EVANSTON — Newly retired Uinta County Commissioner Craig Welling wrapped up 24 years of service on the commission at the end of December, capping off more than three decades of service on government boards of Uinta County. Welling shared with the Herald some reflections on his time on the commission and in government, as well as on his belief in service and active community involvement.
Welling’s 24 years on the commission, according to the Wyoming County Commission Association (WCCA), made him the longest-serving current county commissioner at the time of his retirement “by a wide margin.” Kelli Little, WCCA deputy director, said it is possible Welling was the longest serving commissioner in Wyoming history; however, “our records are incomplete and, as such, we are unable to confirm (that).”
Whether or not Welling holds that particular distinction, he has without question spent a substantial portion of his life working to serve the people of Uinta County. His six terms on the county commission were preceded by 13 years on the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees, where he also served as both treasurer and chair.
Welling said he was inspired to run for the county commission by several people, most notably his father, Blain, who Welling said, “is my hero and was a great example to me as a hard worker, a person of untiring service and a man of many accomplishments.”
Welling said he was also motivated by some community members who encouraged him to run for the seat, including former Uinta County Clerk Lynne Fox, former Uinta County Attorney and now Circuit Court Judge Mike Greer, and former county commissioner John Fanos, whom Welling described as “one of Uinta County’s greatest leaders and politicians.”
Welling’s belief in service, however, extends back to his early years and young adulthood, and to one period in particular. Welling said he was in Chile from 1970-72, serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Being new, I didn’t understand the language well, but I was enticed by a campaign jingle (that) was ringing in my ears and seemed to be coming from everywhere, ‘Unidad Popular al Poder,’ (Popular Unity to Power).”
Welling said while he was in Chile, Alejandro Allende, a Marxist socialist, was elected as the country’s president, and when Welling was transferred from the Straits of Magellan to Santiago, the country’s capital, he could see for himself “that the country was in trouble.”
“With my own eyes, I saw Fidel Castro in the streets of Santiago exciting crazy riots, the Russian government was operating behind the scenes and ultimately a coup operated by the Chilean Military Armed Services itself overthrew the government and assassinated the sitting president.”
Following the assassination, Welling said approximately 200 people who were affiliated with the prior government were “marched onto a soccer field and machine gunned down.”
Welling said being present for these events was transformative. “I was stricken by the reality of how precious our American way of life was and that freedom was more than an inherited gift; it had to be constantly safeguarded and preserved and developed.”
“It became very clear to me that one’s values can only be protected by awareness and by having an active role in keeping them in place and to furthering them on,” said Welling. “This may appear a bit strange, but upon landing at the Miami airport, I knelt down on the airport’s floor and kissed the soil of my homeland, grateful to be back, for what I had and for what I could claim as mine.”
The experience and the lessons learned from it solidified Welling’s belief in the value of service and being engaged in promoting good government.
Looking back at his time on the commission, Welling said what stands out most are the times he was able to learn from fellow citizens and find solutions for whatever issue was at hand. “My most pivotal moments were realizing that I could learn from the wisest to the very least of people with whom I associated,” he said. “I found that, if I listened, I generally found honest people thinking, and contained in that thinking and connected with sound principles, was the wisdom to create a good direction. … The key was to listen and then respond honestly and appropriately. It has made me a better and wiser person.”
He further emphasized the ways in which many people can come together to find solutions, when talking about his proudest accomplishments during his tenure on the commission.
“There were tons of great things that were accomplished over those 24 years, but they were always accomplished collectively. I have found from these years of observation that when a leader began referring to his county or city as my or mine, rather than our or ours, that this person’s days were numbered,” he said. “The best things were accomplished by listening to everyone and anyone who had something to share that brought value to the project. My strongest leadership traits were learned from other leaders.”
Some of those who had the opportunity to work with Welling over the years focused on his willingness to work with others to find solutions.
“Craig brought so many years of insight and experience to the county,” said Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson. “He was truly dedicated to his position as commissioner and worked hard to give his best to the people of Uinta County. He was always willing to ask the hard questions when needed and tried to find the best solutions for the county. His vast knowledge of county government and his ability to communicate with others will be missed.”
Jerimiah Rieman, WCCA Executive Director, said, “Commissioner Welling served Uinta County effectively and has been a mentor to commissioners across Wyoming. On a personal level, Craig is one of the finest gentlemen I have worked with. I wish Commissioner Welling well in retirement.”
Welling said he’s learned a great deal from his 30-plus years in public office. “It was reaffirmed to me how important involvement in government really is. Nothing great in our lives is accomplished if we don’t somehow participate. It may be easier not to participate, but the outcome is very benign and leaves one extremely vulnerable. This behavior quietly leads our children down to the same dangerous pitfalls inherited from this poor example.”
He continued, “Furthermore, criticism can promote progression if it is offered in a way that it can motivate new insights. Criticism for criticism’s sake reveals one’s insecurities, bogs down the system and reduces the momentum of the desired solution at the detriment of the people at large.”
Welling said he understands why some people may feel it’s hopeless to become involved with politics or to try to make a difference; however, he earnestly believes participation is vital.
“There is a lot of contention in many government places and this has existed ever since the framing of the Constitution by those that understood government the best,” he said. “However, our government was molded to take all the varying opinions and sides and provide a process by which people can participate in the decision making and then be governed by the popular decision. A vital part of this is providing several opportunities where people can be heard and can feel like they are exerting their influence on the matter at hand. I firmly believe in the process, although the process can become mighty uncomfortable for those on the firing line.”
Welling also specifically referenced the role of local politics, quoting his daughter, and fellow former UCSD No. 1 School Board member, Tammy Walker.
“The federal government is huge and complex, but we live in small communities with good people,” he said. “If you work hard, you can make and see some significant contributions, which not only affect now but the future of our people.”
The new retiree took a moment to share his gratitude with all those he was able to work with over the years.
“I would like to offer a big thanks to all who chose to support me during my time in office, and not just the folks who always agreed with me,” said Welling. “Some of my best friends have at one time been some of my greatest dissenters. I have found great value in realizing that even though one may have some extremely differing thoughts and directions than I had or wanted, they ultimately provided great worth in causing me to ponder and sometimes reconsider my position.”
Now that his time on the commission has concluded, Welling said he has no regrets and would do it all over again. “We all make mistakes and I have made my share of them; however, I can’t think of a specific event that I would want to change,” he said, adding that he would absolutely make the same decision to serve again. “I love politics, and I hope that I have used what talents I have to better the county we share. I leave with no regrets.”
When considering that he may, in fact, be the longest sitting commissioner in Wyoming, Welling said, “If this is in fact true, it could not have happened if it had not been for the confidence and support of the good citizens and my friends in Uinta County over the years.”