Editor’s note: The League of Women Voters hosted leading candidate forums for political races in Albany County in late September. The forums for Laramie City Council candidates took place on Sept. 23 virtually and were not open to the public. These forums were posted on the LWV YouTube page: youtube.com/user/WYLWV about two weeks ago. The following story covers Wards 1 and 2, and a story about Ward 3 will be in Friday’s paper.
With the general election just a couple of weeks away, the Laramie City Council candidates are preparing for votes to be cast and the determination of who will govern the city for the next couple of years.
Last month, seven of the nine candidates faced off in a forum held via Zoom and hosted by the League of Women Voters. Two candidates from Ward 1 will be seated on council. One candidate from Wards 2 and 3 will be seated following November’s election.
Ward 2 candidates Sharon Cumbie and Tim Hale were not in attendance at the forum, but LWV member Nancy Lockwood read statements from them both.
The candidates all began the forum discussing why they were running for the council (or re-running, as in the case of Ward 1 councilman Brian Harrington).
The Ward 1 and 2 candidates began the night discussing Laramie’s three biggest strengths.
Ward 2 candidate and incumbent Jayne Pearce started off by saying she felt the city had great resources, citing the University of Wyoming as an example, the incredible spirit of giving in the community and its wonderful drive of entrepreneurship.
Next, Ward 1 candidate Brett Glass, felt Laramie’s biggest strengths were its people, its clean air and recreational opportunities and its location in the region.
Following him was another Ward 1 candidate, Andrea “Andi” Summerville.
“People power is our number one strength and that’s such an all-encompassing topic,” Summerville said, echoing Glass’ sentiments. “The second would be our community resources, absolutely. The third would be our drive for innovation.”
Ward 2 candidate Mark Andrews (who made it through the primary election with a write-in campaign) agreed with his fellow candidates on Laramie’s strengths, but added that he felt the city could bring more industries to help with revenue and potential businesses.
Next was Ward 1 candidate Kaleb Heien, who believed Laramie’s biggest strengths included its low taxes, the location and the “great” people of the city.
Finally, Ward 1 candidate and incumbent Harrington closed out the first round with his three strengths, which featured the Thrive Laramie plan, a comprehensive economic development plan introduced earlier this year, the abundance of outdoor activities and the vibrant and strong sense of community he sees in the city.
Biggest issues in Laramie
Glass did not mince words during the second round of the forum, saying one of the city’s most pressing issues was less revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, along with a city council that wastes money.
“During the last term, the city council has approved many expenditures that haven’t gone out for bid as they should and city staff apparently finds it inconvenient to put things out for bid,” he said. “This is costing our city money and we need to change it.”
Summerville felt one of the most looming issues was the pandemic and the community’s response to it.
Andrews agreed with Summerville, saying the pandemic was going to be a major situation to deal with, no matter who was elected to the council for the next term. He also noted he’d been trying to talk with businesses to find ways to make the city more friendly to any companies eyeing Laramie for expansion or as a good spot for headquarters.
Heien felt that the city needed to make business and budgets its first priorities.
Harington also felt the pandemic was going to be a major hurdle for the council, elaborating that he was concerned about the community’s recovery, both socially and economically.
Pearce ended the round by reiterating what many of her candidates already said: the biggest issues for the city were its budget, its economic recovery from the pandemic and public safety.
The next round of the forum dealt with whether the candidates would support a citywide mask mandate, which would include requiring students to wear masks at all times while in school.
Summerville said it would depend on the situation whether she would support that type of mandate. However, she said that if public health experts recommended that type of mandate, she would support it.
Andrews said he would not support a mandate that required people to wear masks outside, but would absolutely support one requiring residents to wear a mask indoors, if health officials recommended it.
Heien was firm in his decision to not support a mandate.
“There is no reason for [a mandate],” he said. “This has been brought way out of proportion and there’s new research showing this isn’t as big as they made it out to be.”
Harrington said he would support a mandate, saying it was the “right thing to do.”
Glass agreed with the Ward 1 incumbent, saying that the virus was no less deadly now than it was in April.
Punishments for not following health mandates
The next topic revolved around the council’s input regarding punishments for those who do not follow coronavirus-related mandates set by the county health department.
Andrews felt torn on the matter, not even sure if it was the council’s place to make any sort of rules regarding punishment.
“To me, if a business has a sign on the door, I’m going to respect that as I would while walking into someone’s home and they told me to take my shoes off,” he said.
Heien had similar thoughts, saying he felt the state should handle health mandates and regulations.
Harrington said that this is a conversation being had at the city right now as staff see violations tick up. However, he said the city cannot do much when it comes to penalizing anyone who violates the mandates, saying it is up to the county and state health officials.
Pearce praised Harrington’s remarks, saying she would have said the exact same thing.
Glass pointed to Jackson as an example of a Wyoming city with a mask mandate, saying it is leading the way in improving its coronavirus numbers.
Stemming from what Harrington said, Summerville said this was an instance where people thought the city had more power than it does.
Other topics covered during the forum included economic recovery and whether the city should have an elected mayor or a city manager model for governing.