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Museum board member quits after dismissal of Lander director

Sep 6, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission met behind closed doors to discuss last week's termination of Pioneer Museum director Carol Thiesse.

Following the 30-minute executive session Aug. 28, the commission voted to advertise the vacancy on the Fremont County Museums Board that was created when Eileen Urbigkit resigned over the decision to dismiss Thiesse.

"This was not an easy decision to make, but it has become clear that I cannot be an effective Museum Board member due to recent actions by the Commissioners," Urbigkit said in a resignation letter dated Aug. 24 to commissioners.

"The methods used to target Museum Board members and the Pioneer Museum director appear legally questionable, and for that reason had I been present at the Aug. 22 meeting I would have voted against firing the Pioneer Museum Director," she wrote.

At the commission meeting earlier in the day, board vice chairman Pat Hickerson said Thiesse's termination has "generated a few ongoing problems with management of the facility."

Hickerson said he will work with the museums board to help rectify the management issues surrounding the Pioneer Museum in Lander.

"We're moving forward," he said. "We'll have more things to bring up during our executive session at 1:30 p.m., and that will be for potential litigation and personnel."

Deputy county attorney Jodi Darrough also attended the executive session.

Complaints

The private meeting follows the museums board's action to terminate Thiesse on Aug. 22 amid several complaints about poor relations between Thiesse and the public.

The commission essentially issued an ultimatum to the museums board members Aug. 14 to either fire Thiesse or face termination themselves, spurring the action to part ways with the director.

Thiesse has brought up litigation in correspondence to the commission.

The museums board's recent action has left the Pioneer Museum without a leader after Joe Spriggs, the board's choice to be interim director, declined the offer and sided with Thiesse.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the museums board will handle hiring Thiesse's replacement with guidance from the county.

In her letter, Urbigkit said, "Outside influences and personal agendas have created a disruptive and hostile situation that sidelines the interest and effectiveness of the Museum Board and imperils the good work for the county that we have done."

Urbigkit said the commission's actions "have guaranteed that the County will be involved in lengthy litigation that will be a significant expense to the county taxpayers."

Urbigkit said she has served on the museums board for seven years.

"It is with regret that it has come to this, but I can no longer serve under these conditions," her letter concluded.

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