CHEYENNE – It seems to be a consensus in Wyoming government that something needs to be done with the governor’s residence. The question that remains, though, is exactly what that something should be.
At the heart of the conversation is the security of the building at Interstate 25 and Central Avenue that houses the chief executive of Wyoming and his family. It was an issue that became dramatically clear in March when a 35-year-old man broke into the residence with a knife at 1:30 a.m. and was found hiding in a bathroom.
Gov. Matt Mead and his family were in the residence and, while they weren’t harmed, the incident made it clear to the Legislature that something needed to be done.
“This is the home for the chief executive officer of Wyoming,” said Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton. “We have to have him and his family in a secure location.”
Bebout is part of the working group that is set to present options for the governor’s residence to the State Building Commission in November. The SBC, which was tasked by the Legislature last session to find solutions to the issue, will then work to give the full Legislature options for how to proceed.
“This report will show viable and different alternatives and how they relate in terms of cost, location and security,” Bebout said. “It does need to be addressed sooner, rather than later.”
Chris Mickey, spokesman for Mead, said the governor was supportive of the actions taken by the Legislature to study the issue.
“The governor believes it is appropriate to carefully assess those points laid out in the legislation as a way to best inform any potential decision in the future,” Mickey said.
Those options range from improving security at the current site to finding another location in Cheyenne to build a new residence. Bebout said the goal is to find a balance between making the residence befitting of the chief executive of the state and spending tax money wisely and efficiently.
Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, is part of the working group and said the members have been meeting on a weekly basis for months. Their goal is to produce a report that breaks down each option’s viability and cost.
“We’ve been meeting very frequently. We’ve also visited other governor’s residences in many of the surrounding states and been trying to get information on how those other states are doing it,” Pappas said. “There’s a plethora of different scenarios out there, whether they’re private residences or residences that have a public function as well as their private one.”
Bebout said when the working group started, they looked at eight or nine possible locations for a new residence, but have since narrowed that number down to three. Pappas said those options could include moving the residence to the outskirts of Cheyenne on some of the land the state owns.
“One option would be remodeling or replacing the facility at the existing location,” Pappas said.
“Another option is putting it downtown in the Capitol Square complex. Another option would be to find another grand historic facility in Cheyenne, one of the homes in the city that could be converted to a governor’s mansion. That’s happened in many states.
“And the final option is build elsewhere in Cheyenne or on acreage outside of Cheyenne, which would be a ranch house scenario.”
Bebout said along with security, the cost of all options would most likely be a major factor in how the Legislature moves forward. Another major influence would be how the public would view the change, especially in light of the Legislature trying to address other major budgetary issues.
Bebout said the Legislature could choose to address security concerns in the short term and then work to save money for a long-term solution.
“I hope we leave the session coming up with the security side of it figured out and a long-term plan on where we go from here,” Bebout said. “This is an ongoing process, and we’ve been doing a lot of work just to put together that information. The big thing will be seeing what the public thinks about it.”
Bebout said while Mead or whoever succeeds him as governor could place an item in their budget to address the residence, it could be hard for a politician to be seen spending money on their own house.
Neither Bebout nor Pappas said which way they were leaning when it came to a preferred option, both saying they didn’t want to sway the report one way or another before it was released in November.