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Carter Napier

Casper’s new city manager Carter Napier was more assertive in his first official City Council meeting than his predecessor, V.H. McDonald, had typically been.

Where his predecessor was criticized for pushing an agenda, Casper City Manager V.H. McDonald was a budget expert who rarely tried to influence City Council during public meetings. He dutifully read the “city manager’s report,” which precedes certain Council votes, often from a script.

Then he abruptly retired in April. Gillette city administrator Carter Napier took over in late June and has already signaled a shift in style.

When the land swap related to the historic fire station in downtown Casper came up at his first official Council meeting last Wednesday, Napier made his city manager’s report with gusto.

“I thought we could look at the exhibit and talk through it a little bit ... in the hopes of getting your support for the resolution that would make this trade happen,” Napier said.

The trade had been in the works since before Napier took office, and it was likely to easily pass regardless. But for Napier to openly state that he was seeking to win over Council members could bring him into fraught territory.

John Patterson, who served as city manager prior to McDonald, was widely seen as promoting his own goals.

On one hand, that meant seeing through the completion of major public projects that City Council might have otherwise dithered on. In a court deposition, a former member of the Casper Police Department command staff credited Patterson’s leadership style with the passage of the $2.3 million car-per-officer program that purchased many more police vehicles.

But critics say Patterson overstepped the bounds of his role by framing issues in a way that would lead to his desired outcome. Those accusations came out most notably in a lawsuit filed by former councilman Craig Hedquist, who claimed Patterson illegally sabotaged his political career. A judge dismissed that suit in the spring, and Hedquist is appealing.

McDonald was an experienced administrator and respected in the community. But he was not, nor did he seek to be, overly charismatic. In contrast, Patterson was eager to publicly promote his goals.

Napier has been described as a “people person” and is quick with a smile, handshake and friendly comment.

Council members spoke so favorably about him in the weeks preceding his arrival that veteran councilman Charlie Powell felt compelled to remind his colleagues that Napier would not arrive on a white horse, nor with the ability to print money.

When I asked about the welcome dinner for Napier being hosted at FireRock Steakhouse, Mayor Kenyne Humphrey said both Patterson and his predecessor Tom Forslund hosted weekly meetings with Council leadership at restaurants around town. That practice ended under McDonald.

Now, all of these are relatively superficial parallels between Napier and Patterson. But just weeks into his term, they also represent a striking departure from McDonald’s style. How the Council, and city political watchers, take to the new sheriff — er, city manager — in town over the coming months will be something to watch.

***

At the end of last week’s Council meeting, Humphrey asked Interim Police Chief Steve Schulz to join her and Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay to discuss future community programming regarding sexual assault.

“We’ll be brief I promise,” Humphrey said from the dais. “Well, we are women — we’ll do our best.”

Huckabay did not look amused.

***

Huckabay said earlier in the meeting that she wanted the city to organize a victim’s panel to follow the two panels held already this year where representatives from local law enforcement and nonprofit groups discussed how sexual assault cases are handled.

“Victims are hoping there can be a panel of their experiences,” she said.

***

Councilman Jesse Morgan said he’d like to the see the city put on a workshop for small businesses in the area to learn how to bid on municipal contracts. Public works contracts can be major revenue sources for private companies and Morgan said he wants to make sure smaller enterprises aren’t missing out.

Morgan has advocated for looking into privatizing various city services as a way to save money, and said informing local companies how to bid on public contracts could aid this goal.

“There’s not a lot of companies out there that are already snowplowing at this moment,” he said.

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