City Council candidates discuss overreach, police reform, and 'non-partisanship' at Washington Park - Casper, WY Oil City News
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City Council candidates discuss overreach, police reform, and ‘non-partisanship’ at Washington Park

Civil Air Patrol Cadets Color Guard opens the Casper City Council Wards II and III forum August 10, 2020 (Gregory Hirst)

CASPER, Wyo — Candidates for Casper City Council from Wards II and III met at Washington Park Monday night the Politics in the Park political forum hosted by the Natrona County Republican Women. 

The candidates are as listed below:

Quinn Snow and Michael H. Mcintosh were not in attendance. 

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Ward I candidates will be featured next Monday, August 17, also at Washington Park.

Government transparency and accessibly were among the themes discussed, as was government overreach and approaches to managing a tightening budget. “Defunding the police” and recent city council considerations regarding Casper’s booming population of feral cats were also discussed.

There was broad agreement among the candidates supporting the police department in response to a question about “defunding the police,” a phrase on the extreme end of general calls for police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death by police earlier this summer.

Allen said the notion was ridiculous. “Our police keep up safe, and certainly here in Casper we enjoy a relationship with the police that doesn’t even look like the things we see in cities where they are talking about this sort of thing.”

“I do not believe in defunding the police, I believe in de-burdening them,” said Warren. “I believe in defunding the politicians that make the laws that force them to go out and put themselves into harsher situations than they need to be [in]… They are law enforcement officers, not social workers,” He added that police should be free to focus on drug and DUI-enforcement.

After the event Warren told Oil City News that mandatory mask laws in other communities and a ban of feeding stray cats locally were examples of laws that would be burdensome to police.

On the feral cat issue, Gamroth said the city council didn’t need to “reinvent the wheel” and should look to other communities, as he had, to see how they handled the issue. He told Oil City News that feeding bans hadn’t worked in other cities, and alternative proposals like spay-and-neuter programs had had mixed results.

Most candidates listed fiscal conservatism as priority on their approach to city spending. Councilman Cathey and Engebretsen said cutting the budget was more important than ever in light of the council’s consideration of furloughs and pay freezes for city officials. Cathey agreed, saying that a proposed trail from PV to Robertson road was untenable for the time. He added that he was the lone vote against the project.

One project that did get support from both Councilman Bates and Warren was an indoor playground to provide recreation services to families in the winter. Bates also said he’d like to see Hogadon used year-round.

Broad support was also heard for keeping the city council non-partisan. Warren said “None of that should be in city politics. We have enough divisiveness.”

(Table left to right) Dale A Zimmerle, Kenneth Bates, Lisa Engebretsen, Edis Allen, Kyle Gamroth, Steve Freel, Steve Cathey, and Woody Warren (Gregory Hirst)

Zimmerle said the notion was at least partially unrealistic. “That’s a hard question, because even though we say it’s “non-partisan,” it is. No matter what we say, politics is wrapped up in it somehow.” Zimmerle also broke slightly with the the rest in offering qualified support for Visit Casper and the city’s investments in the Hogadon ski facility and Casper Events Center. “People don’t come to Casper for ski slopes, they come for a job.” He added that those facilities might be better managed by private companies, and that hotels and restaurants should form a co-op and buy Events Center.

Cathey pointed out that the Events Center was currently managed by a private company, Spectra, and that the city was looking into similar private sector management for Hogadon. Allen agreed that recreation facilities drove commerce but said that the Platte River Rod and Gun Club and Stuckenhoff shooting facility were “frustrated” that they were not promoted as heavily as those other assets.

Otherwise, support for Visit Casper and the promotion of tourism received universal support. Warren, a manager at Hobby Lobby, said that from a retail perspective, he saw an influx of commerce during even “the smallest events.”

(table, left to right) Dale A Zimmerle, Kenneth Bates, Lisa Engebretsen, Kyle Gamroth, Steve Freel, and Steve Cathey (Gregory Hirst)

Checking government overreach was another theme. An ordinance passed by the city council in June granted the the city building inspector the authority to investigate unsafe living conditions in rental properties if complaints were received. The implications for private property owners’ Fourth Amendment rights had prompted Warren, Zimmerle, and others on the council to advocate for a specific exemption for private properties, which passed with the final ordinance.

“I do not support this,” Engbertson said. She said it was true that some landlords didn’t take care of their rental properties, but that state statutes and the Wyoming Constitution already addressed the issue. 

Candidates also spoke to some of their more specific positions. Cathey said previous city councils had repealed a code of ethics, and he would like to see that reinstated, a notion Warren agreed with. Cathey also named drug issues and inattentive driving as among his top issues. Bates said one his was tackling alcoholism in the city. Allen said Casper citizens should have more control over selecting a mayor.

Dale A Zimmerle speaks at Politics in the Park (Gregory Hirst)

Kyle Gamroth is not an employee of Oil City News but works with Oil City often in a professional capacity. He did not have any editorial input into this story.

Steve Freel and Brook Kaufman, and Art Washut at Politics in the Park (Gregory Hirst)