Council overrides mayor, but action 'null and void'

May 25, 2012 By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

The Riverton City Council will reconsider an action deemed illegal that the board took at a special meeting Wednesday night regarding the bid award for a Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation building.

In a telephone interview on Friday, city administrator Steven Weaver said he spoke with municipal attorney Rick Sollars on Thursday afternoon and learned the council's action taken at the meeting was null and void.

"Although it was an oversight on our part and no one complained, it was in violation of the open meetings law," Weaver said, referring to state statute. "The city wants to abide by the law, and it was not our intention to meet without proper public notice."

Improper notice

Attributing the action to human error, council members met on Wednesday at 6 p.m. for a work session that originally was published to start at 7 p.m. The oversight violated Wyoming statutes for open meetings.

Council members voted to move ahead with the DCI project after Mayor Ron Warpness had vetoed the board's May 15 decision that awarded a construction bid with Sehnert Systems in the amount of $360,371.

In a memo to city staff on Thursday, Weaver said the notice for the meeting indicated a 7 p.m. start time on the agenda and it was published in The Ranger as such; however, council members met at 6 p.m.

"It was an oversight, but the statutes state that if you don't notice it correctly, it is null and void meeting," Weaver said. "Therefore we need to call a special meeting to formalize it legally. We apologize for the inconvenience."

State law

According to the Wyoming statute, "all meetings of the governing body of an agency are public meetings, open to the public at all times, except as otherwise provided. No action of a governing body of an agency shall be taken except during a public meeting following notice of the meeting in accordance with this act."

Warpness said he wants to follow the letter of the law but does not want anyone to think the action was an attempt to go back and have another chance to discuss the DCI project.

"This was a human error, and we certainly want to do everything we can to comply with the open meetings law and requirements," Warpness said.

"I feel like that vote taken on Wednesday was taken legally, but it is not my intention to go back and have another bite at the DCI apple," he said.

Wednesday's decision to override the mayor's veto pertained to the DCI project that would be constructed on land the city obtained at the Riverton Regional Airport business park.

Veto override

The action on the veto happened at the council work session due to two council members unable to attend the upcoming June 5 council meeting. Warpness said he wanted all council members present to discuss the project that would affect the city for the next 20 years in the form of financial obligations.

"This was not an easy decision for me to veto the council's decision, but the main thing I wanted was for everyone to have the opportunity to discuss this project and with two absent on June 5 I thought the work session would be the right time," Warpness said.

"Also, Steven Weaver had already signed the notice for Mr. Sehnert to proceed forward and I knew that if we waited until the June 5 meeting the contractor could have possibly started," he said.

Councilman Richard Gard abstained from the vote on Wednesday after telling the council that he had a conflict of interest with the project.

The mayor's veto needed four votes to proceed with the project for a city-owned building that would generate lease revenue and could encourage industrial growth near the airport.

As of noon Friday, Weaver said the council would meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, to reconsider the mayor's veto on the project. The topic is the only discussion item on the agenda.

"This was simply an honest mistake that we are doing our best to correct," Weaver said.

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