Casper, WY -- Casper City Council Tuesday night dropped the contested case hearing over Councilman Craig Hedquist's alleged conflict of interest, moving toward a less-threatening "informal hearing" instead. Despite criticism this was a personal feud started by City Manager John Patterson, council members were vocal about what they felt the issue really was: needing to address serious allegations of unethical behavior by one of their own. And accepting to hear both sides of the story this month was a step most felt was long overdue.
For Councilman Paul Bertoglio (Ward III), it had been dragging on long enough: "The civility part is really, really getting bad," Bertoglio said. The difference with an informal hearing is it's just that: informal, with no outcomes specified ahead of time. Hedquist's attorney Michael Lansing worried the process didn't help much and didn't give his client much opportunity for due process. "No evidence, no witnesses, no cross-examination," Lansing said.
But not doing anything wasn't an option for council either. "Is (Lansing) suggesting to this council that we just drop the whole matter right now and everything goes away?" Councilman Daniel Sandoval (Ward I) asked. But while most wanted to move ahead with the informal hearing, others were wary, Councilman Keith Goodenough (Ward I) in particular didn't like the direction council had taken. "This council and our manager were not equipped in my opinion to deal with that and a series of missteps began and have led us to this very point this evening," Goodenough said.
Canceling the contested case hearing means part of the lawsuit Hedquist brought against Patterson and the City is now moot; one of his requests was dropping the process he called unconstitutional. But it appears the other allegations -- including new charges that Patterson tried to spy on Hedquist and gather ammo to kick him out of office -- still stand. Councilwoman Kenyne Schlager (Ward III) was quick to clarify.
"I had some executive session material in (my locker) that went missing, so I asked if we could have cameras because obviously when executive session material goes missing it's very concerning. They told me no, and that was the end of the story," Kenyne explained.
Just telling us that, though, brought criticism from Hedquist's attorney, who pointed out a gag order from March 22nd. Even opening up the topic for discussion at council meeting, he said, was contributing to "trying the case in the media." But Councilman Sandoval pointed out speech takes many forms: "Filing a federal lawsuit with hundreds of allegations is a form of communication! It's a public record." Sandoval said.
Lansing concluded his presentation with an exhortation. "I think we need to stop this expensive madness that your manager has put you in and just get back to running the city," Lansing said. As of Wednesday, the City had spent $55,745 on litigation. But what really irked some council members was the accusation they're puppets in pursuing this course of action.
"This idea that the city council is being lead by the nose by Mr. Patterson is quite frankly ludicrous," said Councilman Charlie Powell, (Ward II). "I was the one that came up with the idea on (holding an informal hearing) if anybody has any questions. Councilman Hopkins had a very similar one, so it's not something that John Patterson created or came out of his mind. It came out of this council," Bertoglio said.
Patterson, by the way, wasn't at this council meeting. Councilmen Goodenough and Sandoval voted against the resolution, with Hedquist of course recused from that item. The informal hearing is set for April 26th.
See sidebar for the full amended lawsuit filed against the City and John Patterson.