I love country music, and especially some good old ‘90s country. One of my favorite bands is Diamond Rio. I was excited to learn they were going to play for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Crisis Fund dinner on Saturday night. The Crisis Fund was created to help volunteers that are in financial need. With 3,500 volunteers, it happens, and to date, they have given out over $350,000 to support the folks who support the rodeo. I smiled for an hour as Diamond Rio played hit song after hit song, but the best part was the $130,000 raised to make sure the Crisis Fund is able to be there for the volunteers.
Monday was a holiday, but I had coffee with the fire union president, Bill Hinz. Funny how when you spend time with a person, get to know them, you find so many things you have in common. For 90 minutes, we talked families, hunting and, most importantly, fishing. I love to bass fish, and Bill showed me pictures of snook he and the kids caught in Florida. It was so much fun, I almost forgot the purpose of the meeting was to get the official letter that starts our clock for official negotiations between the city and fire union. Getting to know each other on a personal level sure helps the tone and tenor of the meetings.
Lunch Monday was at the Tortilla Factory. Man, I love the green chili there. Sam Galeotos is a local entrepreneur that has invested in The Met and Central Café, but he also leads Lunavi, a data center headquartered in Cheyenne. I appreciate his advice on tech matters and how we can work together to support and raise our business community in Wyoming and Laramie County. Lunavi is growing, and I appreciate the number of folks they have hired. Tech is a growing and important segment in our diversification.
The conversation on race is ongoing. Much is happening behind the scenes with local groups, the school district, the base and the city. I took our police chief, Mark Francisco, to meet Col. Barrington on the base. The purpose was to discuss how our school resource officers handle conflict at schools with children of military members. It is important that leaders in this community are willing to meet to have hard conversations, but it is more important that these conversations lead to action. More to come.
I have missed our regular staff meetings with our department heads. With our building closed due to boiler problems, we have not been able to meet like I would like to. Tuesday afternoon, we borrowed the conference room at LEADS and got everyone around the table. Felt like home, and it was sweet to hear about all the work going on in the city. Cheyenne is in good hands. We have made all the necessary repairs at the Municipal Building. The last step is being held up by supply chain problems – the stainless-steel pipe we need to vent the boilers is not available and won’t be until mid-March. Sigh!!
The last time the city updated our bond schedule for the municipal court was 2016. Since that time, the Supreme Court has made some revisions, and I met with our municipal judges, Judges Ross and Singleton, our police chief and our city attorney to discuss the court’s proposed revisions. I was surprised to learn they wanted to lower some fees because they were too high. These changes are a result of lessons learned from the Ferguson, Missouri situation. I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into the discussions.
Wednesday evening, the City Council held the first Committee of the Whole meeting in a very long while. The Committee of the Whole is made up of all nine council members and is used sparingly for important and controversial matters. The meeting was to hear testimony on the proposed harassment ordinance introduced 10 days prior.
Wyoming is one of two states without a hate crime law, and this ordinance is an effort on the local level to remedy the situation. While very controversial to many, the folks who came to testify on both sides were passionate, articulate and very civil. I was proud to be from Cheyenne with the decorum everyone showed. The ordinance passed the committee with a 7-1 vote and will now go to the governing body for the next steps.
The Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM) is the association of all 99 cities and towns across our state. We met the latter half of the week for education, networking and an opportunity to influence legislation at the Capitol. My favorite Diamond Rio song is “Meet in the Middle.” Its lyrics state, “I’d start walking your way, you’d start walking mine. We meet in the middle …” I think that is what makes WAM a valuable membership for our city.
We could take the 70 smallest cities in Wyoming, and they don’t add up to Cheyenne’s population, so we need to meet in the middle and find ways to support each other. What I am finding is we all share the same problems. Housing shortages, struggles to find employees, budgets under stress, aging infrastructure, challenges with COVID and so much more. The only difference is the dollar figure for Cheyenne and Casper has an additional comma and a few more zeros behind it.
A couple of highlights for me from the WAM winter conference:
The first was the opportunity to get the Fire A cities together to talk about the legislation pending at the Capitol. Fire A is the firefighter pension for folks hired before 1981. It is going bankrupt in the next few years, and we have an obligation to fix it. The Joint Appropriations Committee at the Legislature has done heroic work to find the solution, and I think we finally have a fix.
I have shared with you that the six largest Wyoming cities have been meeting regularly to find ways to work together to make us all more successful. We had two hours this week to meet in person, and I love these opportunities. Cheyenne shared how we set up the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) and the story of how it is helping with the rebirth of the Hitching Post site. We talked about how we might work as a team on economic development to diversify our local economies, and we were asked to share our harassment ordinance. I love the passion and commitment we find on the other governing bodies and look forward to our next opportunity to meet together.
The keynote address was given by Steve Gilliland. What a funny cat! He had us laughing at his stories, but hidden in the comedy was great wisdom. One pearl I took to heart was his question: Could you work for yourself? Now that is a good one that I need to ponder for a while. He also asked if every job in the world paid the same, would you still be doing yours? I can definitely answer that one in the affirmative, as I love my job. Thank you. He has written a dozen books, and I have a new author to get inspired by.
We spent an afternoon at the Capitol talking with legislators. I did not have enough time to see all of ours, but I did get to say hi to Rep. Henderson, Rep. Olsen, Sen. Pappas and Sen. Nethercott. I appreciate the work of our delegation. Watching them, you could tell how busy the session is and the stress to get things done by the end of the 20 days.
One big highlight was breakfast at Accomplice with the Casper and Cheyenne city councils. Casper’s group is a lot younger, and we had a blast sharing stories. We cannot remember a grouping like this ever happening. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We are choosing the latter.
A question this week from Carla Gregorio. She asks, “With the growing population of people playing pickleball, why is the city not developing more courts?”
Carla, I appreciate the question. The city had plans to build a new pickleball complex on some land in Saddle Ridge where our master plan had tennis courts slated to be built. The neighbors complained about the potential of noise and traffic, and we have decided to not build there. The funding would have come from the Saddle Ridge development fees that must be used in that specific development. We are working to get that condition on the fees removed and to build in another location that won’t affect folks living in the area.
If you have a question for me, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll continue to answer them in my future Mayor’s Minute columns.
Patrick Collins is the mayor of Cheyenne.