County Attorney argues to use Pioneer Museum for convention reception in September

County Attorney Michael Bennett sought permission to use the Pioneer Museum for a Wyoming Association of County Officials reception in September. (Ernie Over photo)

(Lander, Wyo.) – Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett found himself in a familiar role Thursday afternoon, making a persuasive argument to sway the thinking of a panel of people. Only this time, Bennett wasn’t in front of a jury, but the Fremont County Museums Board. Bennett was arguing to allow the use of the Fremont County Pioneer Museum in Lander for an ice-breaking reception for a meeting in September of the Wyoming Association of County Officials, or WACO.

The association is comprised of elected county officials from each of the state’s 23 counties who meet once a year to discuss issues of common concern.

Bennett’s presentation did have an impact. Board member Steve Banks of Dubois said his opinion on whether or not to allow the event had changed, and board member Butch Tonkin of Riverton began discussing how to make the area between the Pioneer Museum and the adjoining Museum of the American West safer if it turns dark during the reception.

Bennett said he could guarantee that alcohol would not be abused at the event, because he would be the bartender, and while he said he was not a teetotaler, “I don’t drink.” The county attorney was proposing to use the historic bar on the second level of the museum to dispense beer and wine, and he said he’d be dressed in period dress. In my role, I can guarantee some semblance of law and order.”

“We won’t allow food inside,” he said, “but we’ll use alcohol to increase the flow through the museum, it’s a tremendous opportunity for donations to flow there. This (WACO Conference) doesn’t happen locally all that often, I know this is an extraordinary request, but key numbers of people from around the state will be able to see the museum and talk about it when they get home.” Bennett stressed several times that the event “would not be a party” but a reception prior to a meal, that would be served outside of the museum.

County  Commissioner Stephanie Kessler, who is the liaison to the Museum Board, said the county is booking some 200 hotel rooms around the county for the event. “This is a showcase event for the state,” she said. “Because of the loss of the community center, the museum is a great county venue, inside and outside.” Kessler said they were also thinking of having a ragtime band entertaining in the museum. “It would be the kickoff event for the conference. She also said county government would provide enough staff to “brag about this place’ while making sure the museum’s collections would not be impacted.

Museum board chairman Tom Duncan of Riverton said the board would have to decide how to accommodate the request. “You can expect a response (from the Museum’s board) within the month,” Duncan said.