CASPER, Wyo. — During recent City Council meetings, Casper Mayor Charlie Powell asked his fellow Council members to refrain from directly responding to citizens after hearing public comments.
During a Tuesday, June 25 work session at the Casper Events Center, Council decided they’ll go back to their former way of addressing public comment.
Councilman Ray Pacheco said that he’d received an apology from Casper citizen Paul Paad after he said Paad shouted at Council during a June 18 meeting.
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“I apologize for putting you in a tough spot,” Pacheco told Powell. “What I don’t apologize for is standing up to Paul Paad for calling us idiots.”
Powell said that he’d originally wanted to try out a new way of taking public comment as an experiment. Under that format, Council first heard all citizens wanting to speak at meetings without responding immediately to any of them.
Once they’d all spoken, Council could address the issues that came up without directing their comments to the public.
Powell said the purpose of the new format was to avoid getting into debates with the public.
During the June 25 meeting, this format appeared to break down.
Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson said he thought the Council should go back to the old way of taking public comments. Under that format, Council would be able to talk with citizens who speak at meetings.
That would allow citizens and Council members the chance to ask each other some questions, Johnson said.
Councilman Ken Bates agreed. He added that Council should be cautious about how they conduct themselves.
“If we know it is a hot topic, we just need to back off,” he said. “That’s our job.”
Councilman Mike Huber said he thought they should continue trying out the new format.
But after a vote during the work session, Council gave enough thumbs up to return to the former way of doing things.
Councilman Steve Freel said that Council should rely on the mayor’s statements preceding the public comment period. At each meeting, the mayor cautions people against making any personal attacks.
Freel said that if citizens make personal attacks on Council members, they should be removed from the podium.
He said he welcomes public comments be said that “it needs to be done in a constructive manner.
Councilman Bob Hopkins said that public comments are important and have led him to change his position on some occasions.