Inside the Park County Sheriff’s Office of Public Affairs Officer Lance Mathess, 66, is a testament to personality. A Marvel Comics fanatic since a young child, various memorabilia in the form of posters and figurines dot the room, sandwiched around his keyboard and gracing nearly every empty space of his walls. In his home is an even more cavernous collection.
“I always wanted to be a superhero first, but a cop second,” he said. “First responders and military are probably the closest thing you’re going to get to being a superhero.”
Mathess has been the public information officer for the county since 2013. Last week he wrapped up his final days on the job and is headed for retirement. Hearing that the average human lifespan is 78 years old, yet the average age of retirement 67 got him to thinking, he said.
“That means you work 50 (years) to enjoy 11,” he said.
Mathess originally moved to Cody already retired at the age of 56, having served more than 30 years with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and his entire life in that state. After six months he felt the pull to serve return when a 911 communications officer position opened up, bringing him back into the workforce in January 2011.
“There’s a lot of gratification to being a dispatcher,” he said. “Dispatchers are the very first, first-responder.”
Shortly after joining the Park County force he was promoted to public affairs officer. The promotion stemmed from a conversation he had with Sheriff Scott Steward about highlighting the positive acts the department was performing, “basically a caretaker of the agency,” he explained.
“Little things like inviting the press in when you have Boy Scout tours and sending thank you letters when some member of the community helps you,” he said. “There is ... a lot of good things done by the sheriff’s department.”
But Mathess tackled tougher topics as well, serving as the gatekeeper of public transparency, while considering the rights bestowed to private citizens.
“He did a good job trying to maintain a connection with the community and media,” Steward said.
In his role, Mathess was responsible for crafting press releases and promoting sheriff’s office activities.
“Working was something where I could accomplish something each day,” he reflected.
Another side responsibility Mathess took up while on the job was that of Search and Rescue coordinator. It was a new experience for him, but one he said incorporated many of the management skills he developed in Ohio while managing the Highway Patrol’s volunteer organization.
“One of the greatest gifts someone can give somebody else is a piece of their time,” Mathess said. “Search and Rescue people, they give a lot of time for nothing more than serving the people of their jurisdiction.”
Steward said SAR is at a full capacity membership right now, a feat he credits to Mathess.
“He did a tremendous job in the Search and Rescue realm,” he said, “helping build that team, managing its day-to-day operations in that team and building it to what it is today.”
Making it his own
He said it took some adjusting getting used to a much smaller law enforcement department and community, but grew to love his new life.
“It’s more of a service-oriented attitude and it’s really fun to work around,” he said. “It makes my job a lot easier when there’s so much good attitude around the sheriff’s department.”
Mathess only held one press conference during his time on the job – speaking to the media about a headless corpse found in connection with homicide committed in 2014.
He has picked up a number of different hats while on the job but possibly his most famous creation is one he has never publicly taken responsibility for until now – “Warrant Wednesdays.”
“I never really want to tell people I wrote it,” he said.
Mathess started the Facebook post series as a simple way to alert the public about citizens wanted on warrant, with a humorous slant.
“I tend to look through the world with sarcastic glasses,” Mathess said. “All you have to do is pay attention to the media these days and the things that are out in the public that people are outraged about it and you look at it, you can find humor all over the place.”
Sometimes it seems not a day goes by without a new topic of outrage on social media. Mathess tapped into this element of pop culture as a source of inspiration for topics like immigration, cordless entertainment services and the Peloton bike commercial. In one post he beckons those with a warrant to return to the beauty of Wyoming’s landscape and the services the Park County Detention Center provides.
“Our hospitality is unmatched. We offer luxurious one bed efficiencies with all the amenities including a toilet, clothing allowance and three meals a day from our gourmet kitchens,” Mathess promoted.
He also had spoof posts like in November 2019 when he published a phony warrant for “Thomas Turkey” in lieu of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
“Like people who come up with editorials, you’re forced to come up with a topic every week,” Mathess said. “Some of them I struggled with a topic and other ones I could choose between five or six topics.”
As funny as the posts were they were also effective. He said they had about a 90% success rate for locating individuals.
It didn’t take long for Warrant Wednesdays to draw a cult following. One famous, or rather infamous post released in May 2019 caught the chagrin of a local business group on Facebook. In this post, Mathess joked of tourists wearing white socks with sandals. When he refused to abide their request to take down his post, members of the group called for Steward’s ouster, Mathess said.
“I thought that was really over the top,” he said.
Mathess said he did get some criticism initially for Warrant Wednesdays, accused of being a bully, dystopian and unprofessional, but that quickly dissipated when he stayed dedicated to his tactics.
“What people were realizing was, you can say whatever you want, I’m just going to keep doing it,” he said.
But he said he did take criticism into consideration, and would adjust his approach if he felt like he went a little too far on a particular post.
“I listened to all of them and I read every comment,” he said.
Sticking to it this time
Mathess said there is no chance he will come out of retirement again. He and his wife Dianne plan to see various national parks in the West and spring training baseball in Arizona. He said he will also continue to volunteer at his church and assist SAR on various communication efforts.
“Being around volunteers so much, I think I’m good with giving up my time to people,” Mathess said.
Charla Baugher Torczon, an executive assistant with the sheriff’s office, will step into Mathess’s shoes for most of his current duties, while Bill Brown will take over his SAR duties and a few other tasks.
“I’m sure there will be a little bit of a growing curve but I’m sure we’ll get back on track soon,” Steward said.
After a long career in law enforcement and communications, Mathess has as much respect as ever for the field.
“Being in public service (you) have the opportunity to accomplish something in service to others,” Mathess said. “That’s probably the largest gratification I got out of it.”