(Ellen Fike, Oil City)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18 got contentious during a discussion of SF 134, a special liquor license bill. 

The bill would provide a malt beverage license to the operators of Cheyenne Frontier Days. During the 10 day stretch of CFD at the end of July, malt beverages such as wine coolers would be available for sale on the Frontier Park Grounds. There would be a $100 payment for the license.

Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr, Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak and Cheyenne City Attorney Michael O’Donnell spoke for more than half an hour with the five senators on the committee, going back and forth about security concerns at CFD. 

SF 134 was introduced Friday, Feb. 14 by Crook County Ogden Driskill, who also chairs the Travel Committee. He explained during the floor session that the bill was similar to the same liquor licenses the Legislature has given to the Wyoming State Fair and the University of Wyoming.

He added that the City of Cheyenne asked CFD officials for $100,000 to issue the license last year, but the two organizations managed to negotiate down to $50,000 for the license. 

Orr explained that she knows how important CFD is not only to the city but to Wyoming, but she and Kozak believe that the officials should contribute to security staffing. 

“If you want to know what I lose sleep over at night, it’s thinking about 25,000 people at a concert, with 10,000 of them in standing room only, and a car backfiring or a firework going off and there being a stampede,” the mayor told the committee. 

She added that she’s made suggestions to CFD officials in the past, such as creating a 50-cent ticket surcharge to help pay for the additional security costs during the 10-day stretch. Since her requests fell on deaf ears, she admitted to losing her patience and “threatening” the CFD officials last year with a possible withholding of the malt beverage license.

“This really reeks of extortion,” Driskill told the mayor. 

Kozak testified that when he came to Cheyenne a decade ago to take over as police chief, he was astounded at the lack of safety management during CFD. He noted that the organization needed major help with their safety and alcohol management, as alcohol-related incidents are a big crime driver every year. He told the committee that it was unreasonable to expect the Cheyenne Police Department and the city to cover all of the costs on their own. 

He also pointed out that there is already a way for CFD officials to obtain a malt beverage license, but they would have to file for the license under a different business name than what they normally do. 

“We still have underage drinking and fights every night of CFD,” Kozak said. “Cheyenne Fire Rescue and the police department can’t be agents of private property. It’s the responsibility of CFD to pay for these security costs.” 

He pointed out that the police department would continue to patrol and handle the weekly parades and pancake breakfasts, but to ensure they’re adequately staffed, the city should continue to have control over its liquor license permits. He noted that the city brings in additional officers from around the region to help staff CFD, while many of the CPD officers are working either overtime or 12-hour long shifts while at the park. 

Many of the senators, including Driskill, Albany County Sen. Glenn Moniz and Sweetwater County Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton told Kozak, O’Donnell and Orr that the city had essentially held CFD “hostage.” 

“I understand where you’re coming from with the budgets,” Moniz told Orr. “All of these numbers make sense. It’s just the way you went about it.” 

Moniz also asked Orr what the city had done in prior years to pay for the security forces and she told the senator that the city officials had dipped into reserve accounts. 

CFD CEO Tom Hirsig and CFD lobbyist Pat Crank shortly testified in front of the committee before the members broke for the Senate morning floor session. Hirsing and Crank both agreed that they would be happy to negotiate a security cost and payment with the city, but they didn’t want to be held over a barrel to do that. 

“Security is major, but this shouldn’t have anything to do with liquor sales,” Hirsig said. “We’re happy to do some type of cost-sharing program with the city, but we can’t work with them while being held hostage.” 

The discussion of SF 134 will continue during the Travel Committee’s meeting on Thursday, Feb. 20. 

If signed into law, the malt beverage license would go into effect on July 1, 2020, just over two weeks before the beginning of this year’s CFD. 

Concerned about this or other legislation? An online hotline system allows Wyomingites to have messages delivered to legislators on issues they are concerned with.