City Council Ward 3 candidates

Richard Johnson, Rocky Case, Michelle Aldrich and Mike Luna.

CHEYENNE – Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Cheyenne City Council in Ward 3, and they expanded their viewpoints on the sixth- and seventh-penny sales taxes and the City Council’s consent agenda at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday night.

On Nov. 3, voters will choose from incumbents Rocky Case and Mike Luna, former councilman Richard Johnson or long-time educator Michelle Aldrich to represent Ward 3.

To watch the forum in its entirety, head to the League of Women Voters Cheyenne Facebook page.

What are your thoughts on sixth- penny sales tax projects, and should the city pursue the new seventh-penny tax?

Note: The state Legislature passed House Bill 47 during last spring’s session, allowing municipalities to put a seventh-penny sales tax out to voters.

The way sixth-penny projects are bundled on the ballot has been a point of concern for a number of candidates, though Richard Johnson explained that the setup benefits the smaller municipalities in Laramie County – Albin, Burns and Pine Bluffs.

While some have considered the idea of using standalone proposals instead of grouping initiatives together, Johnson spoke to the value of bundling on the ballot, when done correctly.

“They know if they actually do a line item type of thing, because 65,000 people in Laramie County live in Cheyenne, their projects are actually going to be completely out of luck,” Johnson said.

As for the seventh-penny sales tax, Johnson said it has strengths and weaknesses, but voters would have to make that call.

Michelle Aldrich agreed with Johnson on the benefits of bundling, except when it involves “bundling amenities that are wants with those that are needs.” In 2017, a proposition to benefit Cheyenne Fire Rescue was voted down because it was bundled with an indoor gymnasium.

As for the seventh-penny tax, Aldrich said it’s up to the voters, though she noted she is “not in favor of any new taxation.”

“If the voters decided to implement that, then it would be the responsibility of the council to make sure that it was spent appropriately and on projects where that money is able to be spent effectively,” Aldrich said.

Rocky Case proposed putting forward a menu ballot, where each sixth-penny project stands alone.

“The city of Cheyenne lost out on a much-needed fire station because it was bundled with an amenity last time, and that’s very, very unfortunate,” Case said. “We need to make certain that we have those components put in place and we’re collaborating with the county to make certain that not only are the small towns and other areas of the county taken care of, as well as the city of Cheyenne.”

For the seventh-penny tax, Case agreed that the voters are the ones who make the decision, noting that it’s the council’s responsibility to make sure projects are on time and within their budgets.

Mike Luna agreed with Case on the need for standalone sixth-penny projects on the ballot, also noting the issues with the fire station in 2017 being bundled with projects “the taxpayers didn’t want.”

“As for the seventh penny, that’s up to the voters. I would vote against the seventh penny, but I’m not the only one, so that part’s up to the voters,” Luna said.

It takes three council members to vote to remove an issue from the consent agenda. Given that these matters are discussed and placed on the agenda and during meetings that are not as accessible to the public as regular City Council meetings, do you see this as an issue to address, and how would you go about changing this practice?

Note: Items on the consent agenda are approved by the City Council with no discussion because they are considered routine business. For those items, the discussions occur during the council committee meetings Monday and Tuesday afternoons.

Aldrich said she has heard a number of concerns from residents about the consent agenda while out campaigning door to door. From her experience in professional organizations, she’s seen the one-vote removal from the consent agenda work very well, and she would support it on the City Council.

“There is a concern that the consent agenda has limited community input and transparency, that a lot of decisions have been made at committee meetings behind closed doors,” Aldrich said.

Still, Case stood by the council’s use of the consent agenda, citing its routine use in government bodies across the country. He refuted the idea that the council’s current practices impact transparency at city hall.

“The public has an opportunity to email council members, to email the mayor, to make phone calls, etc. ... If it’s on the consent agenda and an individual is extremely concerned and they want to get it pulled off, the vast majority of times that I’ve seen an item recommended to be pulled, it’s been pulled,” Case said.

Luna agreed with Case, saying that the current system is “pretty simple.”

“All you have to do is call us up and say, ‘Hey, can you pull this item off the consent agenda?’ and 99.9% of the time, we’ll do it,” Luna said.

Having served on the council previously, Johnson spoke to what happens when too many items are taken off the consent agenda. One of the biggest benefits of the consent agenda is the time it saves on routine business at meetings.

“When our meetings would go six hours, all of a sudden, the people would get bored and leave. And then we’d get to that item that had been pulled, and they’d already left three hours earlier because they didn’t want to wait around,” Johnson said, still noting the importance of transparency.

When Johnson was a councilman, he said he concurred whenever one of his peers moved to remove an item from the consent agenda, assuming it was at the request of a constituent.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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