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Two years ago, the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce and the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau commissioned a $50,000 study and paid for it using optional one-cent sales tax dollars.

At a city council work session last month, Lyle Murtha, from Stateline No. 7 Architects, Aaron McCreight with the visitors bureau and Lori Becker with the chamber made a brief presentation on the results of the study.

After council members had a few minutes to glance at the contents of an inch-thick binder, Mayor Kenyne Schlager directed council members to return the studies back to the three officials.

City officials, McCreight and Becker all say they don't have copies of the study. Stateline No. 7 Architects referred calls back to Becker, who said the copies presented to the council may have been destroyed.

Becker said she couldn't release the documents because they held information about potential site locations for the chamber's proposed new building and couldn't say if she would be able to release redacted copies.

It's not an uncommon practice. Three times over the past two months, various government officials have denied similar requests for release of information because they say it would compromise their efforts to obtain land or attract businesses in the Casper area.

They justify the secrecy - marked by closed-door executive session meetings or discussions with city officials outside of open meetings - by saying it's essential to keep a lid on information that might make land prices skyrocket.

"Since we're supposed to be good stewards of tax money, I feel like it's our job to make sure the city gets the best deal they can for a piece of property, and that's why numbers aren't discussed in the open," Mayor Schlager said. "If the city wants to buy something, people assume we have tons of money … it's our job to not let that happen. We need to pay an appropriate and fair price."

Both the state's open meetings and the open records laws carve out exceptions that allow government officials to keep information secret, including when officials meet to discuss "the selection of a site or the purchase of real estate when the publicity regarding the consideration would cause a likelihood of an increase in price."

Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, said the discussion of land acquisition is one of the three most common exemptions governments cite when denying access to records.

For a city that's aggressive in pursuing development - there are at least five government-run or -sponsored development agencies attempting to lure business to the greater Casper area - there's not a lot of public information available until discussions at the city staff level have been complete.

One possibility is that records concerning such matters could be released with the sensitive information redacted, Angell said.

"The Wyoming Supreme Court's finding … says that when you have a document that contains sensitive information you can redact that information and turn loose the rest of the documentation," Angell said. "It's been done more times than you can think."

You can reach city reporter Pete Nickeas at pete.nickeas@trib.com or (307) 266-0639. You can read more about Casper politics and government at http://tribtown.trib.com/redtape.

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