A few months before his contract was terminated by then-Interim City Manager Liz Becher, Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel forwarded a New York Times article to city department heads: “‘Kompromat’ and the Danger of Doubt and Confusion in a Democracy.“
Wetzel, who would later blame his ouster on a coup organized by the Fraternal Order of Police and enabled by irresponsible journalism, could easily fancy himself a Nostradamus.
“What is going on with City Council?” — Tad True
“Very interesting article,” Wetzel wrote in the January email. “(S)eems to be identifying what we are experiencing in the police dept and the city gov... albeit largely through a social media platform backed by a press that does more to bolster it than expose it.”
The email was obtained by the Star-Tribune through a public records request.
Kompromat is a Russian term that describes “compromising information,” both real and fake, that quickly erodes public trust in, well, everything.
“By eroding the very idea of a shared reality, and by spreading apathy and confusion among a public that learns to distrust leaders and institutions alike, kompromat undermines a society’s ability to hold the powerful to account and ensure the proper functioning of government,” Times columnist Amanda Taub wrote.
While kompromat might appear to target powerful individuals — like a police chief — in the end it makes it impossible to believe anything, which is bad for democracy.
Wetzel believes he was brought down by a survey and report compiled by the local order of the FOP and shared with city officials and the media. The survey described low morale among police employees and blamed Wetzel, though it is unclear whether Becher terminated his contract due to the report or a confidential investigation that was conducted by local attorney Judith Studer.
In any case, the email was sent months before the survey was released in April.
One department head who may have already considered himself a victim of kompromat at the time of Wetzel’s email? Fire Chief Kenny King.
King announced his retirement last October after the Star-Tribune revealed that he had asked an employee investigating the Cole Creek Fire to delete “bad parts” from a video of the fire.
Casper Fire Chief Kenneth King announced his retirement Wednesday, hours after apologizing f…
But his retirement doesn’t take effect until January. Which meant he was still around in January and able to weigh in on Wetzel’s belief that autocratic Russian propaganda techniques were being replicated in Casper.
“In a nut shell,” King wrote.
Time limits are finally coming to work sessions. Perhaps buried in the coverage of Councilman Dallas Laird’s desire to limit public comment at meetings, City Council agreed to set time limits for work sessions. These are the informal meetings Council holds twice each month and they can sometimes drag on for four or five hours.
But in addition to slightly new formatting, the agenda released on Friday for the work session this week features time limits for each item and a timed schedule.
The 20-minute time limits for staff and community presentations seem pretty easy to abide by (though why 20 minutes is also needed to review the next meeting’s agenda, I do not know). It will be interesting to see how Council navigates time limits during more controversial or in-depth discussions like the budget.
It’s official! I’m all done on the city beat. There’s a certain awkwardness that accompanies covering city government in Casper. Namely, it’s a small city. Or a big town. The Star-Tribune is the only local media outlet that assigns a reporter to cover every City Council meeting and I get to know the people I write about reasonably well — whether I deserve to or not.
I say that because last Tuesday, Laird decided to share an inspirational meme, printed out from a positive thinking Facebook page.
“Not everyone deserves to know the real you,” it read. “Let them criticize who they think you are.”
I didn’t inquire, though it may have been a reference to the column I wrote last week noting that Laird — Council’s most vocal member — wanted to restrict public comment because, among other things, elected officials were not slaves.
Covering the city has been an honor. Casper is a unique place with big stuff happening, and I often lament that there aren’t three or four newspapers in Casper, or at least three or four reporters from different outlets covering local government here. There are always more stories to tell.
Our new city reporter, Katie King, will help tell some of them. Her byline started appearing on Friday. Keep an eye out for it.