The Laramie City Council interviewed five candidates for a council vacancy Wednesday during a City Council special meeting.
To fill a seat left open when former Councilor Vicki Henry resigned in October, the council posed several questions to a panel of applicants from Ward 1.
State statute requires the council to fill vacancies by appointment, and if appointed officials would like to continue serving passed the next election, they must be elected by the people.
After interviewing the candidates, the council is scheduled to appoint a candidate by a majority vote Tuesday at the regular council meeting. If no candidate receives a majority vote, the city will advertise for the position again and the council will repeat the process.
Rebecca Buss said she moved to Laramie with her husband 22 years ago, so he could attend UW. They didn’t intend to stay more than two years, but she said they fell in love with the community. Buss said she is a support specialist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was involved with the Parent Teacher Organization when her children were younger.
“Laramie has provided many wonderful opportunities for my family,” she said. “Being on City Council isn’t something I had ever really considered doing. But when the opening came, I felt it was an opportunity to stretch myself and serve the community of Laramie. I believe that strong families create strong communities.”
Jennifer Drew was born and raised in Laramie. She graduated from Laramie High School, earned a degree at the University of Wyoming and traveled the world before settling down back in Laramie. As a bartender and server throughout several establishments in Laramie, she said she gained a community perspective about local government and decided to use Henry’s vacancy as a springboard to get involved in local government.
“I’ve tried to run away from Laramie so many times, and every time just how unique and interesting Laramie is drives me back,” Drew said.
“Since I’ve been traveling, I’ve gotten a very unique perspective of how other countries feel about the U.S. I love the U.S., but I’m not terribly excited about where it’s going. I came back to Laramie and Wyoming knowing I really wanted to change the home I care about.”
Casey Frome said he developed an interest in serving the public while attending law school at UW. He’s lived in Laramie for about 10 years and currently serves on the Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals. Frome is the sole practitioner at Frome Law Office and a managing member for All Things Repair, LLC. In addition to studying public administration, he also earned a degree in business administration at UW, where he is currently an adjunct professor.
“I feel like I have a unique perspective to provide council,” Frome said. “One reason I wanted to get into community service was something (former) Sen. Alan Simpson said. He was up here dedicating the Cheney Plaza, and there was a lot protests going on. He stopped his speech … and he said, ‘You know what? Anybody can be a complainer. It’s easy to second guess. But the hard work is done in the policy area.’”
Roxie Hensley is a lawyer, juvenile advocate and local bar owner. She said she moved to Laramie in 2002 and has owned a local business since 2001. While Hensley said she didn’t have any direct government experience, she has served on the Converse County Tourism Board, was a tri-state district representative for the junior chamber of commerce and was vice president for the Glenrock Chamber of Commerce.
“I am very familiar with parliamentary procedure and rules of conduct that provide guidelines for meetings such as what you conduct,” Hensley said. “I am somewhat of a fiscal hawk and believe it is an important trait in a city councilor. I would also like to see the city government develop a proactive relationship with the business community.”
Phoebe Stoner said she moved to Laramie from Jackson a year ago because Laramie offered her a sense of place she hadn’t felt elsewhere. Working as the Equality State Policy Center executive director, she said she’s gained an understanding of how Wyoming’s state and local governments operate. Since moving to Wyoming more than five years ago, Stoner said she’s taken increased interest in becoming involved with government at the city level.
“After college, I packed my very small car with everything I owned and moved to Wyoming,” she said. “As I started to settle into (Jackson), I began to understand my work and my personal life was linked to decisions being made by elected officials.
“I was really interested in that concept. Before I knew it, my hobbies consisted of watching town council meetings, writing letters to the editor and going to open houses for planned development.”
While the council asked the candidates several questions individually and as a panel, listed below are candidate responses to some of the questions asked of all the candidates.
Q: What do you feel are the two or three most critical issues facing Ward 1 and how might you approach them?
Buss: “The downtown is certainly important. But I also think West Laramie is really important and sometimes they get set aside and not paid attention to as much. Services out there — I was so grateful when they built the fire station out there. Paving the streets so it’s not just the dirt roads, but more part of our community and not left as the ugly step child.
I think we could come a long way in improving those two parts of our community.”
Drew: “I feel the liquor licensing for downtown businesses is a real struggle. I do feel there could be changes to those to improve downtown Laramie.
The other kind of one that I have is some zoning restrictions and stuff like that. I do have some friends that have tried to open businesses downtown, and just the licensing and the process and so many issues. And I do feel like it could be streamlined.”
Frome: “A top priority for me would fixing the infrastructure that needs fixed. I’ve talked with various contractors and so many times, they tell me about going to replace a water valve, and as soon as they do, the line breaks a little further down. So they have to continue fixing that line all the way down.
In order to fix those things, what I would try to do is divert resources that are going toward things I don’t feel are quite necessary such as a park expansion or a new building in a park, something that isn’t necessary for the livelihood for the people in Laramie.”
Hensley: “I believe the most crucial problem facing City Council at this time is infrastructure and the cost of city services to the residents, especially in West Laramie.
I also believe that if we could cultivate a pro-business attitude and encourage businesses to grow and expand and make their businesses better so people will stay in the community, rather than going out and spending their money in Cheyenne.”
Stoner: “Completing roadways and storm water drainage in West Laramie seems critical. Finding the money to pay for it seems challenging. The storm water system on north Third, Fourth and Fifth streets … is another infrastructure need.
I’m really interested in gateways. They give you an impression of what a place is like. (The west gateway) is slated in your budget for 2020, so I’m really interested in seeing that carried out.”
Q: What would you like to accomplish during the term of this appointment?
Buss: “I would love to learn the funds we have to prioritize to make our city the best it can be. I know there are tough decisions that have to be made. I would hope I could look back at the end of the term and say Laramie is a better place now.”
Drew: “For the next year I would like to learn and understand how all this works. I’m not sure I could get this accomplished in a year, but I would like to work toward creating a job force for my age group of people.”
Frome: “Generally, I would want to ask the questions. I would want to make the hard decisions. Specifically, I realize a year is not a long time to make big changes … I don’t have anything I specifically want to accomplish.”
Hensley: “I would like to be a strong advocate and a strong voice for the people of Laramie. I would set a goal to go out and meet everyone in this community within a year.”
Stoner: “The biennial budget we are on right now will be up June 30, so planning for a budget in the next biennium that takes into account a better revenue forecast that takes into account what projects need to be funded, and which can be put on the back burner. Another big thing on my mind is improving relations with the county.”