Marian Orr speaks

Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr speaks during the 2019 Community Spirit Award reception on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum in Cheyenne. Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge gave the city of Cheyenne $100,000 to aid Mayor Marian Orr’s Fight the Blight plan in 2018. Because that money was meant to be spent in totality by October 2018 and was not, the remaining $56,571 will be returned to the organization. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – With support from the Cheyenne City Council, the city is continuing the process of repaying Bloomberg Philanthropies more than half of a $100,000 Mayor’s Challenge grant.

The council approved a resolution Tuesday that outlines how the city will pay back the funds and reclassify spending, although some council members were not completely sold on the resolution.

“Like everyone else sitting on this dais, I certainly understand the gravity of the situation,” Council Vice President Bryan Cook said.

Back in spring 2018, the city was awarded the $100,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to create a website that connects owners of underutilized properties with those interested in developing said properties.

The grant was supposed to be spent by October 2018, at which point about $43,000 was spent related to the project. In the months that followed, the mayor’s office used about $23,000 of the grant money for Christmas decorations for the Municipal Building, business travel expenses and catering for city events.

That $23,000 will be returned to Bloomberg for improper use related to the grant, along with the $33,000 that was not used at all.

The resolution outlining that reconciliation process was sponsored by every city council member except Councilman Cook.

“This is a hard vote to take,” Cook said. “But as a taxpayer, I’m not supportive of this.”

Cook and Council President Rocky Case were the only “no” votes on the measure.

Case said with this resolution, he hoped the council would have returned the unspent $33,000 and take a deeper look into the $23,000 that will now come from the mayor’s discretionary fund.

“Now, we’ve approved returning all the money to Bloomberg, and at this point, the taxpayers are paying the $23,000,” Case said.

The idea didn’t sit well with Councilman Dicky Shanor either, but he said there weren’t any other options.

“I don’t like the fact that we’re putting the taxpayers out there to foot the bill until we figure this out, but I think it’s the only choice we have right now,” Shanor said.

In the fallout of the Bloomberg debacle, tempers flared between Mayor Marian Orr and Case. The two have previously been at odds, including when the mayor issued an emergency procurement to handle potholes, and when the council moved to lower the threshold for contracts the mayor can unilaterally approve.

But after Case released an itemized list of the Bloomberg spending while Orr was on vacation, tensions reached new heights.

The mayor called a fiery press conference where she accused Case of spreading lies about her, including that she got a massage at the Detroit airport. Orr said Case spreading such falsehoods can be traced back to a negative interaction between Orr and Case’s mother 20 years ago.

She said Case was acting with a personal vendetta, which he called “absolutely ridiculous.”

Case brought up this issue again at Tuesday’s council meeting, reiterating this was not a personal matter.

“This is absolutely not personal – never has been. This is about documents and process,” Case said. “This is an issue of such importance that in the spirit of transparency, I believe it should be heard publicly.”

The council will continue with the reconciliation process, and a meeting will be held in the next couple of weeks to further discuss the reappropriation of funds.

Orr said her staff reached out to each council member individually and extended an offer to meet one-on-one to talk about the spending. She emphasized the city’s continued efforts to make city spending more transparent for everyone.

“My door remains open, and I’m very willing to have conversations, not only with council but with anyone else that should walk in the door,” Orr said.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter @MargaretMAustin.

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