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County commissioner candidates disapprove public mask mandate, discuss thoughts on county library books

From left, Jess Ketcham, Kathy Scigliano, Don Hollingshead and Ty Zwonitzer attend the "Politics in the Park" event to discuss their goals for the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, June 19 at the Lions Park Amphitheater in Cheyenne. (Jared Gendron/Cap City News)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Amid questions posed at Wednesday night’s “Politics in the Park” event, candidates for the Laramie County Board of County Commissioners shared their beliefs on the 2020 mask mandates, accessibility of graphic content in Laramie County Library and the current state of property taxes.

The Laramie County GOP held its second candidate Q&A session at 5 p.m. at Lions Park Amphitheater following its mayoral candidate forum June 12. This week, four of the seven individuals vying for a seat as county commissioner entered the spotlight to answer how they would handle contentious situations.

As part of the Q&A, moderator Stacey Leach asked the candidates if they believed the county’s 2020 mask mandate imposed by the county Board of Health was an appropriate exercise of power. Most candidates stated they disagreed with those regulations.

“I personally consider less government the best so I was not in favor of it,” candidate Ty Zwonitzer said. He explained that as a commissioner, he would ensure he trusts the expertise of an individual he appoints to a county board. He said at the time, the general public was not in favor of the mandate, and as a county commissioner one must listen to the word of the community.

Candidate Don Hollingshead felt similarly. He said the mandate at the time was not a law and therefore an overreach in authority. In 2020, he was a law enforcement officer and followed a mask mandate at the county jail due to the general health problems among inmates. When he was asked to enforce masks in the county building, though, he declined, stating it would violate his oath to the U.S. Constitution.

“It absolutely was not something that they should have been doing,” candidate Kathy Scigliano said about the mandates. She stated after a period of time, health officers were not listening to community feedback regarding mask mandates and at that point, those community regulations were “completely inappropriate.” Scigliano added that she was present at school board meetings and vocalized her disapproval of mask requirements in schools after Gov. Mark Gordon repealed Wyoming’s mask mandates.

In a separate question, Leach asked the guest speakers their position on “sexualized children’s books.” Leach referred to Campbell County severing ties with the American Library Association in 2022 and claimed it did so because of the ALA’s “promotion of sexually explicit and partisan books.” This time, Scigliano offered her thoughts first and said she agreed with Campbell County’s decision.

“That needs to be seriously considered to be looked at heavily,” Scigliano said. “We don’t need to have children reading books that are telling them how to have sex, who to have sex with, where to have sex. That’s up to the parents to be deciding.”

Scigliano stated that the commissioners and library director should be in discussions regarding books containing sexual content and ensuring those books are held in appropriate sections of the library. Candidate Jess Ketcham answered similarly to Scigliano and said he would not want any sexually explicit material in the library accessible to children.

“There definitely needs to be a place for that that would be out of reach of children,” Ketcham said.

Hollingshead said that he agrees books containing sexual content should not be held in public schools. However, he feels differently about such titles at the public library. The candidate said parents should be held accountable for the books their children are checking out. Zwonitzer reasoned along the same lines, stating that books are a freedom of speech and that he “has no right to take that away from somebody else.” He added that he thinks the county could be doing a better job of informing parents about “suspicious” content in books.

In a follow-up question, Leach asked the candidates if they would remove someone from a county board if they later realized “that they were not appropriate for that board and they were not doing a good job.” Everyone answered “yes.” The event moderator then asked the candidates to share their opinions on property taxes.

Scigliano said she petitioned to have the Legislature cut property taxes by 50% because residents of Laramie County “need relief.” As a Realtor, she said she often hears from homeowners about their increasing expenses. Scigliano added that if she were voted in as commissioner, she would want to work with the Legislature to draft a tax relief policy.

Zwonitzer said the county commission isn’t responsible for setting property taxes but that he supports the Legislature’s recent efforts to lower them. Hollingshead reiterated Zwonitzer’s point about the commissioners’ oversight of property taxes and their lack of control over them. He said the state has to find a fine line with property taxes because the taxes help pay for public services such as public schools and law enforcement.

“You can’t just cut property taxes to zero, or you’re not gonna have any services,” Hollingshead said.

The next “Politics in the Park” event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 3 and will feature Wyoming candidates in the U.S. Senate.