must do the same.”
“I am greatly dismayed that three men with no experience within Fremont County will be presented to you, and does not include a woman who has experience and certifications over 18 years in our department,” Stratmoen resumed. “The process did not allow her to present endorsements from almost every law enforcement agency in the county, among other agencies. I urge this board to reject this attempt to railroad you and deny you the ability to make the choice that you believe is right, and that the people deserve.”
“The decision made by the committee to not choose the most experienced and qualified candidate to serve in the public office demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for the interest of the people of Fremont County,” Simmers stated. “The position of Coroner is not administrative or managerial, it is not even a job. It is a commitment to serve the people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
“I feel that the actions of the Republican Party show that they are not concerned with providing the people of Fremont County the best candidates for serving the people, but rather providing a candidate that will best serve their political agendas,” Simmers went on to say. “As Deputy Coroner, I will continue to serve the people in this county as best as I can, however I feel I would not be serving the public’s best interest if I stayed silent about politicians standing in the way of the public recieving the best candidates for this position.”
“I implore both the commission and public to not allow politics to stand in the way of what is best for this county morally and fiscally.”
According to Republican precinct committee member Pepper Ottman, who was in attendance at the meeting, Ivie was “a very viable candidate,” and was in the top five candidates chosen. Ottman stated that after interviews were conducted, Ivie reportedly tied for the 3rd candidate position, but was ultimately passed over after a second round of voting.
After the public comments and reports, the interviews were then held.
Larry Degraw, a former Casper Police Department employee and Fremont County resident since 1995 with coroner investigation experience, was the first applicant. Degraw currently runs Wind River Investigations, which serves the Wind River Indian Reservation, and “investigates fires, insurance work, employee background, as well as general investigations.”
Next up was Karl Falken, and while having no experience in coroner or medical fields, brings a mechanical engineering background to the table. Karl planned on fostering relationships with local law enforcement and stated that his work with engineering project budgets would be beneficial to the budgeting and administrative aspects to the position.
The 3rd candidate was Joseph Lucero, a Hudson resident and retired physician. Lucero stated that he believes he is qualified to become a medical examiner due to his years of medical experience. Despite saying that he would need a “steep learning curve,” Lucero believed this long term medical experience would have also been beneficial to the Coroner position.
After hearing from the 3 candidates and meeting for a special legal discussion session, the Commissioners came to their decision.
“We would ask the Republican committee to reconsider and provide more qualified applicants,” Commissioner and Vice-Chairman Larry Allan stated, with Commissioner Jennifer McCarty agreeing.
“We’re a large county. We need a coroner with full knowledge and understanding of what they’re getting into,” Commissioner Clarence Thomas stated. “Only one candidate could I see possibly fit into this role within the timeframe. My question to the Republican Party, why was a candidate left out with experience, feet on the ground, ready to go? I would hate to see someone put in that position that will have to play catch up and rely on support staff. I agree with Commissioner Allen.”
“This is uncharted waters,” commented Chairman Travis Becker before agreeing with his fellow commissioners. Seeing as the decision did not have to be made today, the Commissioners then agreed to draft a letter to the Republican committee requesting more qualified candidates within the agreed upon timeframe.
County 10 will provide more updates on the situation as they become available, which can be found here.