A Dispute In Three Acts; Cheatham’s Petition Focuses On Role Of Public Meetings Act
Wyoming has a Public Meetings Act and a Public Records Act.
A local citizen and her attorney say it's time for Act III in Natrona County District Court.
Debra Cheatham and Bruce Moats want the court to determine whether the Public Meetings Act required the Casper City Council to reveal its decision about a personnel matter involving her allegation that the city manager illegally used city resources.
"The Court's decision will resolve the dispute between the City and Plaintiff regarding whether a decision on her complaint needed to be made in public session, and will have an effect on the relations of the parties," Moats wrote in the petition filed Wednesday in the district court clerk's office.
The petition arose after City Manager John Patterson said last year that work on a retention pond at the Hogadon Ski Area did not cause silting in neighbors' retention ponds. Despite that denial, city crews cleaned one of the neighbor's ponds and paid another land owner $1,200 for him to clean his pond.
Cheatham said Patterson illegally used city resources for these remediations, and asked city council to investigate, according to the petition filed by Moats.
On May 5, council members Robin Mundell and Ray Pacheco said the council looked at the matter in executive session, made its decision, and that the matter was closed.
City Attorney William Luben told the council that the Wyoming Public Meetings Act, in conjunction with the Wyoming Public Records Act, authorized it to to act on Cheatham's complaint in executive session because it was about an internal personnel matter, Moats wrote.
But Luben was wrong, Moats wrote.
"The provisions of the Public Records Act cannot justify executive sessions held huring public meetings," he wrote. "Executive sessions are governed by the Public Meetings Act exclusively, not the Public Records Act."
Cheatham and Moats want the court to declare that the council illegally made a decision about her complaint in executive session, that the decision is null and void, and that the council must release the minutes of any executive session that dealt with this issue.
Even before the Moats and Cheatham filed the petition, the Casper City Council prepared for the the possibility of litigation.
On Tuesday, council held a special meeting during which it approved a resolution to retain attorney Judith Studer of the Casper firm of Schwartz, Bon, Walker & Studer to handle the case. Luben wrote in a memo to Patterson that his office would have a potential conflict of interest with this litigation.