The Big Horn County Fair Board voted 4-1 to suspend Fair Manager Deb Schnitzmeier immediately without pay at their regular board meeting meeting Monday night.
After preliminary business, Chairman Felix Carrizales announced personnel was the next item on the agenda and asked Schnitzmeier if she had a letter of resignation to present to the board.
“No, I do not. I don’t intend to resign,” Schnitzmeier said.
Carrizales, who said he had come in to speak to Schnitzmeier last week about a personal matter, did ask her if she would resign. He said if she’s not willing to do that he then asked the board if they wanted to take action regarding Schnitzmeier’s employment and board member Andy Perkins moved to terminate her employment with Carl Nielsen seconding the motion.
Board member Tim Flitner said, “If anyone has mixed emotions let’s do that in executive session. If not, I call for the question. Let’s keep it simple.” He added in supporting the motion, “I do know this, we cannot effectively operate with the person that we’re discussing and obviously in conflict with.”
Schnitzmeier’s attorney, Jim Hallman, quoted the open meeting law to the board regarding executive sessions, which allows a board to convene into executive session “to consider the appointment, employment, right to practice or dismissal of a public officer, professional person or employee, or to hear complaints or charges brought against an employee, professional person or officer, unless the employee, professional person or officer requests a public hearing. The governing body may exclude from any public or private hearing during the examination of a witness, any or all other witnesses in the matter being investigated. Following the hearing or executive session, the governing body may deliberate on its decision in executive session.”
He said his client, Schnitzmeier, is asking for the public hearing.
The board then sought the advice of commissioners Jerry Ewen and Scotty Hinman, both of whom were in attendance. Ewen said the commissioners discuss any personnel decision in executive session but reminded the board that no action can be taken in executive session.
Ewen said, “I believe that you can take whatever action you choose. If there are any further questions I recommend a consultation with the county attorney because it needs to be done correctly and legally. If she’s entitled by law for an opportunity to have her say then she should receive that.”
Schnitzmeier made one comment that when Carrizales came to the office on Thursday he was coming to her as a friend asking her “on behalf of some board members.” She added that Casey Sorenson had no idea about the request and that the request was made in front of County Maintenance Supervisor Fred Werner.
“That’s all I will say at this point,” she said.
Carrizales at one point began to discuss what happened Thursday when Flitner told him it was unnecessary at this time.
Ewen asked to also clear up another matter related to the meeting and the resignation request. He said he received a copy of an email on Aug. 9 in which a citizen, whom he did not name made complaints about the county fair. In the letter the citizen asked for the resignation of the fair manager.
“I wrote this letter in response, “Deb, hang in there OK. There will never be a fair that does not end up with someone who is dissatisfied. There are too many things going on with too many people. I think you and your new board did a stellar job with your first fair. You now have the experience and knowledge to make next year even better.’”
He said on Monday he received a notice that had been removed from the front door of the Food Farm in Greybull. The notice stated that the fair board would be asking for Schnitzmeier’s resignation at Monday’s meeting and included the email letter Ewen had written.
The notice states that Carrizales asked for her resignation on Thursday and that she would not be resigning and asked for people to come and support her and the fair at Monday’s meeting.
Ewen said, “This notice, as it reads, it appears I wrote this entire message. I did not. I have no knowledge of this. It was done without my permission and without my knowledge and I wish to disassociate myself from this notice.”
Hinman said the commissioners have a hard time getting people to volunteer for the county board. He said, “If they want to make a decision I think it’s up to them. If they want to hold off and talk to the county attorney, that’s fine, but whatever the board decides, I’m going to stand behind the board.”
Ewen said, “I support what Scotty just said, also. We have put you in position to make these decisions and I intend to support you.”
He said the board could change the motion to suspend Schnitzmeier and seek the advice of the county attorney before proceeding. After some help on parliamentary procedure from Paintrock FFA Advisor Jared Boardman, the board amended the original motion to suspend Schnitzmeier and it was approved with Sorenson voting against.
Carl Nielsen suggested Flitner and Carrizales meet with the county attorney and Sorenson said he would like to attend the meeting.
Just prior to the vote a gentleman in the audience asked if they could know why the board was suspending Schnitzmeier and Carrizales said not at this time, pending an opinion on the public hearing issue.
Carrizales said anyone needing to contact the fair office can leave a message at the fair office number at 568-2968. It will be checked regularly. Residents can also contact Carrizales at 272-6801.
There were about 20 people in attendance at the meeting, which included the two commissioners, Hallman, 4-H Educator Gretchen Gasvoda-Kelso, Extension Educator Dallen Smith and Boardman.
By KARLA POMEROY