The Saratoga Town Council appointed Ronald E. Hutchins to fill the empty Council seat at the April 20 meeting.
With this appointment, the council is finally complete, with Hutchins taking the seat vacated when Bob Keel resigned April 6. With the exception of Councilman Jon Nelson, every member of the five-member council is new, with three elected and two appointed seats.
This evolving council has been in the works for almost a year, starting with the death of Steve Wilcoxson, who perished in a boat accident on the North Platte River above Saratoga in late May 2020. His seat was filled temporarily by the appointment of current Councilwoman D’Ron Campbell until the November election of 2020 was decided.
In that election, current council members Ben Spaulding and Creed James were chosen to fill the two open council seats. Spaulding took the Wilcoxson seat and James took the seat vacated by former appointed Councilwoman Judy Welton, who chose not to seek election.
During the 2020 election cycle, former Mayor John Zeiger resigned, leaving an empty seat, while the council was in the midst of an expensive self-launched search for more than $1 million dollars in missing town funds.
These funds were believed by Councilman Jon Nelson and other town residents to have been misappropriated. Also, during this period, Saratoga Town Clerk Suzie Cox’s computer was under the control of the County Attorney, at the request of Councilman Nelson, after having been seized by the County Sheriff.
With the resignation of Mayor Zeiger, two-year council veteran Bob Keel, who was appointed Mayor-Pro-Tem by Zeiger, after the death of Wilcoxson, took over as Mayor.
The mayor’s seat was left vacant for over four months until the election was decided, due to the seated council’s inability to choose a replacement from among the sitting council.
In the midst of all this turbulence, long-time Town Clerk Suzie Cox tendered her resignation effective Dec. 31, 2020 after the County Attorney found that there were no problems or evidence on her seized computer; also, the missing money was accounted for. The outside accountant found the missing money had been moved and spent in other departments within the town government with a poor electronic trail.
The 2020 Saratoga election was decided from among four candidates. Spaulding, and James were sworn in on Jan. 5 as new council members. The first task of this new council was to fill the empty mayor’s seat.
James was immediately nominated by Nelson to fill that position in the same meeting where he had just been seated as a first-time councilman. He was quickly sworn in and took his seat as the mayor. His appointment will permit him to fill out the remaining year and a half of Zeiger’s term. Also, in this meeting it was necessary to declare the vacancy of the town clerk’s job and request applications to fill that position.
With James moving up to the mayor’s seat, this again left an empty council seat, leaving the sitting council to announce a vacancy and call for applications to fill it. Three applications were received, including that of Ron Hutchins, as well as formerly appointed councilwoman D’Ron Campbell.
Following interviews of the candidates were conducted and at the Jan. 19 council meeting, Campbell was re-appointed to fill out at least two years of the James term.
Changes in the Saratoga Town Hall were still not quite done. On March 16, local businesswoman Marie Christen was appointed to be Saratoga’s new town clerk.
On April 6, councilman Bob Keel resigned “for personal reasons” after being appointed to be the new Bishop of the Platte Valley Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Saratoga.
With his departure, this removed the last of the old council that was perceived by some members of the Saratoga community to be resistant to the cleanup efforts launched some two years ago by Nelson.
Ron Hutchins re-applied for this new council opening and was the only applicant. Hutchins is a long-time resident of the Platte Valley, having come to the area in 1970. After arriving in the valley, he worked for local ranches as well as in the area coal mines and for many local businesses.
During his years in the valley, Hutchins has been involved in various community activities. He has been in the Saratoga Volunteer Fire Department, a member of the Saratoga Lions Club and “a Past Master” of the Saratoga Masonic Lodge #14.
During the mid-1980, Hutchins’ career took a turn while working on a construction management degree from the University of Wyoming and he began traveling extensively while working for the Morrison Knudsen Construction Company.
This work required him to be gone from the valley for long periods, but he always maintained a home in Saratoga and subscribed to local papers to keep up on the local events. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic Hutchins indicated he is now semi-retired, works from home, no longer travels, and would like to finally devote time to helping the community wherever possible.