One Wednesday last April, Casper’s then-city manager V.H. McDonald told a Star-Tribune reporter that despite recent turmoil at City Hall, he had no intentions of stepping down.

“We have a lot of projects on the table,” McDonald said.

The next day, he announced his retirement, effective in June. But he would end up leaving the city within weeks of his initial announcement.

What happened?

McDonald, it seems, was weary of being pulled into a political firestorm sparked by an explosive survey released by the local Fraternal Order of Police alleging that Casper’s then-police chief Jim Wetzel was poorly managing his department.

The FOP survey was released to City Council and the media on Monday. By Thursday, McDonald announced he was stepping down.

McDonald was hired as city manager in 2015, after nearly 20 years working for Casper, including as an assistant city manager under the controversial John Patterson. While many residents and council members appreciated that McDonald, an accountant, was technocratic and eschewed politics, that leadership style became increasingly untenable in the midst of the FOP survey.

Questions emerged about what McDonald had known about poor morale at the department before the survey was released and whether he had kept Council informed. City Attorney Bill Luben, who retired in August, publicly insisted that Council should not be privy to internal issues at the police department, a contention that some elected city officials balked at.

After the FOP survey was released, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said she couldn’t answer whether she still had confidence in McDonald’s ability to lead the city and Councilman Shawn Johnson sent a scathing email to his colleagues criticizing Luben’s legal opinion that Council could not be involved in decisions regarding Wetzel.

While he denied plans to step down, McDonald expressed weariness about the criticism of his performance in the interview shortly before he retired.

“We work our hearts out here,” he said.

Many Casper political observers said that as much as anything, McDonald had been saddled with baggage from Patterson’s tenure, which was marked by several controversies. It was Patterson who promoted Wetzel directly from sergeant to police chief.

“I think a lot of this has to do with John Patterson, and V.H. tried his best to clean up some of the messes,” local businessman and state representative Pat Sweeney said shortly after McDonald announced his retirement.

Assistant City Manager Liz Becher reluctantly took over as interim manager following McDonald’s retirement and it was Becher who, roughly a month after the FOP survey was released, would terminate Wetzel’s contract.

By June, Casper had a new city manager: Carter Napier, who was hired away from an equivalent position in Gillette. Napier had been a finalist following Patterson’s retirement, before Council decided to hire McDonald.

With slicked back hair, colorful shirts and an aggressive handshake, Napier has taken a more assertive — and political — role than McDonald. Napier introduced himself to City Council at an official public meeting held over dinner at a Casper steakhouse and has done his best to avoid weighing in on any of the many controversies that came before he was hired by the city.

From the Cole Creek Fire to the Wetzel dismissal, Napier has repeatedly said that he simply can’t comment because he wasn’t around when those events took place.

Meanwhile he has restructured the city manager’s office, created new policies for communicating with the media and gotten to work slashing Casper’s budget by $4 million in order to eliminate the use of reserves to cover a budget gap.

Becher is back to her position in the city’s community development department. McDonald and Luben are retired. Wetzel is still in Casper, though has declined to speak with the media since he lost his job.

And Napier is now the one presenting the city’s proposals to Council every Tuesday.

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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