A new Casper City Council was off and running Tuesday — with the first tangible hints that the four new council members may upend the status quo on everything from leadership to religion to how the police investigate sexual assault.
Kenyne Humphrey’s election as mayor was a foregone conclusion following an informal tally of council members last week. But two new councilmen — Amanda Huckabay and Chris Walsh — still voted against her at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“She’s been on council several times serving as mayor,” Huckabay said in an interview. “I think that new blood should be given the opportunity to serve.”
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Humphrey was elected in 2006 and has served three previous terms as mayor.
Huckabay and Walsh supported councilman Shawn Johnson, who took office two years ago, for mayor.
Walsh said he had confidence in Humphrey’s abilities but thought his official vote should reflect his support for Johnson in last week’s informal vote.
“They both have some good qualities, I just wanted to see Shawn have a shot at it,” he said in an interview immediately following the vote.
At the end of the meeting, Walsh publicly pledged his support for Humphrey.
“Mayor, I completely support you,” Walsh said. “You can expect that from me, you can expect that from the rest of my career here.”
Johnson, who voted for Humphrey, emphasized the importance of a united council.
“People have the right to vote whatever way they want to and if that’s what they want to do to make a statement that’s fine,” he said of the votes against Humphrey.
“Hopefully we can all unite and work together because the last thing we need is another tumultuous council.”
Goodenough attacks Humphrey
But a tumultuous council appeared to be exactly what former councilman Keith Goodenough — who supported Huckabay’s election — encouraged during public comment.
Taking the podium facing Humphrey, Goodenough slammed her tenure on council.
“Many of us thought it would have been a better idea to elect somebody who wasn’t so intricately involved with the dysfunction of the last four years,” Goodenough said.
Goodenough highlighted the fact that since Casper uses a “weak mayor” system, the position is largely symbolic and carries little executive authority. A simple majority on the nine member council is all that is needed for most votes.
“The leadership does not control the agenda,” Goodenough said. “Five votes rules the roost here.”
Humphrey did not directly respond to the jabs from Goodenough, though she addressed the dissent from Huckabay and Walsh.
“You guys honored Shawn very much and I appreciate that,” she said. “I’ll do everything to make you proud. Shawn is a great guy and he would have been a good mayor.”
Murphy makes a splash
Also during public comment, former council candidate and frequent attendee Dale Zimmerle asked that council revisit its decision from last spring to open meetings without a Christian prayer.
“What better way to guide the community than to have the Lord guide you?” Zimmerle said.
New councilman Todd Murphy weighed in with support for government-led prayer in his first public comments on issues facing council since the election.
“For people that don’t serve the same god that we do, they can pray in their own fashion,” Murphy said. “It can be a silent prayer.”
When the issue was last addressed by council in May, then-Mayor Daniel Sandoval said opening public meetings with a Christian prayer could be potentially alienating for non-believers.
“I truly believe the only fair government that represents everybody, including atheists, is a secular government,” Sandoval said.
Councilman Charlie Powell said that while his religious beliefs help guide his decisions on council, he believed religion to be a private matter.
Murphy ran as a fiscal conservative. He hinted at a governing philosophy later in the meeting when local businessman and newly-elected state legislator Pat Sweeney told council he was worried that the regulatory burden on local taxi companies would prevent them from competing with Uber — the transportation company that has used a digital platform to win customers around the world.
Sweeney said that with Uber likely to be approved for operation in Wyoming during the legislative session this month, the council might consider loosening current regulations on local taxi companies or imposing similar rules — like strict driver background checks — on Uber.
“I don’t know if Uber is ever going to come to Casper or not but if they do that’s just the free market,” Murphy said. “Anytime we go against the free market, free enterprise, we’re not going in the right direction.”
Sweeney said that an unregulated company like Uber competing against heavily regulated local taxi companies was not a representation of the free market.
“My concern is just the opposite,” Sweeney said. “Our cab companies are regulated, Uber is not going to be.”
Huckabay wants report on police
Aimee Kidd, who has spoken to the council several times since September to criticize the Casper Police Department’s response to her report of being raped last year, spoke again on Tuesday.
Kidd criticized Humphrey and called on the new council to offer more than “lip service” in response to what she and several other women have described as an inadequate police response to sexual assault and domestic violence.
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She said Humphrey had played a part in “continuing to oppress” the women who have spoken out at council.
“My prayer is that your work here will be truly done with a servant’s heart,” Kidd told council.
Huckabay, who campaigned in part on the promise to address issues facing women in Casper, said she wanted the city to conduct a study on how patrol officers and detectives spend their time.
“It is my understanding from the sheer number of victims that have contacted me that we have a problem in our police department,” Huckabay said.
Walsh, who served as police chief immediately prior to current chief Jim Wetzel, asked City Attorney Bill Luben whether the council could hold a closed executive session to discuss the specific details of Kidd’s case.
Luben said he did not believe that executive session could be used for that purpose.
Humility to close
But despite their assertiveness on various contentious issues, new members of council also acknowledged that they were in for a steep learning curve.
“I have a lot to learn,” Huckabay said, adding that she would rely on returning councilmen to help her learn about council procedure and some issues facing the city.
Murphy echoed Huckabay’s thoughts, and all four of the new council members thanked voters in their wards and pledged to serve the city well. New councilman Jesse Morgan said he planned to donate most of his council salary to local nonprofits.
Councilman Ray Pacheco, who was unanimously elected vice mayor Tuesday, said he had learned a lot in his last two years on council and that despite its occasional messiness he was looking forward to seeing what the new council achieves.
“It’s the great adage of making sausage,” Pacheco said. “It’s not very pretty putting it in but it tastes good.”