CHEYENNE – The three candidates in the running for mayor of Cheyenne have laid out their plans for if they get elected, and they laid out more specific details of their campaigns at a League of Women Voters forum Thursday night.
Rick Coppinger and Patrick Collins are facing incumbent Mayor Marian Orr in the Aug. 18 primary, with two advancing to the November general election. And while the candidates agree on a number of issues facing the city, they differ in how they’d address topics like COVID-19 enforcement and the desired qualities in a police chief.
The Q&As below are a sample of the questions asked at the forum, but you can watch the entire forum on the Cheyenne League of Women Voters Facebook page.
Do you predict reductions in the number of city workers, and should residents expect slower and/or fewer services, absent any revenue increases?
Rick Coppinger: I don’t see the reason to necessarily cut employees. … There’s absolutely no reason to unnecessarily, at this time, start cutting employees. We need to take a look at the budget and maybe go into there and start cutting some more of that. A reduction in services? Definitely not. We were promised the fourth angles of government; the proper role of government is to provide those and to continue to provide those – the police department will continue to flourish, the fire department, sanitation and infrastructure. There’s absolutely no excuse for that to have to stop. We’ll have to grow what we have, we’ll have to figure out how to make do with what we’ve got. But, again, Cheyenne is a strong community; we’ve done amazing things. ... But there’s no reason to have to start cutting employees or services. We’ll just have to cut the budget from inside and find a way to make it work.”
Marian Orr: ”Unfortunately, we did have to lay off and eliminate 17 positions, which are people, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do professionally. We did not fill 15 positions, but because we were able to do so early on, those employees were actually able to not only see unemployment, because of the federal government’s additional funds, many of them were making more than they were actually working for the city. … What we have now is a balanced budget going forward because we took those measures very early on. I don’t believe that we need to probably make changes until once we know what the next fiscal year will be regarding the state of Wyoming.”
Patrick Collins: “I think the voters and the residents of Cheyenne and Laramie County have been wonderful. They have passed fifth- and sixth-penny sales taxes; they’ve supported almost everything that this governing body and this committee has asked for, and I think we will continue to do those kinds of things going into the future. So I’m pretty excited about the level of support that we have locally, then I think we earned that by some of the good things that have happened in the past. … I think that gives the voters the confidence that we’re going to do a good job in the future. Do I feel like we’re going to have to lay more employees off? I hope not. And I don’t think we will. I think there are some opportunities to find new revenue sources, taking things like carbon credits that might be available to us. We have the windmills out on the Belvoir Ranch now that are being used to help with the budget. Really, short-term, it might be a little tougher, but we have a new missile program coming to Laramie County, Weld County and in western Nebraska here in the next few years that I think will really help spur our economy and give us some additional dollars. I am worried a little bit about the next 12 to 18 months, but overall I think that we’re going to be able to survive without having to cut employees or a significant cut in services.”
Should the mayor have a say in people wearing masks or enforcing social distancing?
Rick Coppinger: “For me, if I were mayor, I would encourage you to do what you feel is right – stick to your freedoms. That’s the leadership role, not tell somebody that they have to do it, or they can’t do it, or they have to do this. I just firmly believe that it is not their role to tell me how I’m supposed to act.”
Marian Orr: “My role as mayor in the community is making sure that we are abiding by the state orders that come down, and a perfect example of that is Fridays on the Plaza. We put together a plan where we thought we might be able to socially distance different groups into 250 outdoors, but staff came to me and said, ‘We’re not going to be able to deliver what we thought we could do.’ So it’s my role as mayor, I’m morally obligated, that when I know we cannot fulfill what we had planned, to really shut that event down.”
Patrick Collins: “I think the mayor definitely has a role in this. I think when you’re working with City-County Health, people need to be advocating for our small businesses and for our residents about what is important. But then once that decision is made, we need to support it. I also think we need to talk about those personal freedoms, responsibilities and the consequences – we don’t do a good job of that – and what does that do to our economy so that people would choose to make the right decision. From my perspective, that would be choosing to wear a mask right now, choosing to be socially distanced and making sure that our small businesses are able to stay.”
What are the qualities you look for in the police chief and the police force?
Rick Coppinger: “(The interviewing process) has to begin with: What is their background wherever they’ve been? What if they’ve done a full security background? What were you as an officer? How were you treated? How did you treat people? What are your responses, and how did you grow as you went through the police department? What benefits did you bring to the force? And then, let’s look at things like leadership: Are you a leader? Are you a natural leader? Do people just gravitate to you? Do they respect your decisions, or do you make snap decisions and they question what you do or how you do it? The police chief has to be a leader beyond reproach. There’s no left or no right; he has to know what’s right. He has to know how to get it done, and he has to be well rounded. He has to be well educated and has convinced officers to be stronger officers, to become better educated. He needs to know how to purchase equipment that’s going to help them do the job, not purchase equipment that is above and beyond anything that you possibly need. So he really has to be a well-rounded leader, very strong, but also very compassionate and understanding, because being a police officer is an incredibly difficult job.” Coppinger noted that he didn’t see the need for an independent citizen review board, but would rather trust the chief’s judgement.
Marian Orr: “I think the qualities that best serve the city of Cheyenne are absolutely held within our current police chief, Brian Kozak. Cheyenne has been recognized, not only locally, but nationally, for the standards that we have. We’ve been community policing before it was even on anybody’s radar, before it was even a turn of phrase. I was actually asked internationally to speak to a North American group of mayors about what community policing actually looks like and how we bring in our Hispanic population, how we bring in our Black population. Chief Kozak has a great relationship with the NAACP; we’ve been having community meetings. They reach out to him for resources. He reaches out to the mental health community; he’s done a great job as far as securing a grant with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center so we have a mental health person available to assist our police officers, when we have somebody that’s in crisis that probably needs more mental health services than, say, jail time. So, I tell you what, anything that I did inherit in this administration, it’s a fine police chief and a fine police department. I believe that they are above reproach. Do people make mistakes? Yes, we’re all human, but I believe that our police department are out there doing a hell of a great job, and I have their backs every day.” Orr noted that the city is putting together a citizen review panel after listening to the requests and concerns of Cheyenne residents.
Patrick Collins: “I think you’re looking for somebody with integrity, somebody who, without exception, has good integrity; somebody who’s got experience to do the job; somebody who, wherever they worked before, created a culture where people work together and with all members of their community; somebody who has the ability to recognize the difference between a mental health situation and a criminal situation and can help those people find the services that they need; somebody who has proven ability to work with other agencies. In Cheyenne, we’re not going to have enough money to do everything on our own. We’re going to have to be able to call the other agencies within our community. And I think somebody who has proven ability to bring our communities together, who has demonstrated that in their past jobs with their current job to do that. It’s one of the most important things that we’re going to face in the future with the national environment and what happened with George Floyd. We’re under a microscope now, and so that person – unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view – has to be perfect, and somebody who has that culture of training to make sure that our officers go out into the field and enter doing the right things day to day.” Collins noted that he supports an independent citizen review panel for increased transparency.