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The $19,000 spat

Aug 6, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Continuing acrimony at the courthouse not likely to impress voters in 2018

Tuesday's confrontation in the Fremont County Commission chambers between commissioners and county treasurer Scott Harnsberger won't ever be part of an instructional video titled "Smooth Operation of County Government."

It was tense. It was argumentative. It included accusations fired across the table from both sides. It was downright unpleasant a lot of the time.

It wasn't the sort of public presentation the powers that be at the courthouse would prefer. It didn't make anybody look all that good.

But it also was real. It was authentic. It was valid, and it was important.

It was part of local government. And local government isn't always easy.

The dustup was a continuation of the deteriorating relations among commissioners and the treasurer, stemming from an abiding disagreement about Harnsberger's budget.

It's unlikely either side of the argument believes the other might simply stand down and agree to the other's position. Commission chairman Travis Becker said afterward that the exchange had come "to an end with no resolution."

Most particularly, Harnsberger did not agree to reopen the treasurer's office in Riverton which, when he ordered it closed, took the Riverton functions of the other county offices (except sheriff) with it. Commissioners say he did it in retribution for their resistance to his budgetary practice of setting aside money for staff bonuses.

The amount of money in question - about $19,000 - doesn't amount to much in the face of a budget deficit that tops $1 million. But the dispute always has been more about authority and control than dollars and cents. If resolution to the disagreement cannot come from sniping across the meeting table, then it will have to come some other way.

Those other ways do exist. Most of them involve a much larger group of problem solvers than the one assembled in the commission chambers, namely, the voters.

Perhaps the energy economy will rebound vigorously, rendering $19,000 disagreements about spending in the treasurer's office less conspicuous and inflammatory. But if it doesn't, then there could well be a bigger issue in the 2018 general election than anyone expected six months ago.

To a point, citizens will have patience in recognizing that disagreements are part of the governmental process. Eventually, however, they will expect a resolution to this for the benefit of all Fremont County - a resolution supplied by the office holders whose jobs have been given to them by voters.

This is not Trump vs. Congress, and that's no model for Fremont County to emulate. A year from now, we will be in the heart of a primary election campaign. This disagreement ought to be settled well before then through normal processes of county government. If it isn't, then it may well need to be resolved by another process of county government - the ballot. And with this as the example they are setting, neither side should bank on how that will turn out.

QUESTION: What's your opinion on the disagreement over the county treasurer's budget, the closing of the Riverton office, and conflict between the county commission and the treasurer? Submit a letter to the editor using the options listed at right.

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2017-09-22