Courthouse reopens for most departments

By JESSICA ROBINSON

After two weeks of being off work due to an emergency closure, employees of several departments in the Big Horn County courthouse returned on Monday.

The courthouse closed on Aug. 8 after the commission was alerted to a possible exposure to asbestos after a routine court remodel inspection. Test results revealed there was a minute amount of asbestos that measured less than one-tenth of acceptable levels. 

Cleaning started on the courthouse on Aug. 19 and the offices of the assessor, county clerk, district court and treasurer opened on Monday. 

As for the past two weeks, County Clerk Lori Smallwood said, “It was pretty stressful.”

Kristine Godfrey (left), Big Horn County Treasurer Becky Lindsey (center) and Suvanna Vigil (right) working away after being out of the courthouse for two weeks.
Jessica Robinson photo

Smallwood said there was nothing they could do since they could not take their stuff with them. They had done informal planning on what they would do when they returned.

They implemented that plan Monday. Smallwood said they have been busy. The clerk’s office has boxes of mail to go through.

Smallwood said they are catching up and are helping customers. She hopes that in a week they will be fully caught up.

Assessor Gina Anderson summed up the past two weeks with one word: “Frustrating.”

She said they had deadlines that they couldn’t meet with the closure. Anderson was able to work remotely; however, she couldn’t access the program they use due to it only being on their computers at the courthouse.

Anderson said they had questions from people they couldn’t answer. This was due to not being able to access the information that is on the program in the courthouse.

“It could have been worse,” she said about the situation.

Anderson reported that the counter and the phone weren’t as busy on Monday when they reopened.

For the treasurer’s office, department head Becky Lindsey said the two weeks involved her office being on standby, not knowing when they were going to back. Her staff had to stay close to home.

During the closure, they needed to get delinquent taxes advertised. Lindsey reported they had to wipe her laptop and vacuum the tax report before she could take them out of the courthouse.

Their office was set up in the sheriff’s department at first, however Lindsey said IT moved them to the Land Planning building due to a conflict with the circuit court’s computer system. 

Lindsey was able to get the mail during the closure. She was able to do some tasks away from the courthouse. Lindsey said she answered emails as best she could. She was able to let some people know how much they owed on taxes.

Lindsey said she, Kristine Godfrey and Nicole Vigil were able to get into the courthouse on Sunday. They got all of the automatic deposits done and began pulling tags. They got through all the expired registrations for August.

With all the work done on Sunday, Lindsey said they felt good coming in on Monday. Overall, they reported that between Sunday and Monday they did 400 registrations.

Lindsey said the work done on Sunday was voluntary. Their office is not budgeted for overtime.

Not every department could be closed, however, as District Court Clerk Serena Lipp found out. Due to state statute, the district court had to remain open. Lipp had to call the Wyoming Supreme Court and inform them of the situation and the plan to keep the court opened.

Lipp said the BHCSO accepted court documents that needed filed along with child support and court fine payments. They posted signs for the public to know they could go to over the sheriff’s office. 

Lipp traveled to the district courts in Hot Springs and Washakie County to process documents for some of the days the courthouse was closed. She said Jodie Thompson, an attorney who also runs Basin Authority, let her use their computers to access WyUser and process documents. They also let Lipp use their scanners and copy machines.

There were some hiccups with being able to contact the District Court. Lipp reported that people were emailing her and the messages on the phone line were not being forwarded. However she was able to go to the Land Planning office and access her email and get caught up. That same office also allowed her to use their office equipment and use their vault to store documents as well.

A couple court hearings were relocated to Cody. Lipp said they were able to call in as well.

Lipp said she is grateful and had high praise for many of the departments that helped the District Court keep running. “I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. 

She said there was great teamwork. They processed 200 documents that were filed and scanned to WyUser. Child support payments were also kept updated and checks were distributed during that time, which was a big concern for Lipp with school starting.  

On Monday the District Court was filing all the paper documents into their files according to the day they were processed.

There are still a few departments that are not open in their regular locations. According to a release, the Circuit Court and BHC Attorney’s offices are continuing to work from various locations until the cleaning and construction in those areas can be completed. 

Those offices can be contacted through their normal published numbers.