The Laramie City Council had the chance to talk to the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities during a work session Tuesday about the benefits of WAM — and some member’s concerns with the organization.
After new Executive Director David Fraser gave an overview of the state organization, Mayor Joe Shumway asked how a group like WAM can juggle following thousands of potential bills in the Wyoming Legislature and the interests of all 99 of its members.
“What is it that you provide for the larger cities in Wyoming that we cannot do for ourselves?” Shumway asked.
In his answer, Fraser said it’s a balancing act and there are “strength in numbers.” Using an analogy from when he coached high school basketball, he explained the cities must work together to try “come to a consensus on the issues.”
“Sometimes that frankly means that a member or two doesn’t necessarily see (an issue) the same way, but because we’re a team they understand that maybe they’re setting the pick on this play, they’re not taking the shot,” Fraser said. “They can be okay with that because they know that down the road somebody else is going to be setting the pick for them.”
When he first started as the executive director of the Nevada League of Cities, Fraser said five of the larger cities “had one foot out the door” of the league, hiring their own lobbyist. The lobbyist didn’t last long, and the cities recommitted to the league two years later.
A rule he tried with success in Nevada, he said during the work session, is to advocate for measures and bills supported by the majority of cities “unless it would harm the minority.”
Shumway said he thought of doing no harm to an individual city is an important idea, and one he appreciated.
Councilwoman Erin O’Doherty said one concern she’s heard from members of council is when WAM leaders say a bill is a priority, only to fail to put in the effort to testify for or against the bill once it’s being considered.
The organization has been great at playing defense for bills, Fraser said, but looking forward he also wants its offense focusing on lobbying for 3-5 bills each session.
Councilwoman Jayne Pearce, who has voiced her doubts about WAM in the past, told Fraser she probably would’ve been one of those Nevada cities wanting to separate from the league. She said she hasn’t been happy with WAM “because of a variety of issues, but mostly feeling as though the work wasn’t getting done for what we were putting into it.”
“I will reserve my judgement going forward, but just know that we’re watching,” Pearce said.
Beyond the conversation about balancing the different needs and legislative concerns of its members, Councilman Brian Harrington asked what WAM was doing to help improve its diversity within the organization and its various member committees.
“There’s a bit of a generational gap in WAM that is apparent if you go to anything in WAM; as a new attendee of WAM, I noticed it immediately,” said Harrington, who has served as the council’s delegate for the organization’s most recent winter and summer conferences. “I’m curious if WAM has any sort of processes in mind or in place now that would help bring newer leaders, younger leaders into WAM?”
Fraser said while the organization doesn’t have a plan yet in place, he appreciated the concern and said it’s something they should “take a closer look at.”
Laramie is hosting WAM’s Summer Conference in 2020, and council members on the committee as well as city staff are beginning early preparations.