CASPER, Wyo. — Nine people were interviewed on Tuesday, September 14 to fill a vacant Ward 1 seat on the Casper City Council. While only one was selected to step into the role, all offered some vision of where Casper is and where Casperites would like to see it go.
Each of the candidates has spent years in Casper. Some young, some old, some fathers and some mothers, the candidates shared many areas of overlap in terms of the visions they have for the community.
On many of their minds was how to both diversify the economy and ensure Casper is a truly inclusive community where everyone can feel welcome. The candidates did not shy away from the hard reality of an uncertain revenue picture for the city and acknowledged Casper’s imperfections while also highlighting the community’s best qualities and expressing a love of living here.
Article continues below...
The council ultimately selected Jai-Ayla Quest, a program specialist for the Mass Violence and Atrocities Program at the Stanley Center for Peace and Security and a mother of three-year-old twins, to fill the vacant seat left by former Council member Khrystyn Lutz.
Quest was among four women who were interviewed on Tuesday. All four are mothers.
“I think we need more moms in leadership positions and I can’t expect others to do it if I’m not willing to do it myself,” Quest said during her interview.
Two of the other women who applied to fill the vacant council seat have previously served on the city council — Jacqueline Anderson, owner of the Cheese Barrel, and Kimberly Holloway, who has recently begun practicing as an attorney in Casper.
Anderson talked about watching projects which saw the groundwork laid during her time on the council blossom into fruition over the years and talked about further changes she would like to see in the downtown area. She said she is a fan of the new e-scooters that have been zipping around the Oil City.
She touted the entrepreneurial spirit of Casper and how she would like to see things happen like the Downtown Development Authority expand its boundaries to include more businesses in its network.
Candidate Dennis Rollins, an independent film and television producer working part time for FedEx, talked about a desire to bring a “a true convention center” to Casper and said that he thinks there is room for more development downtown, including a new high-end restaurant.
Rollins said that Casper is “not a perfect city” as it has issues such as drug abuse and crime. He said that another problem is that North Casper is a food desert. Another point he raised is that he would like to see Casper “create an atmosphere where everyone feels accepted.”
Holloway emphasized the need for the city council to lobby the Wyoming Legislature if real change is to be enacted in Wyoming. She said she would like to see the state begin to embrace new technologies and industries.
She expresses “thrill” about the development that has happened in Casper in recent years. While Holloway talked about diversifying the economy, she also talked about how this is something that is said to the community year after year and that diversification really depends on some action at the state level.
Candidate John Minchow, who has worked in multiple roles for Rocky Mountain Power at the Dave Johnston Power Plant, said he thinks the community is going to be facing some tough choices from an economic perspective with the state dealing with downturns in coal and other mineral sectors.
Minchow talked about how his long experience and knowledge gained at Rocky Mountain Power might scale and translate into valuable insight and leadership skills for Casper.
The fourth female candidate, Shannon O’Quinn, a graphic designer and member of the Casper LGBTQ Advisory Council, painted a vision for Casper’s future that would retain some of its best qualities while finding ways to embrace all people and making the community more attractive to both tourists and people considering moving.
“I believe there are ways to keep everything unique about Casper — you know, that old-fashioned, safe feel that we all just love that makes it just special,” she said. “I think there are ways to move it forward and have it be a more progressive town that will see that tourism, that will make people want to stay here, and that is what is important to me.”
Candidate Zarryn Hinchen, founder of Artemisia Dining and a butcher at Brattis Meat Market, talked about wanting to see North Casper’s interests better represented and wanting to see more representation for people 20-30 years old.
He said he would like to see more development in North Casper, adding that it is close to development in the downtown area. Hinchen also talked about the need to represent the voice of people working in the service industry, who he said have been “particularly hard hit in the last year” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hinchen talked about voluntarism as well as how optional local sales tax dollars should be spent in order to promote a healthier sense of community and healthier lifestyles among children.
Candidate David Hulshizer, a former investigator with the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, said that as a father he is keenly aware of the power the city council has to touch the lives of everyone in the community, young and old.
He sees great responsibility in the leadership role that the council plays in the community, saying that he has seen examples of success and failure in his 20-plus years in Casper.
“Being part of this community, I’ve seen the best in people and I’ve seen the worst in people sometimes,” Hulshizer said. “And I’ve seen how local decisions impact people’s lives — mostly for the positive, but I’ve also seen where it has impacted people’s lives for the negative and I’ve seen that in the law enforcement realm.”
Like Holloway, Hinchen emphasized the influence that the Wyoming Legislature has on what happens at the local level, particularly when revenues are tight.
“The state legislature is going to ask you to do far more with less,” Hulshizer said. “They continually will. How will we do that given the budget constraints now?”
Candidate Wes Connell, a senior pastor at River of Life Church, described a desire to apply creative thinking to problems facing the community. That is something that O’Quinn also said she could offer to the community.
Connell said that his philosophy on problem solving is to try to come up with “triple-wins.” Those are solutions that benefit not only two people trying to work out a problem but also the community as a whole.
Quest, who has organized large global conferences, said that even at such gatherings a pattern always emerges: that huge problems begin at the local level.
She said that when everyone in a community feels safe and welcome, this creates benefits for everyone, both in terms of peace and of prosperity. Quest said that she has been pleased to see the current city council offering support for legislation to create a Wyoming missing persons database as well as the council’s work on possibly creating ordinances to protect people facing discrimination in housing and other aspects of life.
To explore further what kind of things the people in Casper wanting to lead Casper into the future have on their minds, Oil City put together individual articles focused on the interviews held with each of the nine candidates for the vacant city council seat.
All candidates are eligible to run in future city council elections. Here are the articles focused on each of the nine: