County clerk’s actions are questioned

Alexis Barker, News Editor

Photo by Walter Sprague/NLJ

Gillian Sears reads a prepared statement to the Weston County Commissioners on April 5 during the commissioners’ regular meeting. In her statement she said she was expressing concerns that echo the opinions of many concerned citizens about what she believes are illegal activities of Weston County Clerk Becky Hadlock regarding bond issues and meeting minutes. Also pictured is Sears’ husband, Chad, and daughter, Laynie, along with a full courtroom of other attendees.

Earlier this month Weston County resident Gillian Sears raised concerns regarding what she claims are potential illegal activities of Weston County Clerk Becky Hadlock. Hadlock was not in attendance at the April 5 regular meeting of the Weston County Commissioners when the accusations were made, but she has since disputed Sears’ claims. 

The meeting had to be moved to the courtroom to accommodate a large crowd of Sears’ supporters, and that is where Sears read a prepared statement describing two different situations where she believes Hadlock broke the law. 

First, Sears said that the minutes from the commissioners’ Nov. 2 meeting do not accurately reflect what took place in the meeting. According to Sears, Hadlock violated Wyoming Statute 6-5-108(a), which states that “a public servant commits a felony if they make and issue an official certificate or other official written instrument which (they are) authorized to make and issue containing a statement which (they know) to be false, with the intent to obtain a benefit or maliciously to cause harm to others.”

A public servant who commits this felony is subject to not more than 10 years of imprisonment, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. 

“The official minutes from the Nov. 2, 2021, Weston County commissioners’ meeting contain glaring falsehoods which manipulate the facts of what occurred to reflect in a much more favorable light the actions of the county commissioners involved in the silent vote to replace Rep. Hans Hunt in House District 2,” Sears said. “The official published minutes read, ‘Attorney Michael Stulken answered all questions from the crowd.’ They go on to say ‘that the board voting anonymously was done legally.’”

Sears said that she attended that meeting with many others.  Armed with three signed affidavits to that effect, she said that she and the others do not recall Stulken ever saying that the vote was taken legally nor were the questions posed by the public answered to the satisfaction and understanding of those in attendance. 

“The manipulation of the facts changed the official record to favor elected officials, when in fact we have still not received answers to our questions and the legality of the actions taken that day are still in question,” Sears said. 

The minutes show a benefit to the elected officials involved by stating that their actions were legal, Sears charged. 

“And by the addition of that statement, (you) deliberately change the official record of the events that occurred,” Sears said in referring to the disputed Stulken statement. “By publishing these minutes as official records, Clerk Hadlock directly violated her oath of office.” 

Sears also claimed that Hadlock committed a related misdemeanor offense.  

“Issue two is the attempted coercion by Clerk Hadlock of fellow employees with an intent to sabotage my legitimate request for information, which appears to be a misdemeanor,” Sears said. 

The law Sears cites is Wyoming  Statute 6-5-108(b), which states that a public servant commits a misdemeanor “if he makes and issues an official certificate or other official written instrument which he is authorized to make and issue containing a statement which he knows to be false.” 

According to Sears, she made a records request for the surety bonds connected to the Weston County Commission and other related documents. She said she was told by Stulken that she could pick up the documents in Hadlock’s office following the 30-day period allowed for such requests. 

According to Sears, she received an email from Hadlock containing the oath of office copies requested and that the other documents could be picked up in County Treasurer Susie Overman’s office. 

“Initially, Treasurer Overman refused my request, insisting I had not submitted my FOIA to her personally and that I would have to resubmit in writing and wait an additional 30 days,” Sears said. “After some discussion, I had Treasurer Overman call County Attorney Michael Stulken who informed her to not only give me the documents but that he had also read a statute which stated I should have been given copies of the bond immediately without a 30-day wait. After realizing her error, Treasurer Overman apologized to me and quickly made me a copy of the bond.” 

The bond copy she was provided only lists three county commission seats, Sears said. So she contacted Overman to inquire about additional documents for the other two commissioners.
“It was during that conversation it was revealed that Clerk Hadlock had knowingly and deliberately planned to deny my access to that bond document. Treasurer Overman felt terrible for her actions in the attempt to deny me and explained Clerk Hadlock was distraught only the day before looking for the bonds as she had not prepared in advance during the 30 days’ period they had me wait.” Sears said. “Treasurer Overman had no previous knowledge of my document request and had not been given a copy of my initial request.”

A written statement from Overman states that Hadlock had intended to have Sears wait while she had the bond adjusted to include all five commissioners and have it backdated so that it appeared to be valid. Stulken later explained during the meeting that the other two commissioners were bonded, but that their documents were housed separately for undetermined reasons.

Regardless of the status of the bond, Sears was steadfast in her assertion that Hadlock had not acted appropriately in providing the requested public records.

“In both cases, Clerk Hadlock may have broken the law and violated state statutes. The conclusion I have reached is it appears Ms. Hadlock is unfit to hold such an important office within our county,” Sears charged. “These two examples show a pattern of behavior that violates her duty and oath of office and nullifies her ability to serve the public with honor and integrity.” 

While Hadlock was unable to attend the meeting and provide a direct response to the claims, she did provide comment in the form of a statement to the News Letter Journal the same week. 

According to her emailed statement, Hadlock said that she discussed the bonds with Overman on March 2, roughly 10 days after Sears requested the documents. When accessing the documents in the vault, Hadlock said she noticed that the bond only listed three commissioners instead of five. 

“I asked Treasurer Overman about this and she was not sure why the bond was only for three, as this document had been done before she took office. In an attempt to remedy the apparent oversight, I did mention that perhaps the bonds could be paid for and applied retroactively, if allowed by law and if allowed by the surety,” Hadlock’s statement says. “This was mentioned not as an attempt to be deceitful or cover anything up, but to merely remedy a situation that appeared to be needing fixed.” 

She added that she provided Sears with the records in her possession and directed her to Overman’s office to access the rest. Hadlock also said that it was then discovered that all five commissioners were bonded and that documentation was provided to Sears as soon as it was in the county’s possession. 

“There was never anything malicious done on my part whatsoever, I was trying to help Treasurer Overman get the documents updated that she kept in her office. Nothing more, nothing less,” Hadlock said in her statement. 

“Additionally, as to the issues that Ms. Sears presents to the Commissioner’s meeting minutes of November 2, 2021. My assigned duty is to record the events at the board meetings of the Weston County Commissioners. And, that’s what I did on November 2, 2021,” Hadlock said. “The minutes recorded accurately reflect the events that occur at that meeting. The board subsequently approved the minutes.” 

She maintained that her actions were taken in good faith and with good intentions. 

“The minutes of the meeting reflect what occurred at said meeting, and they were approved by our Commissioners,” she said. 

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