After motion falls flat, county reaffirms decision not to pay 4-H educator

EVANSTON — The conflict between the Uinta County Fair Board and local 4-H surrounding the Uinta County Fair continued at the Uinta County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Local residents again shared their concerns and comments with commissioners following their January decision to discontinue contributions toward the salary of 4-H Educator Dawn Sanchez.

Local teen Ian Siegismund and his mother Jane Siegismund were the first to speak, sharing their support of the commissioners’ decision. Ian said the 4-H program had become totally dependent on one person and there was a need to get more people involved. He also said having 4-H leaders who were both educators and parents had caused difficulties.

“An educator has to put all kids first, not just your own kids,” Ian said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily mixed so well.” 

Fair board member Steve Sims also spoke in favor of the decision and said 4-H had become too focused on certain individuals.

“If you’re in a select group, you’re taken care of very well,” Sims said. “If you’re not, you’re on your own.”

Sims said he thinks the county needs to heal and can’t do that if there is no trust and people continue to be split apart.

He concluded by saying, “I’ll leave you with one question; if the educator is doing a wonderful job, why are we even having these conversations?” 

On the other side of the discussion, 4-H leader Nicole Simmons read from material she had written in advance. Simmons shared some of the accomplishments of the 4-H program in recent years, including launching a beekeeping program, starting to use Zoom technology to offer programs to kids around the state and the Cloverbud program for youth. Simmons said she disagrees with assertions that certain kids were receiving special treatment in 4-H.

“My kids work really hard to be successful,” she said. “To imply they get special treatment is unfair. They have nothing handed to them.” 

Multiple people spoke in support of Sanchez and urged commissioners to reconsider their January decision. Multiple people also spoke in favor of the decision to discontinue Sanchez’ salary contribution. Just a portion of Sanchez’ salary had been coming from the county; she’s also on the University of Wyoming Extension Office’s payroll.

Sydney Davis spoke and said she could see both sides and had been trying to keep an open mind about everything.

“I think this 4-H family went back to high school, where there are cliques and popular kids,” she said. “I know both Dawn and Ami (Barker, county fair manager) personally and they are both incredible women who are amazing leaders.” 

Davis said she feels both women are trying to do what’s best for the county and for kids, but a lot of the conflict had become about adult ego and pride. “This is World War III in Uinta County,” she said, “and it shouldn’t be.”

After everyone who wanted to speak had been given an opportunity to do so, Sanchez herself addressed the commissioners and those assembled.

“I am super proud of every one of you kids who were able to get up and talk,” she said. “I don’t like conflict and I’m not very good at it, but I hope we can find peace.”

She said she feels the 4-H group is a family and there are challenges in any family. 

“I hope we can find what’s best for everybody in the program, and thanks to everybody here no matter where they stand on this,” Sanchez said. “We need to move forward and find positive ground. Everyone here has their heart in 4-H and I know I can hang my hat on that. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t love 4-H.” 

The commissioners then addressed the crowd. Chairman Eric South said some excellent comments had been presented, but the discussion had brought them back to where they started. Craig Welling and Wendell Fraughton said it was good to see so many people involved in the community and showing interest.

Bridger Feuz with the University of Wyoming Extension Office in Uinta County then again approached the commissioners with the salary contribution agreement for Sanchez’s salary. Welling moved to approve the contract; however, there was no second for his motion and it died on the floor, leaving the Jan. 2 decision — the decision not to pay Sanchez $18,000 semi-annually — in place.

In other business during the meeting, Human Services Director Jim Hissong requested approval of a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) amendment to redistribute $6,000 from the Uinta County Senior Citizens Center to other organizations.

Hissong said the funds had been designated to provide “blizzard boxes” containing food and supplies to senior citizens to have on hand in case of emergencies. However, as the CSBG is a federal grant, it requires the collection of extensive demographic data. Hissong said the senior center board felt that was too much work and was too intrusive for the individuals impacted and chose to forego the funding. 

Uinta Senior Citizens Director Amy Kelly told the Herald after the meeting that seniors would also have to meet certain poverty-level requirements, which last year’s blizzard box recipients likely wouldn’t meet this year.

Commissioners approved the amendment request. 

The next regular county commission meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Uinta County Complex.

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