Voters in Laramie’s largest City Council ward will have an option of familiar faces and new ones when casting their ballots in November.
All four candidates who filed for two four-year seats in Ward 1 will advance to the general election where those who receive the first and second-most votes will be seated on council.
Of those, one is incumbent Brian Harrington, who picked up an unexpired two-year term in 2018. Another is former mayor Andrea “Andi” Summerville, who that same year was ousted by Jessica Stalder in the latter’s first run for public office. On the newcomer side is Brett Glass, owner of Glass Rental Management and Lariat, a local internet service provider. The youngest face in the crowd is that of Kaleb Heien, a WyoTech representative.
Brett GlassBrett Glass wants to see change on the Laramie City Council.
When he looks at today’s council, Glass said he sees a board that “usually rubber stamps what city staff asks them to do.” If he’s elected to serve in Ward 1, he said he’d take the time to put a more scrutinizing eye on policy decisions.
“In the past I’ve felt that the City Council hasn’t always given enough attention to items that are on the agenda,” Glass said. “Sometimes things have gone on the consent agenda that really needed discussion. Other times the council only looked at what’s in their packets and not brought in third party expertise. I’d like to see that change. I think we need to be frugal, and careful and we need to have foresight. I don’t always see that being done now.”
Touting a diverse background of experience as an electrical engineer, business owner and more, Glass said he can bring a lot to the table. His experience constantly dealing with people makes Glass a good judge of character, he said, along with an innate curiosity that will drive him to learn more about issues.
“I think council members have a tendency to get burnt out and stop listening to the public,” Glass said. “It’s my goal to avoid that and continue to listen and continue to act on the public’s concerns rather than tuning them out, as some council members have done in the past.”
Glass said he’s not running on a single policy issue, but rather a broad initiative to bring more transparency and fairness in government. Along with that, he said he’d put his energy toward the maintenance and development of infrastructure, dealing with the university-city relationship, quality of life issues, parking, broadband availability, the city’s budget shortfalls and promoting retail diversity.
One area that does grab Glass’s attention, he said, is what he describes as “draconian restrictions on rental housing” supported by Summerville and Harrington. The policy toward rental housing that was put forward recently would drive good landlords out of the market, leaving only problematic ones, and add unnecessarily to the city’s bureaucracy, Glass said.
“What I propose instead is taking a market-based approach to the problem, make tenants more aware of their rights and their options, and because there’s a surplus of rentals in Laramie, a consumer can always find a better place or a better landlord,” he said.
The City Council on Tuesday hosted a work session on policing amid continued nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. In June, Laramie saw nearly daily demonstrations for almost two weeks.
Glass said he thinks ending police brutality and racism are worthy causes, and were it not for concerns about social distancing, probably would have attended marches. If elected to the City Council, Glass said he’d examine police reform discussions and “gladly pursue proposals that make sense.”
Looking back on his first term on Laramie City Council, Brian Harrington said there was forward progress that he can hang his hat on. Now he’s running for a second, longer term with a lot to get done on his mind.
Harrington secured a comfortable victory over fellow political newcomer Victor Bershinsky by more than 300 votes for an unexpired two-year term in Ward 1. As a young small business owner, Harrington drove enthusiasm among progressive-minded voters in 2018. He said he expects to apply the same philosophy of inclusion from his previous campaign to his reelection bid.
“When considering relelection, I wanted to continue delivering on campaign promises,” Harrington said. “As the pandemic hit and the unprecedented consequences of that not only on our economy but in the community, I wanted to make sure that recovery is going to have the same tenets from my first campaign of including everyone. As we recover, I want to make sure everyone comes along with us.”
In 2020, Harrington’s running on his record. While he sees a lot of accomplishments — Harrington points to many of the initiatives toward environmental stewardship in the last two years — he’s also considering revisiting other areas that didn’t go as he’d planned, including regulation of non-owner occupied rentals.
“The policy put forward was wrong and that became pretty clear pretty quickly,” he said. “I think if that ever were to come back, it would come back wildly different, with more metaphoric carrots than sticks that really benefit the good property owners and landlords.”
Given the need for economic recovery, however, Harrington said he’d prioritize areas such as right-sizing the city’s development code and affordable housing. Additionally, he said there’s work to be done with protection of the Casper Aquifer, city contracts going to local firms and the city’s 10-year economic diversification strategy.
“Putting that plan into action is going to be incredibly rewarding,” Harrington said. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
The city’s budget is also an area of concern for Harrington, but he said Laramie’s traditionally lean operation makes it acquainted with having less to work with. As with many officials in localities across Wyoming, Harrington said he’ll be watching for how federal funding associated with the pandemic can help Laramie with its shortfalls.
“I’m hoping we’ll weather the storm, but it’s going to depend on the state pass-through of federal funds,” he said.
Protests in Laramie against racism and police brutality have caught Harrington’s attention and even garnered his participation on occasion. While commending the Laramie Police Department’s initiatives in areas such as training, Harrington said he welcomes a conversation about how the city can do better. For example, he said he would explore how other kinds of specialists in the community could respond to calls now attended to by police.
“I know they spend a considerable amount of time doing welfare checks, which maybe could be done by a different type of officer,” Harrington said.
If there’s one reason Laramie native Kaleb Heien is running for City Council, it’s to see business get back on track.
The hurt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic left Heien feeling concerned about the way Laramie moves forward. Heien said he thinks he has the right character to see the city foster an environment friendly to businesses trying to recover.
“I have a slogan: ‘Leave it better than you found it,’” Heien said. “Everywhere I’ve ever gone I’ve left better than I found it.”
Taking after his father, Heien said he tried an entrepreneurial path at 13 with a detailing business. He’d go on to work in plumbing, ranching and the appliance business before taking a job representing WyoTech.
Seeing himself as the “common sense” candidate, Heien said his father also taught him how government can help business thrive — and also its demise.
“It’s a very fine balance where government can come in,” he said. “Yes, let the people grow, and there need to be some rules in place, but you need to make sure you’re not regulating businesses.”
Heien said he doesn’t have a laundry list of policy areas that led to his decision to seek a seat on council, but he did take issue in 2019 with a proposed resolution that called for city staff to investigate creating and implementing rental property standards in Laramie, including measures to potentially impose licensing requirements on rental owners and annual municipal inspections of rental properties. The resolution was defeated by a 5-4 vote.
“They were wanting to push more regulations that weren’t exactly needed,” Heien said. “I’m glad it turned out the way it did because we already had regulations. That would have been over-regulation.”
When it comes to discussions about Laramie’s police department, Heien said he thinks its foolish to take what happened to Minneapolis man George Floyd, who died at the hands of that city’s police in what now is being charged as a murder, and say that’s a reason for police reform locally. The protests in Laramie, he said, seem like people who are going along with a national wave without considering the reality of the local environment.
“I think the people in the police department and the sheriff’s (office) are some of the greatest people we have working for us,” Heien said. “You would never have thought people would be going against the police department, they do a fabulous job on everything, considering what they go through. Then when they have trouble, call up and say, ‘I need ya’ — It doesn’t make sense.”
Andrea “Andi” Summerville
Former Laramie mayor Andi Summerville said she wasn’t sure she’d run for a Laramie City Council seat in 2020. But on the last day for candidates to file, she said she was disappointed to only see three candidates running for two seats available in Ward 1.
“I couldn’t think of a time more important to have good leadership at the local level as we work through the pandemic crisis and the recovery phase, whenever that truly starts,” Summerville said.
Nothing policy-wise has jumped out at Summerville in her two-year absence from council that was problematic, she said. Instead she said she’d like to bring her experience back to the dais as the city navigates difficult times.
“I’ve enjoyed watching City Council progress on plans made in the last decade in terms of housing development and economic activity in the state,” Summerville said.
In that time, Summerville said she’s had the opportunity to work in-depth with community organizations — such as the Laramie Public Art Coalition, the Laramie Main Street Alliance and others — an opportunity she didn’t have while on council. All that taught her how important those organizations are to Laramie’s prosperity, Summerville said.
Another term on council would mostly be about trying to work through a recovery plan, balancing public health endeavors and economic recovery, Summerville said. It’s going to be a long and complex process to help the community get back on its feet after the fallout that’s already happened and could be ahead, but Summerville said that’s where the city needs to be putting its resources.
“There’s not a business that hasn’t been touched in some way, and business fuels everything the city can do for its citizens through sales tax collections,” she said. “So working with the business community and our local chamber and the (Wyoming) Business Council, the state — all those things are more important than they’ve ever been right now.”
The national conversation about racism and police violence has created an opportunity for Laramie to look at its law enforcement policies, she said.
“It’s never an easy conversation balancing law enforcement and what they do versus community needs,” Summerville said. “The city should be looking at policies in terms of how that works within the Laramie community, and I think those discussions should be happening now.”
One area Summerville said she’s always been passionate is getting people involved with local government. If elected, Summerville said she’d like to find a way to involve a wider number of participants in local elections.
“Your local government has so much impact on your life, but it always is the least thought about across the board when elections come up,” Summerville said. “They know who their state candidates are; they know who the federal candidates are, but local elections, where it really, truly makes an impact, does not get the conversation it deserves.”