A fair portion of the Casper City Council’s 2.5-hour work session Tuesday hinged on the question of transparency and perception.
Council member Krystyn Lutz said at one point that it felt like Casper might have a perception problem, referring to confusion and frustration with the controversy surrounding the city’s food trucks.
In a later interview with the Star-Tribune, she said, “The perception is the city doesn’t want food trucks here.”
And that’s not true, she said.
But the perception is what matters. It matters so much that a number of Casper’s former mobile food vendors have actually left the city for locales they believe are friendlier to their businesses.
Confusion over how the city feels about food trucks was not the only miscommunication discussed. The other issue that took up a pretty sizable chunk of Tuesday’s meeting was an apparent misunderstanding with motorcyclists who felt the city wanted to ban their wearing of “colors,” or patches, during their annual motorcycle awareness month parade earlier this month.
On May 1, the Casper Police Department issued a statement saying patches had not been banned, only that the department had requested bikers not wear them. The statement was in response to significant backlash on social media from those who felt the department was enforcing a ban on the patches. Several people spoke at the Council’s May 7 meeting, voicing frustrations over the request, which led Casper Mayor Charlie Powell to ask for a debrief on the situation from Police Chief Keith McPheeters during the work session Tuesday.
Given that I’ve only been in Casper a few weeks, I can’t say whether communication between local officials and residents is a consistent problem. I can say it seems like it has been recently.
In response to the food truck concerns, Lutz said she wants people to reach out to her and tell her what they want the city to do.
As for the communication questions, she said everybody on the Council has contact information listed online, and the public should feel welcome to reach out. She did concede that communication can be a difficult hurdle, saying that everyone uses different means.
She said one solution is to attend work sessions and Council meetings, which are open to the public. Those unable to attend those meetings should contact their council member and have them raise the issue in their place. The meetings are also available to watch on YouTube.
But there’s also something to be said about local officials meeting people where they are. Residents should engage with their representatives, and attending public meetings is a great way to do that, but elected officials should also be engaging with their constituents as well.
Lutz said one way she’s done this regarding the food truck issue is by putting out a call on her Facebook page to ask for feedback.
Having elected officials who are involved in communicating what is happening in city hall is just as important as having residents engaged with those officials. Moving forward, I imagine more local officials will want to step in front of some of these miscommunications to avoid some of the perceptions problems Lutz referenced during Tuesday’s meeting.