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Editorials

EDITORIAL: Verify before you judge

There’s an old fable about a gossiper who didn’t understand the consequences of her slanderous words. A wise man tells her to take feathers from a pillow and scatter them throughout town. After doing so, she is then challenged to pick up every single feather.

The task proves impossible. Wind sweeps the feathers far beyond her reach, and she gathers only a few.

EDITORIAL: Telling the painful truth

Former Sen. Alan Simpson has had a long career in public service, and his latest contribution as co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform may be the greatest service he has provided to the nation.

What Simpson and his co-chairman, Erskine Bowles have done, quite simply, is tell the truth to the American people, that we are all responsible for the current fiscal situation, and fixing it will require sacrifice from all of us.

EDITORIAL: Time for tougher DUI laws

When Wyoming's Legislature convenes next month, strengthening the state's drunken driving laws must be a priority.

Currently, drivers in the Cowboy State can refuse to take a breath test or chemical blood test when arrested for drunken driving.

Within three days last week, we learned about two families with local ties who lost loved ones through death. A 6-year-old girl lost her mother in a bus crash in Chile, and a young couple in Powell lost their 4-year-old daughter when she didn't wake up on Thanksgiving morning.

Those are sobering reminders that the holidays aren't merry for everyone.

Some grieve the loss of loved ones; others worry and pray daily for the safety of sons or daughters, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers serving overseas in the military.

Some, in lean financial circumstances, worry constantly about how they will make ends meet and still find a way to provide Christmas for their families; others sit alone in their homes or in nursing homes, wishing there was someone special who could brighten days that blend together in monotony.

For people enduring any of those circumstances, life during the holidays can be an extreme test of emotional strength and fortitude. Instead of feeling the proverbial holiday joy, it's often all they can do to put one foot in front of the other from the time they get out of bed in the morning until they go back to bed at night.

So, as we begin this holiday season, let us remember those in our community and elsewhere who are in need. We can make a difference with a loving word, a kind deed, a helping hand, a word of encouragement — or just willing to listen.

For those who need an idea of how to help, a good place to start is by donating time or money to the Christmas Basket program and the Powell Council for Community Services. For more information, contact Dave Blevins at 754-9541 or Sally Montoya at 202-1663.

Another way to help is to donate money or items to Powell Troop Support, which sends monthly care packages to active-duty military members. For more information, contact Bonny Rouse at 272-4272 or Anne Ruward at 202-0035.

People who volunteer with those programs have the helping thing all figured out.

Another option is simply stop by the Powell Valley Care Center or the Powell Senior Center and find out what you can do to help brighten someone's day. You just might find it's something you want to continue doing throughout the year.

Through efforts large or small, we can make a difference in someone else's life, and in doing so, improve our own outlooks as well.

EDITORIAL: Think positive at Thanksgiving

For many people, the past year hasn't been exactly a great one.

Economists tell us that the recession may have bottomed out and the economy is improving, but that recovery is slow.

Unemployment remains too high, and too many people are losing their homes to foreclosure.

Here in Powell, we lost a big employer last summer, and our state's economy has slowed, although not as much as the national economy.

We are fighting a frustrating war in the Middle East and continue to deal with terrorist threats. Our government is facing a huge deficit and will probably be taking steps to address it that will be painful for most, if not all of us.

Consequently, it is no wonder that polls show most Americans feel the nation is moving in the wrong direction, and some people may be wondering what there is to be thankful about.

The difficulties, though, are all the more reason we should celebrate Thanksgiving. Observing Thanksgiving forces us to look at the positives, and there are plenty of those. We still live in a free country, and, despite our political differences, we aim to keep it that way. Our economy is not doing well, but we still have the ability to pull together as families and communities, not only to survive the recession, but to build a new era of prosperity.

Those blessings alone are reason enough to be thankful this week and every week.

As you enjoy food, family and football this weekend, we encourage you to think positive, and be thankful for the many good things that have happened in our lives this year.

EDITORIAL: A tale of two meetings

Questions over public access to meetings held recently by two local governing boards were answered two different ways. Those answers, and their consequences, illustrate the difference between taking the high road and getting mired in the gray area of the Wyoming Open Meetings Law.

The first meeting took place in September when the Powell Valley Healthcare board met to interview two candidates for chief executive officer for the organization. While Powell Valley Healthcare is a private nonprofit organization, much of its board membership consists of the Powell Hospital District board, elected by residents in the district.

Even so, that meeting normally could have been exempted from public purview under the Wyoming Open Meetings law, which allows governing boards to meet in secret when considering personnel issues.

However, Board President Dr. Mark Wurzel noted there was a catch that time, because the hospital chief executive officer is not actually employed by Powell Valley Healthcare. Instead, the CEO is an employee of Brim Healthcare — now HealthTech —which is contracted to provide management for Powell Valley Healthcare.

Because of that technicality, the board chose to keep the interviews open to the media, and the public got an early glimpse of the two candidates vying for the position at the time.

A representative of Brim attended the meeting and voiced no disagreement with the decision.

The other meeting took place last week at Northwest College.

The meeting was called by a team from the Higher Learning Commission, an independent corporation reviewing the college's application and self study for accreditation.

To his credit, Board President Jim Vogt advised media representatives of a meeting between the board and an accreditation team from the Higher Learning Commission on Nov. 15.

But before the meeting began, the commission team leader closed it to the public and the media, choosing instead to meet behind closed doors.

Subsequent inquiries indicate closure of the meeting likely was in violation of the Wyoming Open Meeting Laws, though it does fall into a gray area of the law.

The situation in both cases was similar: a meeting called by another organization, but which included a quorum of an elected board.

The response to the similar scenarios was quite different, however, leading to different public perceptions as well.

When explaining the unique circumstances to the Powell Valley Healthcare board in September, Wurzel said board leaders had chosen to take the high road.

It is unfortunate that the NWC board and the HLC commission team didn't come to the same conclusion.

Many public schools around the nation are observing American Education Week this week, an observance dedicated to celebrating our nation's public school system.

America's public schools are currently under severe scrutiny and receiving a great deal of criticism. Unsatisfactory student achievement and high dropout rates are only two of the complaints being voiced about our schools.

This is nothing new, of course. Back in the 1950s, the nation was asking “Why Johnny Can't Read,” and around 1940, when the Greatest Generation was graduating, one study of college students lambasted America's schools for poorly educating that generation.

America's schools do, of course, have shortcomings, and every institution does. Those shortcomings need to be addressed, and educators are working hard to address them.

But it is important to remember that our public schools are a reflection of our society, and American culture doesn't always value or respect education. Politicians, for example, are fond of campaigning against the educated “elite” as being at odds with the common people.

Fortunately, the Powell community does value education, and the community demonstrates that value through the support it provides to the schools.

Active parent groups at the elementary level provide important support for younger students. The Powell Schools Foundation provides general support, and other organizations, such as the Powell Roundtable, Powell Music Boosters and FFA parents, boost specific programs. Businesses provide work experience and welcome students for job shadowing as well as donations to specific causes.

That support is vital, because it demonstrates to students that their community believes their education is important.

In the end, learning the importance of education may be the most important lesson students learn in school. Our world is changing, and it is impossible for the schools to totally prepare students for jobs and situations that no one has even envisioned yet.

What is possible is to instill in those students a belief in themselves and their ability to learn, and to provide them with the tools to re-educate themselves when that unforeseen future arrives and makes it necessary.

That's the real business of schools, and they require community support of education to make it happen. The Powell community does provide such support, and Powell people are to be commended for it.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, area farmers were counting their losses after an early October freeze devastated the sugar beet crop.

This year, those farmers are thankful for a successful harvest as beets are safely out of the ground, piled, dusted with a fresh snow and awaiting processing.

The harvest is ending on a good note, but it didn't start out that way.

In May, severe spring weather threatened the crop, forcing some farmers to replant.

On the heels of 2009's devastating year, it was a discouraging start. As one Heart Mountain farmer said last spring: “I hope it's not a preamble to the fall.”

Thankfully, the sour beginning didn't ruin what ended up to be a season of sweet success.

Though farmers can breathe a sigh of relief at the close of this harvest, the sugar beet industry remains in limbo. The future of sugar beet production is far from secure.

A federal judge issued an order in August halting the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completes an environmental impact study. For local farmers and those across America who have come to depend on Roundup Ready seed, the ruling could have significant, widespread impact.

However, a USDA plan announced recently may partially lift the ban on the genetically-modified seed, though it's unclear whether it will come in time for next year's beet crop.

If USDA's efforts are unsuccessful and the ban stands, its effect could be catastrophic. Park County ranks No. 1 in the state for sugar beet production, and the vast majority of those beets are of the Roundup Ready variety.

To completely halt its production could cripple the farming industry, and by extension, the local economy.

We hope Powell farmers can enjoy many more successful beet seasons in future years — but for now, that rests in the courts' hands.

EDITORIAL: Remember veterans today

Back in 1944, writer Ernie Pyle described a group of American soldiers he accompanied into Cherbourg, France, with these words:

“They weren't warriors. They were American boys who by mere chance of fate had wound up with guns in their hands, sneaking up a death-laden street in a strange and shattered city in a faraway country in a driving rain.”

Throughout our history, many Americans could have been described in similar terms. They were just ordinary Americans who, responding to events beyond their personal control, became warriors.

They faced sudden death in strange places far away from home, enduring not only the cold rain of France, but the frigid winter of Korea and the heat of Indochina's tropical jungles or Middle Eastern deserts. When they came home, if they came home, they often brought permanent scars with them, some visible, some hidden deep in their emotions. Some became casualties long after the war was over.

They did all that, not because they wanted to, but simply because they were Americans, and their country needed them.

Thursday is our special day to honor those who have served. For most of us, it is an ordinary work day, and we will spend the day going about our ordinary tasks. Carrying out those tasks as best we can is, in a way, an apt tribute to our veterans, because their actions have made it possible for us to live ordinary lives in peace.

But sometime during the day, we all should stop, if only for a few minutes, and ponder the sacrifice of those who weren't warriors, but became warriors because they were Americans.

We urge everyone to take those few minutes to remember and express our appreciation. It's the very least we can do.

Wyoming made national headlines last week when a study showed the Cowboy State's chewing tobacco use is the highest in America.

Nearly 1 in 6 adult men in Wyoming use smokeless tobacco, according to the report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's a discouraging statistic, considering the dangers of this hard-to-break habit.

Smokeless tobacco can cause both oral and pancreatic cancer, and also increases the risk of fatal heart attacks and strokes.

Regardless of health risks, about 9 percent of Wyoming's residents — both men and women — choose to chew.

In commenting on the recent study, one CDC official noted Wyoming's rodeo culture, which includes a tradition of chewing tobacco.

Though tobacco-chewing cowboys may be a symbol of rodeo or other sporting events, the trend is starting to change.

Over the past few years, health advocates have spearheaded efforts to curb chewing in the rodeo arena.

The Wyoming Through With Chew program encourages young athletes in its Rodeo All-Stars campaign, recognizing riders who take a tobacco-free pledge. The program also provides Quit Spit Kits throughout Wyoming, available to residents wanting to break the habit. (Locally, quit kits are available through the Park County Anti-Tobacco Campaign at West Park Hospital in Cody.)

Another encouraging sign: tobacco companies no longer sponsor major rodeo events in Wyoming. Copenhagen advertising was missing from this year's Cheyenne Frontier Days — in its place was Wyoming's Quit Tobacco Program, now a top-level sponsor of the world's largest outdoor rodeo. The Cody Stampede Rodeo also is free of tobacco-company sponsorships.

It's important that young residents never begin chewing tobacco. In most cases, chewing tobacco starts at a young age, and often precedes smoking, according to health officials.

While it may take time to shed Wyoming's “chewing rodeo culture” stereotype or reverse the state's tobacco trends, it is encouraging that efforts are underway statewide to reduce Wyoming's tobacco usage. It's time for more Cowboy State residents to be through with chew.

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