City Manager John Patterson held secret meetings to derail Councilman Craig Hedquist’s election campaign and pushed him into a “heated exchange” with city staff as retaliation after Hedquist challenged Patterson’s handling of a land matter involving the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming, according to a lawsuit filed by Hedquist late Thursday afternoon.
“Craig’s legal team and counsel of Hedquist feel very strongly about the importance of these claims and beyond that the complaint really speaks for itself,” said John Robinson, attorney for Hedquist.
Hedquist and Janel Moore are suing Patterson and the city of Casper for civil rights violations and to stop the hearing against the embattled councilman. Moore is a Ward 2 resident who ran for office "alongside," and voted for, Hedquist, according to the lawsuit.
Moore declined to comment.
Hedquist maintains Patterson retaliated against him for exercising his right to free speech. He claims the city's hearing to determine whether he violated conflict-of-interest laws is unfair.
He further accuses Patterson and “one or more” council members of meeting with private citizens at private locations to discuss how to prevent Hedquist from getting elected.
“Never happened,” Patterson told the Star-Tribune in response. "Other council members would not do that, and I certainly wouldn't do that."
Patterson said neither he nor the city attorney had received a copy of the lawsuit, so he had not read it. He said media received the lawsuit first.
After his election, Hedquist claims he followed “the training given to him by the city and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities” and abstained from voting or participating in matters in which he had an interest.
“During the first seven months of his tenure as councilman, despite his concurrent management of the city projects for which his company was responsible, Hedquist’s allegiance to the city was never questioned,” the lawsuit asserts.
That changed after Hedquist confronted Patterson about the city manager's “questionable” handling of a land matter involving the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming and the Natrona County School District, according to the lawsuit.
The clubs were leasing property from the city to the west of their building. They gave the lease over to the city, but asked to be reimbursed for improvements they made to the property.
Patterson said those improvements included a storm drain and irrigation system and the removal of some car bodies from the property. However, Patterson said the clubs could not sufficiently prove the amount of money spent matched the amount requested.
According to the lawsuit, Hedquist confronted Patterson over the decision. Patterson said he visited the Boys & Girls Clubs shortly after the meeting and worked out a compromise on compensation, which was later approved by city council. The city sold the land to Natrona County School District to build Lincoln Elementary School.
"We were satisfied with what the city had provided us," said Ashley Bright, chief professional officer for the clubs.
Hedquist accuses Patterson of attending a secret meeting with the clubs after telling Hedquist he was invited. The incident drove Hedquist to question Patterson’s “agenda, his character, whether he was capable of assembling and managing a competent city staff, and whether Patterson was worth his salary of $170,000", according to the lawsuit.
Patterson denied Hedquist ever questioned his professionalism.
According to the lawsuit, that exchange prompted Patterson to have staff secretly record meetings with Hedquist, demand Hedquist Construction complete work “above and beyond” the contract and intentionally not pay the company for work already done.
Hedquist says Patterson gave “marching orders” to find a way to kick Hedquist out of office.
Patterson challenged Hedquist to prove his accusations.
"Produce evidence. Bring forth one individual that will testify that I did that," Patterson said. "None of that has ever happened."
An Aug. 28 argument between Hedquist and City Engineer Andrew Beamer gave Patterson the "grounds to attack Hedquist on any possible basis" the lawsuit states.
A city investigation found Hedquist committed workplace violence by using "fighting words" during the argument with Beamer. A subsequent investigation found "clear and convincing" evidence Hedquist violated state and local conflict-of-interest laws in his dual role as councilman and owner of Hedquist Construction, the city's most-used contractor.
The city is now in the process of a contested case hearing, in which Patterson would act as prosecutor and the city council would act as judge and jury. If the city declares Hedquist violated conflict-of-interest rules, he could be removed from office.
Hedquist has denied the city has the authority to expel him from his elected position and filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Hedquist denied all wrongdoing during a December press conference. He called his "coarse" language unfortunate, but common on work sites. He maintained he abstained from voting on anything to do with Hedquist Construction.