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Participation ribbons don’t solve problems

We are pleased that we were able to offer a platform where Ms. Riggs’ voice could be heard, and agree wholeheartedly with the points she makes about the serious consequences of addiction of all kinds in her letter, “Addiction is alive and well in Weston County.”

We also agree that there is a significant need for greater access to addiction treatment in Weston County, and that is largely what motivated us to submit the proposal that she refers to in the letter.

Unfortunately, in researching the topic, Ms. Riggs relied entirely on the Weston County Gazette’s fabricated, biased and wholly dishonest account of the commissioner’s decision to award $7,000 to the News Letter Journal for a public awareness campaign on problem gambling.

Ms. Riggs claimed in her letter that Kristi Lipp and the 21 Wellness Program were seeking to help people with a gambling addiction to obtain “vouchers” for treatment, prescriptions and mental health services. That claim is 100% false, but she really can’t be faulted because she trusted the Gazette’s Editor Nicholas Trandahl, who reported on page one of last week’s paper that Lipp’s proposal would direct funds towards “treatment for those addicted to gambling addiction.”

The long-winded headline above the story printed by Trandahl also demonstrated his bias by falsely claiming, “Commissioners award gambling addiction funds to newspaper instead of toward gambling addiction treatment and education.”

As detailed in the page one story that appears in this week’s NLJ, Lipp’s proposal did not provide a penny for treatment vouchers or any other direct benefit to those suffering from gambling addiction. In fact, it was explained by treatment professionals who attended a meeting hosted by Lipp that converting these state dollars into vouchers could actually interfere with the sliding fee scale used by some mental health providers. This would, in effect, cancel out the dollars that are already set aside to help people afford treatment. (Trandahl attended that meeting, but failed to include that information in his story.)

What Lipp’s proposal did do was set aside several hundred dollars so her organization could hold a training and a “lunch-and-learn” event for local addiction and mental health professionals. As was the case with the News Letter Journal’s proposal, the bulk of the money in the 21 Wellness proposal was dedicated to advertising.

What Ms. Riggs’ letter fails to disclose (because the Weston County Gazette did not inform its reader of the fact) is that 21 Wellness and the county’s other addiction and mental health professionals already have annual budgets that include funds for various trainings. In fact, VOA (the community’s current mental health provider) had two individuals specifically trained to offer support to people with gambling problems in the last year. Unfortunately, nobody utilized those services because they were never advertised!

The 21 Wellness proposal clearly acknowledged the significant need to advertise and raise awareness because Lipp dedicated more than 75% of the funds in her proposal to advertising in local media.

However, she handed those taxpayer dollars out like participation ribbons — awarding the Weston County Gazette and News Letter Journal equal amounts of marketing dollars regardless of their ability to deliver an impact by actually reaching enough people to raise awareness or help those struggling with an addiction to find support.

What the Gazette failed to mention was that the News Letter Journal’s proposal provided data and assurances that the advertising would be seen by a maximum number of people in Weston County for the total amount of money available. The ads are already being seen by thousands of people because they are running in the newspaper, on our website and in our weekly newsletter — and will also be seen on our Facebook page and Youtube Channel. Additionally, the NLJ donated nearly $2,000 of additional advertising to increase the impact of the marketing campaign.

In the 21 Wellness proposal, the Weston County Gazette — which only distributes about 500 copies a week (the minimum allowed by law) — was going to receive the same amount of money as the NLJ — which is read by thousands each week. That hardly seems like an effective marketing or media strategy, and the proposal is even more flawed because it set aside money for a banner advertisement on the Weston County Gazette’s website — but that website offers no space for banner advertisements and never has.

Finally, Ms. Riggs’ emphatically claimed that she wants the money to go to 21 Wellness because she cares about education and services that will help people and families — and believes money that will meet that objective is money well spent.

Again, we agree with her 100% and that is why the News Letter Journal moved forward on our own to submit a proposal after waiting nearly a year for Ms. Lipp or the county commissioners to do something with the money that had been awarded to the county by the State of Wyoming. We contacted Ms. Lipp in March of 2023 because we believe it was important to do something with this money to help people who may be struggling with addiction in Weston County. We waited until January of 2024 for somebody to take action, and when nobody did the newspaper went to work and put together the proposal accepted by the commissioners earlier this month.

It was only after we submitted our proposal to the commissioners that Lipp, Trandahl, or anybody else bothered to do anything at all, so it is hard to accept that they were motivated by a concern for people suffering from the effects of problem gambling.

Which brings us to our final point of disagreement with Ms. Riggs’ ill-informed but well-meaning letter: The money awarded to the News Letter Journal will not be going in anybody’s “pocket.” It is already being used to raise awareness of problem gambling and point the way to help for people who find themselves struggling with it, and we believe that is why the commissioners chose to award our proposal instead of handing out participation ribbons and banking on empty promises and non-existent vouchers.

We do value the input of our readers, and are pleased that Ms. Riggs chose to share this letter with us because it gives us the opportunity to address the shameful omissions and fabrications presented by the Weston County Gazette. We encourage Ms. Riggs and all of our readers to get an accurate account of this event by reading both proposals in their entirety on, and viewing the discussions on this issue held at county commission meetings for the past two months on our Youtube Channel.

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