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City Council Debate Continued - Q&A

City Council candidates Jeff White, Rocky Case, Cameron Karajanis, Pete Laybourn, Michelle Aldrich, Boyd Wiggam, Keren Meister-Emerich, Tom Segrave, Bryan Cook joined the Chamber for a debate on Tuesday, August 11th.

1.  With the current and coming challenges facing the economic climate.  What is your strategy to respond? Please be as specific as you can about budget recommendations, management approaches and long-term solutions.

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

My first strategy would be to meet with the Department heads to explore efficiency savings, ideas they may have and to set goals and prioritize spending. I would also promote doing an inventory of all city property and looking at what is not being used and can be liquidated. I would also be looking at all grant opportunities, the limited revenue streams such as city recreational facilities, etc. Another management approach would be to hold property owners accountable for derelict properties through ordinances that are already in place rather than using taxpayer money to “fight blight”.  A long term approach would be to plan for equipment maintenance and replacement.  

Bryan Cook | Ward II

As a municipality we must continue to assess what are in fact essential services that the City needs to provide, and services we and the citizens can live without. We must also strongly consider privatizing some services. Would these include cemeteries, parks, ball fields, etc.? Private the Civic Center? This may need to be considered in order to save money, but we also need to accurately assess how much money we would actually save by making the change. We must look at all of these options. The fact of the matter is with the budget we recently passed, 5 million dollars were cut in order to manage the budget. 17 employees were RIFed and other positions were frozen. We have already begun to make those tough decisions related to the budget and economic forecast. We must also look at ways to diversify the income.

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

Since the Wyoming statutes specifically address that cities should address health, safety, and welfare, these along with infrastructure must have the highest priority for funding.

 

In managing a declining budget, a one size fits all approach generally does not work since each situation is unique. Cuts will need to be made. Savings in one department may result in increased costs in another area. Potential cuts should consider multiple points of view, including social, economic, safety, technological, environmental, and financial, with input from department and individuals who would be impacted. Informed decisions will result in the least negative impact to residents.

 

Business closures and restrictions have negatively impacted the success of our local businesses and their employees. I support working with local and state officials to determine the least restrictive requirements for Cheyenne.

 

Leaders should be planning for a time they will never see and for those they will never know. Decisions made in the next four years will impact the community for decades to come. As decisions are made, we must be considering the long-term impacts of them. Collecting as much information as is reasonable and discussing options with as many stakeholders as possible can help to ensure better decisions.

James Johnson | Ward II

In the short term, we have to focus on those absolute statutory and customary necessities we must provide to citizens as their government: infrastructure and public safety. Part of infrastructure is already handled by BOPU, and so long as they continue to operate as they should, we should have no issues there. But when it comes to roads or other infrastructure, I would much rather we cease annexation and focus more on infill, taking care of the long neglected parts of our city rather than trying to continue to expand our city limits further and further out into the county. Logically speaking, how can we promise we will take care of those new businesses and residents when we have failed to do so for our existing ones for decades? So I want to see those fire stations that should have been replaced decades ago replaced in the next few years, roads that have been ignored for decades get the repairs they need, and our focus in the short term be on doing what we can do for our current citizens with the limited revenues we have.

In the medium term, I want to see the government as a whole get out of the way of business development as much as possible, so long as it doesn't cause harm (economic or otherwise) to others nearby. We should trust that new businesses or housing developments will take proper precautions against actions that place their tenants or others in danger - but also hold them to account if they do cause harm that should have been reasonably foreseeable. Hopefully under such a system, more businesses will be encouraged to move to Cheyenne, more businesses mean more jobs, and more jobs mean more residents. I don't expect a population boom here - the weather still works against us on that regularly, but growth will happen regardless, so we have to be proactive and ensure that we encourage the right sort of growth and direct it where it is needed. Spreading the town out through annexation after annexation weakens our city as a whole as we then have to spread our resources further and further to meet our citizens needs.

Long term, I want to see a city that is proud of its heritage and honors and respects that history, and encourages residential and business growth that will also honor that cultural foundation. The biggest appeal to Cheyenne is often the small town feel we've been able to maintain for decades here, and I do not want to see that damaged by reckless growth for the sake of growth and not being selective about the sort of businesses and industries we court to move into our region. Pursuit of money is the root of all evil, and likewise, the root of destroying social cohesion in a city by neglecting its heritage and history. Is it worth bringing in a particular industry that might have hundreds of well paying jobs if it means bringing in new residents who would demand an end to CFD, for example? I don't think that would be worth the cost if we can easily find dozens of other industries and businesses that would align with our culture to move here instead.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

I believe the biggest budget hit is behind us in the current 2020/2021 cycle. By next June, when the next budget is approved, we will have announced the Air Force project which will have a dramatic impact on the local economy. A significant issue with the current budget is the lack of reserves the current governing body has depleted. Take the County budget, with $20 million in reserves, no furloughs or non-hires were needed. Our sales tax revenues will increase as we move out of the COVID shutdowns.

Jeff White | Ward I

If we want to come through this crisis, I suggest the following: 1) We shouldn’t raise taxes in a downturn. 2) We need to work with Wyoming Association of Municipalities, our local state legislative delegation, and our County Commissioners to communicate to the legislature the importance of diversifying our tax base. 3) Cuts before taxes.

 

We must move toward development of new products that can be sold anywhere. We can be an example of a growing economy only if there is demand for the things we make and sell.  We need to continue economic development efforts by investing in entrepreneurship and our people.  Innovation doesn’t start with government—it starts with people.

 

A risk-taking Cheyenne can overcome our current difficulties. Here’s a bold idea to consider--we should support fully legalizing Hemp production and work to facilitate its boom.  Then create a manufacturing facility here in Cheyenne and then promote “Wyo-Hemp” the same way we do Wyoming beef and Wyoming Coal—as the best in the worlds and highest quality.  Opening up this industry would also allow us to make final products from the crop, like clothing and paper locally and then we could export those products elsewhere.

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

Cheyenne needs to grow the local economy and tax base by attracting investment in new, better, and replacement jobs. A growing economy and tax base will help temper the fiscal blow that broader macroeconomic forces are inflicting on the local economy. Two key tools that the City Council has to work with are setting budget priorities and defining the regulatory regime that the private sector must work within. As a councilman, I will advocate for more narrowly defining the core functions of city government and for aligning the limited budget to those narrower priorities. I also believe that each ordinance and resolution adopted by the Council should be evaluated based on the likely impact to the local economy and potential to stimulate private economic activity. Budget priorities that align with this approach are:

  • Properly fund infrastructure maintenance as a top priority, even at the expense of other programs or services (other than emergency public safety services)

  • Look for opportunities to contract for services so that the City does not need to maintain as large of a workforce and associated costs to provide services that are not inherently city responsibilities or that are also available in the private sector.

  • Determine a sustainable and reliable level of funding for the Economic Development agencies the City helps support so that they can devote their efforts to growing the economy and tax base.

  • Follow the example of the County and work harder to build a budget reserve that can be leveraged to achieve cost savings on projects and protect against the boom and bust of statewide economy.

  • Evaluate facilities and programs to pursue 100% operating cost recovery or explore opportunities to engage the private sector to mitigate operating losses.

  • Identify excess or redundant facilities which can be sold back into the private, taxable sector using a thorough, transparent process that is also focused on identifying economic development opportunities.

  • Provide greater oversight on contract specifications before they go out to bid to ensure that the City is in a position to accept more and less expensive bids for otherwise standard equipment. A recent example is the purchase of sanitation trucks that included contract specifications that excluded using trucks built by one of the major manufacturers because of how door mirrors were mounted-- even though other localities apparently found the less expensive trucks adequate.

In the long run Cheyenne must lead the effort to grow and diversify Wyoming's economy by attracting investment in economic sectors that have long been missing from this state. As the largest city and governmental center, Cheyenne is uniquely positioned within Wyoming to do so. The Council needs to reform the local regulatory environment to be more business friendly and to embrace private investments in economic sectors that the City has limited experience with. It is not the City Council's job to second-guess the business judgment of people in the private sector and both the regulations and the process required to open a new business should reflect a more laissez-faire approach to business permitting. Another long-term solution to the evolving economic climate in Wyoming that the City of Cheyenne should lead is to work toward a broader range of workforce development opportunities through higher education. I believe that it is time for the City to initiate a discussion with LCCC, the University of Wyoming, and other stakeholders that will lead to people having the opportunity to complete their Bachelor's degrees through the University of Wyoming, in person, in Cheyenne. My long term vision for Cheyenne includes a more substantial college student component with all of the labor force opportunities, social and cultural amenities that come with it. While this will not be an easy process, I do believe the West Edge redevelopment effort does provide an opportunity to begin this discussion with a target location that will generate multiple ancillary benefits for the broader community.

2. Under current conditions there is no way to be sustainable on cuts alone without drastically cutting needed services.  How do you view revenue increases and if forced to support a revenue increase where would you start?   

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

I believe that revenue increases can be achieved through increasing tourism and business development. There are also items that I included in my response to question #1 that would impact revenue and budget. As a last resort, if I were forced to support a revenue increase I would seek a vote by citizens to implement the 7th penny sales tax that the legislature now allows cities to assess.

Bryan Cook | Ward II

Several years ago, the City Planning and Development Department proposed development and impact fees. The development community felt these fees were excessive and heavy handed. The economic/development community then assessed the fees currently in place, and needless to say the suggested rates were much lower than what staff wanted implemented. Nothing was done. It is likely time to renew that conversation but all sides need to be included in the conversation. This alone should not be used or looked at as a silver bullet to solve all of the shortfalls. Another avenue for funding infrastructure could be an economic development 7th penny being placed on the ballot for the voters to decide. How palatable is that right now? As I stated in my previous answer, we must continue to assess what services are essential versus what can we live without or privatize? We must also make use of every penny that has already been collected for infrastructure improvement maintenance before we place any further road/infrastructure requests on the 6th Penny or even think of requesting approval for a 7th penny.

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

I agree that we can’t cut our way out.

 

We need to realize that the money from severance taxes and mineral royalties are unlikely to be restored to previous levels. There are several different fees, which municipalities may charge. Fees charged should be reviewed to determine if they are appropriate and consistent with other communities in the area. For example, at the City of Cheyenne Web Site, the link to indicates it is from 2008 (https://www.cheyennecity.org/Your-Government/Departments/Compliance-Division/Building-Permitting-Licensing/Building-Permit-Fee-Schedule)– maybe an update is needed. Has it been reviewed since 2008? Or, did the wrong form get posted. There should be a regular schedule for a review of fees. If they are determined to be acceptable, the date should be updated to reflect that they are current.

 

Residents should have a say in what is funded. Continuation of 6th penny options where the voters decide what projects they are willing to fund should be continued. Wyoming cities now have the option to vote on a 7th penny, or portion of a penny, tax that is applied within the city for municipal use. A review of projects may identify some could be presented to the voters. Additionally, the city should actively search for grants that can help bridge the gap between the city’s resources and its needs.

James Johnson | Ward II

The only method we have available to improve our revenues would be sales taxes. We would increase those by promoting tourism, entrepreneurship, and small businesses to make Cheyenne their home. Cheyenne cannot survive on Walmart and Target alone, and if this "new normal" persists, we cannot even count on tourism from Cheyenne Frontier Days or other events throughout the year. The first step to our economic recovery must be to cease enforcement of all COVID restrictions and requirements. I do hope to see a bill next year that dramatically restricts the power of the state and county health officers so that never again will we have a situation where an unelected bureaucrat who should be serving in a purely advisory role has so much authority to restrict not only our economy, but our civil liberties as well.

In the meantime, once I am on council, I will encourage the next mayor to ignore such orders that have not been approved by any governmental body that is elected by the people (city council, county commission, state legislature) so that business owners can have a bit of stability restored to their lives and are able to operate as normal going forward. Once our business community feels more comfortable and confident that they do not risk massive fines or being shut down on a whim by the health officer, they can get back to work, expand their business, and new businesses can enter the market as well. But until then, our economic recovery will be nearly impossible.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

There are not many avenues for additional types of revenue. The 6th penny sales tax is available but has never been used. Water, sewer, sanitation are all self-funded, the difficult funding is the general departments, such as Fire, Police, Parks, etc. A careful analysis of those areas that can self-fund should be done, such as golf, swimming, use of facilities like the Kiwanis community house. These should not necessarily make a profit, but should be self-sustaining. The city has assets such as vacant land that should be considered for liquidation. A temporary hiring freeze should be maintained, and a realistic forecast of the Air Force impact on the City finances is needed.

Jeff White | Ward I

We really need to consider alternate sources of revenue and work collaboratively to create as many districts as possible. We should be pursuing anything that can get tax credits, grants, and outside the box funding. We need to encourage Enterprise Zones, Conservation Districts, Museum Districts, Restaurant Districts, Historic Districts, and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zones so that we can reduce our reliance on state shared revenue.

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

The most important and best source of increased revenue is to increase the size of the local economy and thereby the tax base. As a councilmember, I will evaluate each issue through the prism of economic growth and development. I am generally adverse to government taking a larger piece of the economic pie, especially when that pie is shrinking. In conjunction with expanding the size of the taxable economic base, I would look to usage fees for facilities and services the City is not currently enjoying 100% cost recovery for providing. Finally, the City should be less willing to write off debts as bad debts and should explore collection alternatives to increase revenue from money already due to the City.

3. The military is the largest employer in the State of Wyoming and for Cheyenne it is a huge percentage of our economy.  How will you work to make sure that the military stays strong in our community and how will you work to leverage the new missile system coming in soon so that Cheyenne gets an advantage from the project?

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

As a community we need to be ready to leverage the new missile system by making sure we have affordable housing, a trained workforce, and city services that will support the influx of new residents. There are several things we can do to support the military in our community including strengthening the relationship with the base and military personnel, advocating as a city council for military support of our base at the state and federal level, and even events to bring the community and military personnel together. Affordable housing also impacts our local military personnel.

Bryan Cook | Ward II

For the last few years the City has already been working with the Air Force on the enhanced use lease development project where the CFO Park and Ride was previously located. This has been a tremendous step for our community and will hopefully ensure less military personnel are commuting from Colorado every day and are instead keeping our dollars in our community. It is also a safety issue. Less service members commuting means a safer workforce. As far as the pending changeover to the new missile system, we must work together with the economic development community and the Air Force. We should identify the services and businesses that the military will need during this expansion and work with the economic development sector to recruit these support services to our community.

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

Military support is part of the Cheyenne DNA.

 

The construction of Ground Based Strategic Deterrent will require many contractors such as welding, HVAC, electrical, construction, and painting. Existing local contractors may be able to provide some of the needed workforce. There are specific requirements to be a government contractor and helping local businesses be aware of opportunities is a first step to allow them time to complete governmental paperwork required.

 

Large projects generally have some form of a Gantt chart to identify what type of work would be done and how long it is expected to take. In a previous job, I used this type of information to make projections about how many workers were likely to need short or long-term housing or RV parking facilities. Developers can use this in their planning for housing types. The identification of where and when existing local workers can be used will help local businesses determine their staffing needs. LCCC could use the information to determine training schedules to ensure a skilled worker base for the project. It may also be used to identify how many additional children may be enrolled in our schools. By making this information available to our community, Cheyenne residents can prepare for, and benefit from, the construction.

James Johnson | Ward II

As an Air Force veteran with many friends still serving, the continued presence of our military community is very important and a foundation of our city going back over a century. That said, while a few decades ago someone might have served a time here in Cheyenne and decided to return here when they retire because they fell in love with the small town feel and felt it was a great place to raise future generations, I hear from many of my friends that they can't wait to leave and never come back. Some of them have left as soon as they could and others are making those plans now. What happened, why do our military folks no longer feel Cheyenne is right for them?

There are many reasons, starting with economic: we don't have the sort of jobs, homes, and quality of life here anymore that military members could easily find in other locations around the nation or across the globe. We have lost sight of creating a unified vision for our city and working towards that goal. Over the last few years, everything has been done piecemeal, from the outside looking in - ad hoc band-aid repairs to address long standing problems temporarily rather than a permanent long term solution. Potholes are just one example where, at this point, I don't even think anyone wants to fix them - it has become an issue candidates can campaign on every few years and then ignore the rest of the time because the voters haven't demanded actual solutions - they just re-elect incumbents who say the problems they said they would solve 4 years ago will definitely get solved if you elect them just one more time.

 

Until we fix those underlying issues of our overall lack of leadership in our municipal government: not only working together as a team, but doing right by our taxpayers and ensuring the money is wisely spent, and actually working on solutions rather than passing the buck, throwing up our hands in defeat, or otherwise taking voters for granted election after election and never delivering on our promises. When it comes to this missile system, without correcting that endemic political issue of weak leadership, any benefits we might get from that project will be short lived. If future businesses and residents see our city as a mess in need of serious fixing instead of a place they want to make their home, our city's reputation will suffer and we will lose out on future economic development.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

Cheyenne started as a result of the railroad and the military. Our history is tied to the military and most likely always will be. It is critical City leadership work closely with military leaders to understand their needs. For example, after 9/11 it was determined a need for a school accessible to the base be considered, and a school was soon built on Happy Jack Road. Recently the main gate was closed because of traffic and security concerns. It is important for City leadership to work with WYDOT and our traffic engineers to asset with these issues. Water, sewer, utilities needed at the base are coordinated with the city. As the missile system begins to be replaced, I think a designated City representative should be assigned to coordinate all logistic, traffic, and planning and development issues.

Jeff White | Ward I

The military has been a pillar of this community since the U.S. Army established Ft. Russell here in 1867. With F.E. Warren, we have oldest continuously active military installation within the Air Force and I’m committed to maintaining its importance and celebrating its heritage.  

 

The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program represents an important opportunity for Cheyenne.  It’s my hope that it will generate growth among existing businesses and bring new businesses to our community as well.  This will be the largest economic development project in our city’s history, so how we manage it opportunity is of critical importance. It’s vital that the City maintain constant communication with Northrop Grumman (the military contractor) and local businesses in order to be prepared so that we’re not caught flat-footed. 

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

The new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ("GBSD") missile system presents three important opportunities for Cheyenne's regional economy. However, Cheyenne must be prepared to meet and embrace these opportunities.

  • First, we must be sure that we have adequate, affordable housing for both Air Force personnel and any new workers and personnel who will be working in the area if we are going to maximize the portion of the new money to the local economic we are able to capture. Otherwise, we risk having new paychecks travel out of town to be spent in places where housing is available. This also presents an opportunity for lenders and builders to make loans that will support infrastructure investments. I am also concerned that our lack of adequate housing in proximity to the base for those who staff F.E. Warren will weigh against us in any future Base Realignment and Closure round. Therefore, my emphasis on housing supply generally is important to address the needs of F.E. Warren specifically as well.

  • Second, modernizing the GBSD system should bring new technology and expertise to the area. If properly leveraged, the Cheyenne workforce will have the opportunity to develop cutting edge technological skills which can then be applied to other industries.

  • Third, along with cutting edge knowledge, there is the possibility of direct investment in infrastructure. Therefore, any new publically-funded dirt work within Cheyenne should provide for an opportunity to co-locate new hardware that might be installed or even shared. We also need to ensure that our process is efficient and that investments are permanent, not temporary. This step should be part of our Planning process and the Council should look for comments on new maps and contracts to that effect.

  • Fourth, I believe it would be good for Cheyenne, the University of Wyoming, and for Air Force families stationed at F.E. Warren if people, including military spouses, could have an opportunity to complete baccalaureate degrees, in person, while stationed in Cheyenne as discussed later as part of my long term vision for Cheyenne.

4. Time is money!  To that end the Chamber has long supported the streamlining of planning permitting etc.  If elected or re-elected how will you continue to help this process become more streamlined?

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

This is a huge issue. I have been meeting with City Department heads and they have been working on streamlining the process but I believe that by working with local contractors and developers we might be able to find additional efficiencies. Contractors have shared with me the changing codes that impact them once they have bid on jobs, frustration with how code changes are communicated and how quickly they change. I believe that the best ideas may come from the people who are using these systems as well as surveying businesses who have recently been through the process to hear their about their experience and how it could be improved.

Bryan Cook | Ward II

I believe a lot of in-roads have been made in this area in the last 4 years, but much remains to be done. I am encouraged by the early results of the compliance division within city government and the intended positive impact this consolidation could have. am concerned though that silos still exist between this division and the fire inspectors, who are not affiliated with the compliance division. I personally believe all inspection related professionals need to be included in order for this effort to truly be successful. I would also advocate for an independent yearly review of the development processes as a form of checks and balances, almost as an "audit" process on processes and associated fees. I do feel as though the creation of the Chief Economic Development Officer position with Brendan Ames. So far he has assisted with the redevelopment/use of thousands of square feet of previously unused square footage in downtown Cheyenne. It would be helpful though if through the yearly "audit" process discussed above, goals could be set by a Development Task Force made up of the local economic development entities, with membership from, but not driven by the city. This group would drive policy, set development priorities and goals, as well as provide recommendations to the governing body and the Mayor as to how to best spend public dollars on economic development projects. I believe this would better focus our efforts, make better use of the experts and maybe avoid costly duplication of services. 

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

I would recommend that City personnel, developers, and other interested people meet to discuss the steps in the permitting process to identify the items that hinder development. After identifying the obstacles, we can determine whether they can be modified, reduced, or eliminated to stimulate development.

Clear identification of all requirements could reduce the number of trips developer makes to the city offices. Also, a list of items that need to be completed along with an approximate time needed for city review could help better plan the timing of the process. If complete packets for different types of construction contain all forms that might be required along with easy to understand questions to identify what portions are needed, multiple trips to submit forms may be reduced. For example, at the city of Cheyenne Web Site, it appears that the grading permit, and plumbing, mechanical, electrical permits are separate from the building permit.  It may make sense to have these combined as a packet and if something is not needed, let person omit it, rather than have someone start on the building permit only to find out they need other permits too.

James Johnson | Ward II

I have already spoken with Pat Collins about this, and we are on the same page, that many of those restrictions in the UDC need to be streamlined. Even the city engineer Tom Cobb and the city planner Charles Bloom said as much during my one on one meetings with them - that much of the UDC doesn't even apply to Cheyenne. So a full review and revision of that document into something far more workable and applicable to Cheyenne would be the first step.

One of the other first things I think we should do is a bottleneck study. I want to see how long it takes a handful of sample permits to flow through the process and see at what steps they get hung up, and if the issue is on the city's side, find ways to reduce that bottleneck all together.

In general, I feel that all regulations and requirements that do not promote a general sense of safety, health, or community cohesion have no use to our residents. Aesthetics, for example, are nice to recommend or encourage, but having specifications down to the level of the percentage of green space on a lot, the number of trees, and the diameter of those trees is absurd. I'd rather leave it up to the developer or builder to do what they feel is best, and so long as it doesn't present a hazard to nearby properties or risk causing damages, we should be willing to approve nearly any sort of plan presented to us.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

There is no question a review of the Planning and Development department is needed. This has been a decade long issue. We need to review and understand how other communities implement their departments and compare similar fees. I remember during the drought days of the early 2000's we compared water fees and tap fees with other communities. As it turned out, our fees were mid-range.

Jeff White | Ward I

I think the Mayor should set up a task force that consists of business leaders, members of the Planning department, and three members of council (one from each Ward).  Have a series of meetings and work to come up with recommendations that will help solve the problem for both sides Then, make the necessary changes that will make the process more efficient and will be more attractive to businesses that want to move here.

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

To streamline the planning and permitting process, the first step must be to remove unnecessary regulations and standards that merely enable bureaucratic delay. Local development codes should be build for clarity and to ensure that people have a safe harbor if they comply with the basics without getting caught up in gray areas that can bog down projects. When the Unified Development Code ("UDC") was first adopted, it was an innovative, aspirational approach to development regulation. However, we now have over a decade of experience implementing it and we need to do a thorough, complete review of the concept and remove the approaches that have not worked as well as we hoped they would while building on the parts that have worked well.

  • A first step to simplify and streamline the planning and permitting process can be to eliminate the lot type regime and go back to a more direct use and density system similar to what preceded the UDC.

  • I also hope to establish a separate review board made up of people who use the various sections of the International Building Code to review and recommend appropriate modifications to that code before adopting updates for the City with the goal of adopting a version that will be objectively and efficiently enforceable in Cheyenne.

5.Transparency and customer service is important.  Historically this has been an issue the chamber continually works on.  How will you advance transparency and customer service from the Mayor's office to make our community an even better place to live, work and do business?

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

Transparency and customer service are not unreasonable for community members to expect. Transparency includes making sure that the council has set goals based on community input and services expected by our community. These goals should be prioritized and well published as should progress made on each of these goals. Customer service training for all city employees should be provided so that each department understand the expectation and has the tools they need to respond to the public. My experience with city employees over the last three months has been amazing. Employee morale impacts employee performance. I believe employee morale will improve if the fighting and demoralizing treatment ends with a new city council.

Bryan Cook | Ward II

In my opinion, availability, responsiveness and sincerity are key with relation to customer service from the Mayor's Office. Unfortunately citizens have lost faith in the Office of the Mayor after being told to "kick rocks" and being called "cry babies" by the mayor they elected. As far as transparency, when it was discovered that Mayor Orr had misused grant funds, a committee was formed by City Council Leadership, to include the City Treasurer and the City Attorney to review her expenditures related to this particular grant. These and other expenditures from the Mayor were extensively reviewed. Inappropriate expenses were identified and Mayor Orr was required to reimburse the city out of pocket for these expenses. During these efforts, it was also discovered that the provisions of the City of Cheyenne Personnel Rules did not specifically apply to the Mayor and other Elected City Officials. I worked with my colleagues to make these changes to ensure City Elected Officials have increased accountability. More work needs to be done in this area, but positive steps have been taken.

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

To ensure transparency and customer service, City government should:

  • make sure the City website discloses all appropriate information

  • dates & times for meetings

  • budgetary and financial information

  • links to key personnel and their duties

  • links to submit electronic payments

  • links to forms needed

  • be logically organized

  • be keyword searchable

  • identify timelines for information to be posted

  • regularly review the location of posting for logical placement on the City’s website

There should be regular reviews of rules about information and data privacy to make sure that any data that should not be disclosed is secure and establish clear standards across all departments.

City government can be accountable to citizens by offering multiple opportunities for input, including the use of electronic meetings for residents even when we return to face-to-face meetings.

Customer services can be improved when the City’s web site is easy to navigate. If people from differing sectors and with differing technical skill are asked to review and comment on the city’s website, they can help to identify areas for improvement. They can also simulate an in-person request for information to see if they are able to navigate the different departments. As the city’s revenues decline, this may be more of a challenge. If cuts are made to a department, it may require more time to process residents’ requests.

James Johnson | Ward II

As a member of the city council, all I can do in those regards is try to serve my constituents by responding to their concerns and doing what I can to research possible solutions via discussions with other councilors, city staff, the mayor, and key stakeholders in the area.

I have already been doing a lot of this during my campaign and have found some staffers and councilors are more open to communication and helping resolve constituent issues than others. I am a doer, when I hit a roadblock, I press on through and do everything I can to resolve an issue. As a citizen and taxpayer myself, I am just as upset as they are when a councilor or staffer tells me there's nothing they can do, when what they really mean is there's nothing they want to do to help.

There's always something we can do, even if it is just bringing attention to the issue through the media, encouraging constituents to unify and put pressure on the municipal government for change, or constantly pressing those issues that need resolution so that they can't simply be ignored because fixing them is either too difficult or would step on the wrong toes. As councilors, we should always strive to do right by our constituents as we are elected to serve and represent them.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

I'm not sure how Council would advance transparency from the Mayor's office other than to monitor and encourage such actions.

Jeff White | Ward I

I think the City has done a good job of utilizing social media platforms to increase transparency.  We also made sure that the public access channel was maintained when we signed the new franchise agreement with Spectrum.  I also think that upgrading the City website was a big improvement as it’s much more user friendly and ADA accessible.  One thing we could improve on is investing in Open Book software which make public virtually every single financial transaction from the City, on it’s website.   I’m committed to working with both the Chamber and the Mayor’s office to  implement any recommendations that will improve transparency and customer service from the Mayor’s office and the Council’s office.

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

While this question appears to be directed to Mayoral candidates rather than candidates for City Council, I believe there are two obvious steps that the Council can take to advance transparency and customer service at the Council level.

  • First, the council should continue to live stream committee meetings in addition to meetings of the full Council, even after social distancing measures that currently necessitate streaming have ended.

  • Second, I believe that the Council should use the 2020 redistricting cycle to increase the size of the council by one member and increase the number of wards to 5 so that there is both a lower ratio of residents to council members and so that each council member represents a smaller constituency that is more directly connected to the council member.

  • Third, the Council recently started using a Request for Proposal process when the City is divesting real estate. I would continue that process and work to make it more predictable and universal.

6. Affordable housing is one of our biggest challenges.  How will you work with BOPU and others to address this problem?

Michelle Aldrich | Ward III

It is a major concern and will cripple our ability to attract new business and industry as well as leverage the new missile project. I believe that we need to bring all of the stakeholders to the table and work together to make sure that our permit and development fees are in line with surrounding communities and allow developers to be able to build affordable housing. One idea is to offer incentives for developers to infill areas of our community that are already annexed but undeveloped.

Bryan Cook | Ward II

I would attempt to facilitate a conversation between BOPU and entities such as the Laramie County Landlords Association to discuss the group's concerns regarding water rates for multiple family structures. Oftentimes the landlords feel as though calculation of the rates is not transparent. I believe a collaborative conversation would be helpful. I would also be useful to speak with economists to get a better understanding of what is actually "affordable" housing in our community. We must identify these gaps. We should then engage all interested parties/entities to discuss housing costs in our community and find sustainable solutions to the issue. Does this mean City Development costs are too high? We must look at all options.

Keren Meister-Emerich | Ward II

BOPU is about water, sewer and when a new development is proposed, make sure the water and sewer lines reach any new city development. If a development is not in the city, it can consider a special district that provides services that city government would not be able to provide. Voter approved debt can be added above the mill limit to pay for water or sewer.

If a new business is considering locating or re-locating to Cheyenne, the council could facilitate a meeting with local planning organizations, other governmental groups, with local realtors and developers to have the new business indicate about how many people in different salary ranges and then determine the existing and planned housing supply and request that developers consider providing housing that meets the income and borrowing levels of the employees. However, the developer may decide that the lower cost housing does not align with the company’s business plan. There are federal grants related to affordable housing that should be explored. 

A review to determine if lot sizes in some areas could be used for smaller homes or for duplexes or 4-plexes. Care should be taken when changing zoning or building requirements. Wyoming statutes specifically address that cities should address health, safety, and welfare. Any changes must ensure that health, safety, and welfare are not degraded.

James Johnson | Ward II

The biggest hurdle to affordable housing here in Cheyenne is the lack of desire by the developers to actually construct any. They tell me it is too expensive to bring in materials and labor, or that there are too many regulations in the code they have to deal with that ups the cost. And now that there is talk of impact fees, that will only increase those costs even more.

I'd rather call their bluff - let's encourage more building material companies to come here and actively court them to set up shop in our city or nearby. Let's also streamline all the pointless regulations in the UDC and actually enforce those codes that do protect the consumers and residents and hold developers accountable, as well as red tag those developers who failed to take into account situations like Thomas Heights. Until they resolve the issue, the city should no longer do business with them. And as I mentioned during the panel, I would like to see annexation slow down until we improve the infrastructure we already have and infill much of our city with new development so we do not need to expand sewer or water lines as much as we would otherwise, or build new fire stations to serve areas further and further away.

Our citizens are too important to keep passing the buck around, and it looks bad to future residents to do that. With the median income here in Laramie County being about $65K, a family of four just starting out in life can't afford a $300-$400K house, and that's why so many of our young people choose to move away and never return - even though many of them would like to make Cheyenne their home just like their parents and grandparents did before them.

Tom Segrave | Ward II

Affordable housing has always been an issue for communities. Use of public lands, opportunities for federal and state grants, possibly reduced cost for planning and development fees and water fees should all be considered.

Jeff White | Ward I

This has been an issue for decades and one that’s going to continue hindering our ability to attract younger workers and families to our community.  Here are my recommendations:

1.    Encourage private sector to brainstorm with City and County planners on options and potential opportunities;
2.    Explore the possibility of public/private funding partnerships;
3.    Explore tax incentives for developers to utilize for actually building affordable housing.

I truly believe that it’s going to take a public/private partnership in order solve the problem effectively.

Boyd O. Wiggam | Ward II

I believe that a key contributor to our housing affordability problems in this community is a lack of supply. In a tight housing market, prices can escalate faster than incomes which forces families to devote ever increasing portions of income to housing thus reducing money available for other purposes. The short supply of housing and resulting housing costs fall most heavily on those households that make slightly more than the income threshold to qualify for housing assistance including young people who are just entering the market.

 

My primary approach to addressing housing costs is to support and encourage expansion of housing supply. This is primarily a function of the private sector. However, the Council should seek opportunities to remove regulatory barriers and to find opportunities to make incremental investments in infrastructure that will bridge gaps and stimulate further private investment in infrastructure and new housing. For example, the City might include direct investments in water, sewer, streets, and broadband to link existing infrastructure to the edge of developable land.

 

The City, through the Council, also needs to change the regulatory culture to be more accepting of residential rental projects, even in the face of public pressure to limit construction of new apartment complexes. Typically this will be in the form of approving applications to rezone property to accommodate multi-family housing and resisting the temptation to require a reduction in the number of lots permitted in subdivision and plat applications so that developers can spread fixed costs across more units at lower costs per unit.

 

It is difficult to aggressively reduce BOPU system development fees because water is scarce in this area and expensive to transport. Being economically responsible and respecting the free market also means I must accept and allow BOPU to recover the cost of providing a scarce resource like water and resist the temptation to over-subsidize its use while we are subsidizing other facilities and services as well. That said, the councilmembers exercise strong oversight and not merely act as a rubber stamp when and if BOPU fees come before the Council.

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