SHERIDAN — Results from the Aug. 21 primary election for Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney will decide who will replace Matt Redle, who held the position for 32 years. Similarly, clerk of district court, county treasurer and county coroner will also be solidified in the primaries.
All six candidates took the stage at Wednesday’s candidate forum hosted by Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.
Dianna Bennett, who has worked with Redle and has been a deputy county attorney in the office for 18 years, has focused her efforts on experience and the difficulty and expertise it takes to build a case.
“What I learned when coming over was that being a defense attorney does nothing to prepare you to be a prosecutor,” Bennett said.
Bennett moved from defense work to prosecution and has since tried 40 trials and litigated two Wyoming Supreme Court cases. She emphasized office management skills and, while learning a lot from Redle, said she has her own ideas, perspectives and opinions.
Jeremy Kisling argued that experience is more about quality over quantity.
Kisling owns Kisling Law LLC and said his more than five years years of experience operating the firm has prepared him for the county attorney position.
“One thing I think is important to recognize is I’m not running to be a prosecutor, I’m running to be a county attorney,” Kisling said. “And that takes more than just the ability to (prosecute crimes).”
Clerk of district court
Rene Botten and Rachel Livingston Borgialli went head-to-head on stage but had mostly similar outlooks on the position of clerk of district court.
Both candidates believe the office currently runs smoothly with good communication among agencies like attorneys, law enforcement groups and judges. Livingston Borgialli zeroed her focus on open and constructive communication, organization and transparency.
Botten said she spent the first half of her life in school, the second raising a family and practicing law and now wants to devote the next segment of her life to public service and giving back to the community.
Both candidates understood and encouraged the new jury summoning system anticipated in 2019. They also agreed that organization is key in working with attorneys, which they both said they excelled at in their positions.
The balance of time and money hung between the two candidates vying for the Sheridan County coroner seat.
The current Sheridan County coroner worked with a total budget of $169,306.02. Of that, $15,000 was allotted to the elected official’s salary and $56,250 was allocated to contract labor and other purchased services, including 125 calls at $225 per call per deputy coroner — there are currently four on staff. That total was doubled to come up with the 2018-2019 budget.
Candidate P.J. Kane, who currently serves as Sheridan County’s coroner, emphasized his experience, having worked in his current position since 1985. Kane served as owner and funeral director at Kane Funeral Home until recently, when he stepped down from that position and continued with the coroner position.
Kimberly Kozel, his challenger, emphasized being present for a majority of the calls.
“I want you to know I will suit up, show up and be available to you,” Kozel said. Kozel worked 14 years as a respiratory therapist and has worked as a funeral director and embalmer for 22 years in Sheridan and Washington. While only serving as deputy coroner in Sheridan for a short time as an intern while at school, Kozel spoke of her paired medical and funeral experience as positives toward her election into the position.
“In recent advertisements and public venues, each candidate emphasizes either experience or active involvement being a key aspect of their campaign,” Cody Sinclair, the mediator for the evening said to the candidates. “Why should voters consider one trait more valuable than the other, or should they?”
Kane reiterated the coroner’s office requirement to respond to coroner’s calls at any time of the day and on any day of the year. Some calls come in simultaneously, forcing more than one deputy coroner to be ready at all times. Kane advocated for sanity in the position and experience for the deputy coroners.
“It’s unrealistic to be on call 365 days,” Kane said. “You wouldn’t have a life. And it’s humanly impossible to be in two places at the same time.”
Kane said the office currently functions with four deputy coroners and has been given the OK from the county to bring on two additional deputies.
“If I was going to all those calls, I’d be taking away money from my deputies, taking it out of their pocket,” Kane said. “They wouldn’t get the experience that I would want them to have and pretty soon I wouldn’t have any deputies.”
Kozel is focused on action and said while there are a team of deputy coroners and others needed to work on cases, she wants to be someone who “actually shows up on the scene.”
The final question exposed a history of tension between the two funeral homes with which the two candidates work or previously worked, Kane Funeral Home and Champion Funeral Home and if the current system of choosing funeral homes is fair.
When Kozel first arrived to Sheridan, she felt the coroner’s office had no business being in a funeral home, but she said since the county does not have funds to have a separate facility, it’s how it has to go in this county.
Her approach would be to establish a rotation system per month or three months to be fair.
“I think right now the funeral home, Kane’s, is perhaps getting more of the calls (for funeral services from coroner autopsies),” Kozel said.
Kane acknowledged the longstanding contention and responded that the coroner’s office gives families the choice.
He believes the only way to ensure fairness would be to have two deputy coroners from each funeral home represented.
Experience is a key piece of each candidate’s campaign, but where that experience comes from and how it is used separated the two during Wednesday’s forum as they push toward the Aug. 21 primary.