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Property Maintenance

A peeling fence seen in central Casper on Tuesday. The City Council voted down a proposed property maintenance code, which would have required people to maintain the exterior of their homes and prohibit things like peeling paint and fences with cracked boards.

Repairing a leaning fence and fixing peeling paint aren’t top priorities when a family member is sick, explained Beth McConigly.

That’s why the Casper resident — whose mother is battling lung cancer — said she was relieved when the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted down the International Property Maintenance Code.

The proposed ordinance would have allowed city employees to enter private property to conduct inspections. It would also have required the upkeep of exterior walls, windows and fences, prohibited peeling paint and allowed for anyone not in compliance to be charged with a misdemeanor or civil action.

“I’m so glad it failed,” said McConigly, explaining that her family’s time and money need to be devoted to her mother’s care.

Other Casper residents clearly agreed: The City Council’s Tuesday meeting was packed with citizens who passionately objected to the code’s regulations.

Prior to taking comments from the crowd, Mayor Ray Pacheco said that the Council had already concluded that parts of the code were unrealistic and that the ordinance should not move forward.

“The community’s voice was heard,” he said, explaining that many residents contacted the Council with concerns.

Council members Chris Walsh and Kenyne Humphrey said city officials initially thought the ordinance would protect residents. Walsh explained that some landlords keep their properties in decrepit condition.

Residents respond

But even after being assured the ordinance would fail, more than 20 residents still spoke out at the meeting. They criticized the Council for considering a measure that many viewed as unconstitutional. The ordinance, which required three rounds of voting to take effect, passed its first vote on at a June 19 meeting by a vote of 5 to 4.

“I wasn’t aware Casper was in the HOA business,” said Lisa Engebretsen, who added that she would have moved to a neighborhood with a homeowners association if she wanted to be told how to manage her property.

Chris Neubauer said it was “insane” to think any low-income citizen could afford to follow all of the code’s requirements.

Explaining that about 40 percent of Casper’s students receive reduced or free lunches, Woody Giles also questioned how all residents could be expected to keep their home in tip-top shape.

“The least of those families’ problems is peeled paint,” Giles said.

Multiple residents told the Star-Tribune they were unable to find a full copy of the code prior to its first vote. One of those was Brenda Mannina-Mongold, who said she was alarmed that the Council voted on the measure prior to sharing the full code with citizens.

“I know as a citizen that none of us had a copy, we didn’t have a link to go to, we didn’t have a paper copy,” she said. “You guys passed on first reading something that none of us could even read — how is that legal?”

Mannina-Mongold said it was also concerning that all council members did not read the full code prior to voting on the ordinance.

Gene Daly, a veteran, told the Council that he volunteered to fight to the death to defend freedom and was sickened by any law that would take away citizen’s rights.

Another veteran, Dave Nania, told the Star-Tribune that he was also appalled that city leaders were considering violating personal rights.

“For the City Council to say that they can go in with code enforcement and make people do [repairs] and charge them if they don’t — that’s just theft. It’s a loss of freedom and its theft,” he said.

Jane Ifland advised the Council to write a new ordinance that would only target properties that an owner rents out for income. This could help city officials punish irresponsible landlords while not harming regular citizens.

‘Government overreach’

Multiple speakers thanked Councilman Jesse Morgan, who posted his concerns about the ordinance to social media and alerted many constituents about the issue.

Morgan, who previously stated that the code was “almost the definition of government overreach,” read a letter he received from a Cheyenne resident who was struggling to comply with the code requirements in his city and cautioned the Council against enacting the same rules.

The Council ultimately voted down the ordinance, though Councilman Mike Huber suggested tabling it instead and allowing city staff to make revisions. His suggestion received boos and protests from the crowd.

Although Pacheco said he could not speak on behalf of other the council members, he told the Star-Tribune after the meeting that he did read the code prior to its first vote. However, the mayor acknowledged that council members do not always research issues as thoroughly as they should prior to work sessions or meetings.

“We could all do a better job,” he said.

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Katie King covers the city of Casper.

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Local Government Reporter

Katie King joined the Star-Tribune in 2017 and primarily covers issues related to local government. She previously worked as a crime reporter in the British Virgin Islands. Originally from Virginia, Katie is a graduate of James Madison University.

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