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Capitol Building Reopens

Crowds gather at the refurbished Capitol building in Cheyenne on July 10, Wyoming Statehood Day. The building was originally constructed between 1886 and 1890.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Thursday that he would be ending a legal proceeding he initiated as state treasurer in 2016 over that office’s authority to approve contracts related to the state capitol building construction project.

Gordon’s suit challenged the 2014 legislation that created the Capitol Building Rehabilitation and Restoration Oversight Group — the entity responsible for overseeing the $300 million venture — claiming the legislation violated the state’s constitution by not giving the treasurer authority to approve the contracts related to the project.

The section of the state constitution at play in that case, Article 3, Section 31, requires the state government to contract for a number of services, including “repairing and furnishing the halls and rooms used for the meeting of the legislature.” That same section also says “all such contracts shall be subject to the approval of the governor and state treasurer.”

Gordon claimed the state violated that section of the constitution along with a second part: Article 2, Section 1, which establishes a clear separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.

The state argued the legislation creating the oversight group did not expressly prohibit the treasurer’s ability to approve such contracts, and so was not in violation of the constitution.

Still, in 2017, after Gordon filed his initial suit, the Legislature amended the language of the bill to include the treasurer in the oversight group.

Soon after, a district court judge ruled against Gordon, writing that he had failed to prove the type of construction being done on the capitol building was what the framers of the state constitution had in mind when they wrote it.

Gordon appealed that decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in a 4-1 decision in Gordon’s favor, and sent the case back to the district court for reevaluation.

The Supreme Court’s decision acknowledged the magnitude of the capitol project. It also acknowledged that adding an additional layer of oversight by requiring the treasurer’s approval of relevant contracts would be “unheard of” if a similarly-sized project were being handled privately.

Despite those considerations, the court invoked former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger in siding with Gordon:

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“The choices we discern as having been made in the Constitutional Convention impose burdens on governmental processes that often seem clumsy, inefficient, even unworkable, but those hard choices were consciously made by men who had lived under a form of government that permitted arbitrary governmental acts to go unchecked,” the Wyoming Supreme Court majority decision read, quoting a decision Burger wrote in 1983. (That opinion struck down legislative vetoes.)

Gordon was positive about the Supreme Court decision, saying at the time the decision gave clear direction on “the role and authority” of the treasurer’s office. He also said at the time the purpose of the suit was not to impede progress on the capitol building, but rather “to clarify the role of the treasurer in the process of contracting on behalf of the state.”

The case was remanded to the lower court in March of last year. When Gordon became Governor in January, he became the defendant in the case. In May, it was amended to Meier v State instead of Gordon v State.

Now more than a year later, Gordon and current state treasurer Curtis E. Meier Jr. have agreed to settle.

In a press release issued Thursday, the governor thanked Meier for his work on the suit. Meier was also quoted in that release, supporting Gordon’s initial 2016 claim.

“I believe our Constitution clearly states who should approve these types of contracts, and the agreement reaffirms this belief,” Meier said in the release.

The settlement agreement solidifies the treasurer’s role in approving such contracts, as well as clarifies the process for deciding which contracts the treasurer is required to approve under the constitutional provision at play in the case. The agreement also lays out a procedure for approving those contracts.

Jeff Robertson, a spokesman for the state treasurer, said both parties — Meier and Gordon — have been working to resolve the suit. Robertson said he did not know why, after being sent back to district court more than a year ago, the two parties decided to settle the suit now, but that the treasurer was glad to have a resolution.

“(Meier)’s happy this has come to a conclusion,” Robertson said.

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Follow city reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites.

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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