Byron Rec officers listed; programs continue as former unit leader challenges accusations

As the significant and disputatious reorganization of the Byron Recreation Department continues, the new and expanded advisory committee and Mayor Heidi Brightly stand behind the revised approaches with the first public meeting of the just-appointed group set for Monday, Oct. 5, at 4 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Meanwhile, Pam Hopkinson, the immediate past mayor and former chairman of the committee, remains firm that disparaging comments about the former operation and its structure are without merit while wishing the reorganized Rec unit well and encouraging citizens to support the Rec. Hopkinson is challenging two recent letters in the Chronicle, one from Harriet Jackson, the new committee vice president and senior adviser, and the other from a group of “concerned citizens” comprised of Todd and Debbie Wilder, Teri Coy, Dwain and Harriet Jackson, Cameron Frates, Micki Freeman, Joyce Zarate, Steve  and Meadow Scheeler, Tom and Pauline Wilder, D.J. Cozzens, Dennis Cozzens and Carol Spann.

Brightly on Tuesday, Sept. 29, announced Harriet Jackson’s position plus Todd Wilder as president, Rosie Betancourt and Zarate as secretaries/treasurers, Becky Bates and Teddy Soper as activity directors and Debbie Wilder as communications coordinator. As well, the mayor announced that “the Monday Senior Lunch Program will continue as scheduled and Lovell High School dance practice will continue as per contract.” She added, “Thank you to all of the previous Rec Department volunteers for their support and dedicated work.”

Brightly provided the Rec schedule, saying, “My goal with the reorganization has been to come into line with my management style. As I have always stated, it has not been my desire to ‘do away with’ the department but to ensure that all the citizens of Byron are getting their money’s worth with the investment of town funds. My new management is in the process of conducting a complete audit. Once that is complete, recommendations will be made for the future of the department. Until then, we have made every attempt to keep programs and activities alive.” Copies of the complete Rec schedule are available at the Town Hall.

Regarding what she first termed an audit, Brightly explained that it’s “not really an audit, but more of an inventory and needs assessment.” She, Todd Wilder and Zarate each stated in essence during telephone interviews Tuesday that “with all that’s going on,” including Town Clerk/Treasurer Donna Booth being absent due to illness, they have delayed their complete review of the finances, organization under state statute and related topics. Regarding earlier comments indicating that the previous Rec committee needed to operate with “more transparency,” the mayor said, “It’s too early to tell; we’re gathering everything that was on site and putting it together to be sure we’re in compliance.”

Todd Wilder added, “We’re in the process of going through the paperwork to be sure that all is up to date and go from there. We’re not trying to judge what happened in the past. We have found that there were a lot of great programs and we’re not shutting down anything. We’re going forward to support the community. We’re evaluating the programs and (will) make necessary changes as to what the needs are.”

The mayor said that as part of the new committee’s efforts she and they met recently with Richard Parker, business manager for Big Horn County School District One. “It was an excellent meeting,” said Brightly. She again indicated that the examination of the previous Rec committee’s functions are under way and that part of her concern is based on her observation that its members and Sydney Hessenthaler, council liaison, operated “by the seat of their pants. Things were done and items bought, but I was left completely out of the loop. I have great compassion and love for this town; I just want to do it (Rec operations) right.”

Meanwhile, based on letters to the editor, Hopkinson explained, “My intention in sending my personal letter to Harriet to other people (the concerned citizens) is simply to clear up any misconceptions in Harriet’s public letter (Sept. 24) as well as the letter to the editor from the group the week before.” She also sent copies of the letter to Booth and the town council members. Her letter, headed with “Dear Harriet,” states in part:

“Your letter to the editor was interesting in that you chose to put into writing what has been tossed about so freely in the audience at town meetings as well as from the office of the mayor and clerk. I do applaud your willingness to sign your name rather than hide behind others as some in the concerned citizens group have chosen to do. At least it opens the door for some dialogue if facts are important to you.

“You would need to be speci?c as to what state statutes the council is out of sync with. I am only aware of the situation where the mayor chose to ignore the law and not entertain a motion and second by her councilmen. Of course, the attorney submitted a letter that certainly made clear that the governing body is charged with doing exactly what they are doing and the mayor has one vote and is to administer what the (also duly elected) council as a body decides.

“In your comments on the Rec you charge that it has been mismanaged far too long for personal reasons. This is a broad statement and since I have been personally involved in the Rec I am asking what you are referring to speci?cally. Mr. Parker, (?nancial) with the school system, has no problems with the accounting that has been given him, nor the activities the Rec is supporting. The school system is required to distribute the money from the county to the Town of Byron, but Parker cannot dictate what we do with the money other than use it for recreation for the citizens of the community. As you know, the town attorney made that very plain at the last town meeting he attended.

“You claim that the new team has bookkeeping experience. That is good and I think you will be happy to know that it is my understanding that Joyce has looked over the books and has been quite surprised that all is in good order, the receipts are all attached, and that Donna as the clerk of the town has input all ?gures into the Caselle computer system and is able to print a monthly ledger as well as yearly that show all purchases, as well as revenue brought into the department. The Visa bill has every receipt attached, and all monies are handled (by Booth), who is bonded and hired by the town to handle the ?nances of the departments as she does with your museum ?nances.” On Tuesday, Zarate said that “all is in good order” is not necessarily what she stated to some persons and that she feels “it was misconstrued.”

Hopkinson also asks Harriet Jackson to “please be speci?c as to what overspending was being done? Speci?cs are important, as otherwise it seems to be a bit slanderous when you are talking about speci?c people and accusing mismanagement. These are charges that should be proven rather than just thrown out there as you have done in your letter. You have either been led to believe misinformation, have not been given complete ledgers from the clerk’s of?ce, or are choosing to not look into the facts.

“You and Dwayne have been involved in the town government long enough to know how rumor and innuendo can spread like wild?re. I hope as the new vice president of the Rec, you will have the opportunity to see what actually was happening in the department and that the ?nances are totally transparent. When you do know the facts, I would hope that you will be as quick to publicly set the record straight as you have been to denigrate some good people’s efforts on behalf to the town.”

Hopkinson concluded, “I wish you well in working in a department that has grown to enhance our community. I am proud of the efforts that so many volunteers have made to contribute. We are somewhat disheartened by the rumors, as charges of illegal actions continue to swirl, and would hope for the sake of moving forward it will be put to rest and the facts will redeem the reputations that have so callously been trampled on.”