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Employee Trudy Ward stocks a shelf of vodka inside Town & Country Supermarket Liquors Thursday, April 2, 2020, in south Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – As the rest of the world adapts to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus, the Cheyenne City Council is no different. At its Monday meeting, the council passed an emergency ordinance allowing liquor delivery, but rejected an emergency ordinance that would have given police power to enforce the state health orders in a civil manner.

The ordinance rejected by the council would have given the Cheyenne Police Department more leniency in enforcing the statewide health orders on social distancing, which have closed child care facilities, restaurants and schools, and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.

The police department currently has the ability to enforce the order through state statute, and disobeying the order is a misdemeanor crime punishable with fines up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail. Now that the local ordinance has been voted down, that remains the only method of enforcement for the Cheyenne Police Department.

If the ordinance had been approved, the police would have been able to give $50 fines to those who violated social distancing guidelines and refused orders to disperse. The fines would’ve increased for each additional violation, with a $100 fine for the second offense and a $200 fine for the third.

“The idea here in the drafting of this was to engage in community policing, rather than punitive law enforcement,” City Attorney Mike O’Donnell said.

A number of Cheyenne residents called in to the council to voice their concerns about the measure. The top issue addressed by local residents is the effect this has on their constitutional rights. Residents said they were “baffled” and “concerned” by the ordinance, saying the government has no place to determine what residents do in their private lives.

“I support the concept behind what is attempted to be accomplished here, but I think the public has not had the time or the capability to understand what this ordinance is,” Councilman Rocky Case said.

Councilman Pete Laybourn, however, said such input shouldn’t take priority over that of professionals in the pandemic.

“When we start considering a series of loud voices on social media in how we affect our decisions, I think were overlooking all the professionals in the medical field, all the professionals in law enforcement, all the professionals that we elect to governorship and other offices who have told us, ‘We’re just going to have to see this through.’”

Laybourn also noted that the police department has served the residents of Cheyenne well, and said this ordinance wouldn’t change that fact.

“This is not the time for us to panic and believe that the Cheyenne Police Department is somehow going to abuse its authority,” Laybourn said.

Councilmen Case, Bryan Cook, Mike Luna, Scott Roybal and Dicky Shanor voted no on the ordinance. Because it was heard as an emergency measure, the ordinance required three-fourths approval from the council.

Shanor said he didn’t support the measure for two mains reasons. Firstly, it is already in the power of the police department to enforce the statewide order.

And secondly, “This sends the wrong message to our constituents, who are, by and large, taking the state heath orders seriously.”

On the other hand, Council Vice President Jeff White said they “really worked hard to find a balanced compromise” that encouraged residents to follow guidelines from the health officers, the CDC and the president.

The order would have ceased when the statewide health orders had been lifted if approved.

Liquor delivery

If you’ve been feeling like you need a drink while cooped up at home, you can now order one for delivery, thanks to a COVID-19-related ordinance passed by the council Monday.

For the next 180 days, the ban on liquor delivery in Cheyenne will be lifted because “COVID-19 virus is causing significant economic harm to alcoholic liquor and malt beverage licensees,” the ordinance states. Businesses who choose to deliver liquor over the next few months will not be required to submit an amended operational plan to the city.

Any business that currently has a retail liquor license is eligible to deliver alcoholic beverages, and microbreweries and wineries will only be allowed to deliver the products they manufacture. All sales must be completed at the time of purchase, so you won’t be able to pay your delivery driver with cash upon delivery.

Those who are looking to buy kegs will still have to do so at the store, as the ordinance prohibits keg deliveries.

After the 180 days, the council will have the power to decide if the ordinance will be permanent or not. Cook, who drafted the ordinance with White and Roybal, said he thinks the council will really have to reassess the ordinance after its sunset, noting concerns from mental health and substance treatment professionals.

“I would be really concerned if we went further than that,” Cook said.

Laybourn was the only no vote.

Hitching Post agreement

Once the purchasing agreement for the Hitching Post property is finalized, the city will become the owner of three buildings on the back portion of the property.

The council accepted the land donation from John Koehler’s limited liability corporation, JPK TR Cheyenne II on Monday night. Council President Mark Rinne said that for projects as large and expensive as this, sometimes government intervention is necessary.

“In the long term, this helps us get something done on this property that is greatly needed,” Rinne said.

The city has had its eyes on the property for some time now, and even came close to buying the back portion of the property for $329,630 at the end of 2019. The council ultimately tabled the measure to wait for better abatement numbers, but city staff continued to work on the project. To abate the entire 10-acre property would’ve cost about $2.1 million.

Initially, the hope was that purchasing a portion of the property would spur more private development in the area, where places like the Hitching Post and Atlas Motel have sat vacant for years.

The other main point of concern with the Hitching Post was related to the Ice and Events Center. Because they didn’t own the property, the city was using an easement for access to the Ice and Events Center from Lincolnway and had no standing to improve safety measures.

With the land donation, they’ll be able to put up new signage, as well as add more lighting and fence off the Hitching Post buildings to enhance safety for residents visiting the Ice and Event Center.

The city’s current plan is to immediately stabilize the property once it comes under city ownership by boarding up the buildings and adding lighting and fencing, which will cost about $60,000.

The cost of remediation for the three buildings will now fall to the city, if they choose to take that course. They could hold onto the property for future development purposes next to the Ice and Events Center, or they could sell it to another private developer.

In other business

The council approved a $394,560 design and engineering agreement with Woolpert Inc. for the F.E. Warren AFB Enhanced Use Lease Project on Happy Jack Road. The city is serving as a conduit for Wyoming Business Council funds for the project, which is a mixed-use residential and commercial development near where Happy Jack Road meets Interstate 25.

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 at @MargaretMAustin.

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