From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 16 - April 17, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Town Park expansion headed for ballot

by Alecia Warren

Agreeing that town residents ought to have fair and equal input in a decision that could cost the taxpayers $2 million, the Pinedale Town Council voted on Monday to include the possible Town Park acquisition on the May 6 election ballot.

“I think we’ve had way too many executive sessions on this,” said council member Gary Heuck about the acquisition. “We need to let the public know what’s going on, especially with this amount of money at stake.”

The town has deliberated for nearly a year over whether to purchase the 18 acres of wetlands south of Boyd Skinner Memorial Park, or the Town Park. Locals cherish the area as precious open space, and the landowner James Bowles has already discussed plans to develop the property soon if the town doesn’t make a solid offer.

The purchase could cost from $1.75 million to $2 million, and thus far locals’ only opportunity for input was in a questionnaire allotted with individual water bills in January.

Heuck insisted the wording of the questionnaire was slanted, encouraging people to agree that the town should purchase the land. And not everyone in town had a fair chance to even answer the questionnaire, he added.

“My daughter lives in an apartment complex across from the high school, and she never gets a water bill because that’s included in her rent,” Heuck said. Up to 24 registered voters live in that complex, he said, and many other renting voters have the same situation across town.

The best remedy would be adding the issue to the ballot for the upcoming Town Council elections, he said. “I wish it to say, ‘do you wish the Town of Pinedale to buy another town park for $1.75 to $2 million of tax dollars, yes or no?’” he said.

Council member Dave Hohl was hesitant to vote on adding the issue to the ballot without all Town Council members present.

Council member Chris House had been excused from the meeting.

“A few weeks ago when you were gone, we purposely withheld voting on issues because you were gone,” Hohl said to Heuck. “We should do the same for Chris.”

Heuck preferred to vote immediately, to ensure enough time for printers to include the question on the ballot.

“If you’re afraid of what the results will be, Dave, just say so,” he said.

Council member Nylla Kunard agreed the vote should take place immediately, and the council voted unanimously to include the acquisition in the election.

As the council has done in the past, the issue will be added to the election ballot through a non-binding referendum.

Registered voters can vote for two open council seats and the park acquisition on May 6 at the Town Hall.

In other Town Council news:

— Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission defended themselves against Town Council accusations that the commission might have violated state statute by holding an executive session at one of its meetings.

The commission had held an executive session earlier this year, which some commission members have admitted involved discussing a possible conflict of interest with Town Attorney Ed Wood representing the town during the annexation of the BloomField subdivision. Wood had defended the subdivision developer’s family in cases years before.

But the Planning and Zoning Commission is only allowed to hold executive sessions to discuss specific matters, according to state statute, and to hold one for any other purpose would be illegal.

Thus the Town Council requested last month that Commission Chairman Paul Rock provide the minutes from the executive session so the council could review what was discussed and confirm the meeting's legality. Rock refused, arguing that Wyoming’s open meeting law protects executive session minutes as confidential among those present at the meeting.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission then received a letter early this month from Jackson attorney Glenn Meyers, representing the Town Council.

The letter advised the commission to turn over the executive session minutes, because if members had knowingly held an executive session not permitted by state statute, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor and punishable upon conviction by a fine of $750.

Commission member John Fogerty said the letter was ridiculous.

“I think it's kind of silly to send a threatening letter to a group of people who are volunteering their time to the town,” Fogerty said during the Citizens Concerns portion of Monday’s meeting. “I’m no lawyer, but I can’t find anything that says what we did was wrong. Whether or not what we discussed is something very unpopular is another question.”

Mayor Stephen Smith replied that he had only asked Rock for the minutes because state statue defines “very specifically” why the commission can hold executive sessions. He listed examples like personnel, property acquisition or national security.

“I was asking for those minutes out of a sense responsibility to the town because of possible litigation,” Smith said, adding that liability for the commission’s activities would fall upon the Town Council as the body that appointed the commission. “My concern was to protect the town, not to nose into the planning and zoning board’s members.”

Fogerty argued that because the statute allows the commission to discuss personnel in executive session, the consideration of Ed Wood’s status was legal.

“(The statute) doesn’t say the personnel has to be under our employ,” he pointed out. He added that the commission didn’t knowingly violate the statue and thus can’t be subject to a fine.

Commission member Roz Leslie said she supported the town.

“I feel as the Planning and Zoning Board was appointed by the previous mayor and Town Council, whatever information we garner should be given to the Town Council and the mayor, as we are appointees of the town,” Leslie said.

Smith concluded that he is now allowing Glenn Meyers to further investigate the issue.

“For now, I’m respecting Rock’s decision not to present the minutes,” he said after the meeting.

— The Town Council voted to table the preliminary plat of blocks 1-17 of the BloomField subdivision until developer Matt Harber provides more information about putting bonds or other forms of security in place prior to property sales.

Heuck also told Harber that locals are concerned with the proposed agreement that the town will run a water line through BloomField in exchange for commercial land.

Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for an individual landowner’s infrastructure, Heuck said, and he proposed that Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie reroute the water main so it runs around the subdivision’s perimeter. Harber pointed out that he had suggested the deal so the town could use his property to obtain a grant for its water rehabilitation project.

“We’re not looking for anything for free,” Harber said, adding that the subdivision would give the town land of equal value to the benefits that BloomField received. “As for your idea (to reroute the line), in all honesty, it would be much better for us, because we wouldn’t have to give up anything.”

Rock pointed out that details of the agreement were too vague, anyway, and suggested putting the agreement into document form. Town Engineer Eugene Ninnie agreed to provide Wood with the necessary information to do so.

— The council approved a building permit for a three-story Hampton Inn and Suitesjust West of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility.

— The council approved the replat of a portion of Lot 4, amended Block 2 of the Pinedale Estates Addition, as well as the preliminary and final plat for a multi-family unit on the same location. Landowner Bill Kellen intends to use the unit to house employees for the Lodge of Pinedale.

— The council approved a commercial building permit for Reed’s Construction’s new batch plant at 150 N. Coulter Ave.

— The council approved the final plat of the Harvest Dance Addition.

— The council approved the third reading of Ordinance 437, establishing a time frame for filing a building permit application.

— The council approved the third reading of Ordinance 438, establishing a time frame for filing development plans for multi-family structures.

The next Town Council meeting is on April 28.

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