The code of ethics for public servants in Casper, which regulates how officials and employees behave as representatives of the city, will likely be repealed and replaced in the coming months to improve its clarity.
The current code is problematic because of its ambiguous wording, according to City Attorney John Henley, who reviewed it after some council members expressed a similar concern.
“There was a lot of language that I don’t think would be upheld in a court… It seems to me that it would just be impossible to actually make a case that [public servants] had violated these,” he said during the Casper City Council’s special work session last week.
Henley explained that the code uses general terms, such as stating that public servants should avoid a “conflict of interest” or becoming a “source of embarrassment to the city.” Both of these broad statements could be interpreted in various ways.
The attorney advised replacing it with a new ordinance that provides clearer definitions and closely follows the Wyoming Statue addressing government ethics.
Given that there was still an empty seat on the Council, the group decided to wait until they had nine members again to discuss creating and establishing a new ordinance.
Retired Natrona County judge Michael Huber was selected last week to represent Ward 1 and was sworn in on Tuesday. He replaces former Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay, who unexpectedly resigned earlier this month due to personal and professional reasons.
But the council did agree Wednesday that the current ordinance should be repealed.
The new measure should allow the Council to issue private or public reprimands to council members who act improperly, said Councilman Jesse Morgan.
Vice Mayor Charlie Powell noted that the Council does need some rules to govern public officials’ behavior.
“The standard that someone must be convicted of a felony is an impossibly high standard,” he said. “There is behavior, and you’d have to be in the middle of it to understand it, but there is the behavior that calls for removal.”
The Council has previously struggled with what some members considered ethical or behavioral problems.
In August, Morgan asked the Council to issue a formal reprimand to Huckabay for what he described as inappropriate behavior.
During a Council work session, Huckabay lashed out at Morgan when he stated he had heard from law enforcement officials that bar patrons in Casper tend to become overly intoxicated.
Morgan had learned this information while attending a community panel on sexual assault, which led Huckabay to conclude he was implying that alcohol consumption leads to assault. The councilman fiercely denied this assumption, but the feud escalated after Huckabay posted about the incident on social media.
“It’s blown up online saying I support rape,” Morgan previously told the Star Tribune. “I can’t even try to make sense of it in my head because it doesn’t compute.”
Morgan asked that the councilwoman receive a formal reprimand but withdrew that request after she publicly stated that she regretted how she handled the situation. She explained at a meeting that she struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder because she has experienced an assault.
Huckabay abruptly resigned earlier this month, stating that she’s moving to Utah due to “unforeseen circumstances” with her previous employer and personal family matters. A past brush with the law came to light in the days following her resignation.
Huckabay pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge involving her mother in 2012 before she served on Council. Court documents filed at the time alleged that Huckabay pushed, slapped and punched the victim, who was hospitalized for injuries that included bleeding from the head and a swollen eye.
Huckabay told the Star-Tribune that she deeply regretted the incident, and explained that she snapped during an altercation with her late mother because of her PTSD.
After learning about the incident, Morgan told the Star-Tribune that council members might want to discuss how to handle these types of situations going forward.
“For any future candidates, it would be nice to know if they have any sort of criminal background,” he said.
There were also multiple allegations of misconduct against another former councilman. Craig Hedquist resigned in 2015 and was the subject of two city-launched investigations.
One claimed he committed workplace violence when he used “fighting words” during an argument with then-city engineer Andrew Beamer. The other declared there was “clear and convincing” evidence he violated city and state conflict-of-interest laws in his dual roles as councilman and owner of Hedquist Construction, a frequent contractor for the city.
Hedquist denied those allegations and filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that City Council, Beamer and then-city manager John Patterson plotted together to remove him from office and keep his business from participating in city projects.
A judge dismissed his lawsuit last year, citing a lack of supporting evidence. Hedquist is currently appealing this decision.