A small group of Casper City Council members and the city manager met with a hotel and conference center group Monday morning to continue discussing the future of three city-owned buildings in downtown Casper, prompting criticisms from another council member who was not invited to the meeting.
The conference center group — which includes representatives from the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Amoco Reuse Agreement Joint Powers Board, the Downtown Development Authority and the Economic Development Joint Powers Board/Forward Casper — recently told City Council that the land could be the best place for an approximately $70 million hotel and conference center because of its central location.
But Casper leaders had already advertised those buildings for sale, and three local entrepreneurs submitted their business outlines and bids in October. The buildings are situated next to David Street Station, a public plaza that’s a major component of the city’s revitalized downtown.
While private meetings between various group representatives and two or three council members happen routinely, Councilman Dallas Laird said he believes they are a way to avoid making the meetings public.
“I don’t think that’s the most effective way to run things,” he said, explaining that he would have attended the meeting Monday had he been informed it was happening.
If five or more of the nine council members meet, it is a quorum, and subject to Wyoming’s public meeting rules.
Wyoming’s open meetings law prohibits government entities from holding smaller meetings to intentionally avoid a quorum. But proving intention can be difficult, said Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney specializing in First Amendment matters.
Given that this issue has been discussed at multiple Council meetings, and that a public hearing is being held Dec. 19, City Manager Carter Napier said it appears clear that the intent is not to withhold information from the public. Napier said the convention center group called the meeting, which occurred in his office.
No new information was provided to Council members during Monday’s meeting, said Brandon Daigle, the development authority’s chairman. The group wanted to meet with a few members of Council to discuss the structure of an upcoming public hearing, he said.
He also said he told the councilmen that the convention center group would have more financing information available next week.
The public hearing had originally been scheduled for Dec. 12.
Councilman Bob Hopkins, who said he attended the meeting along with Councilman Charlie Powell and Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco, said the group was just renewing its request that Council hold off on making a rash decision about downtown’s future.
“I didn’t really learn anything new,” Hopkins said.
Council heard initial presentations in November from three local entrepreneurs who requested to buy the city-owned buildings along Ash Street. The city purchased the buildings with no real future purpose, but as part of a larger vision to redevelop downtown Casper. The Downtown Development Authority’s CEO, however, asked council members at the same meeting to wait to approve selling the buildings.
The conference center group presented its ideas for the land in late November at a council work session. City leaders decided at that meeting to hold a public hearing to ask for input on the future of the buildings.