CHEYENNE – During a League of Women Voters forum Thursday night, Cheyenne mayoral candidates Patrick Collins and Rick Coppinger expanded their views on city-funded recreation assets, mask mandates and what qualities make for a good police chief.
The two candidates advanced to November’s election after defeating Mayor Marian Orr in the primary, and both hope to bring a fresh start to city hall, though with different goals and experiences. They shared their platforms, thoughts and priorities during the Q&A-style forum, and some highlights from the forum are below.
To watch the forum in its entirety, head to the League of Women Voters Facebook page.
Would you support expanding the Civic Center building and other city recreational venues? Why or why not? Do you believe that events at the Civic Center and other city venues should be subsidized by the city?
While Collins said the priorities of the city have to be police, fire, water and sewer, he said recreation assets play a big role in attracting new residents, families and businesses to Cheyenne.
“I keep talking a lot about growing our economy and being a place where families want to live. If all we have is good roads and good water, I’m not sure that that’s going to be enough, because there’s so many really good communities that will be competing with us for both employees and for jobs,” Collins said.
He mentioned that the Civic Center is often criticized for losing money, noting that not many government services are profitable.
After the Civic Center ended last year close to $600,000 in the red, Darren Rudloff, who was the Visit Cheyenne CEO at the time, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that similar recreation assets across the country often don’t break even on costs, and instead aim to boost economic impact.
Collins said, “We don’t make money on those kinds of amenities, and I think that’s what makes a great city. So as mayor, what we need to do is to make sure that we’re managing those efficiently, but I’m very much in favor of having a good balance.”
On the other hand, Coppinger pitched the idea of a public-private collaboration for the Civic Center. He said there’s no point in the city running a business that doesn’t make money.
“I think the private sector runs businesses better than the government does, and we should never be in competition with private sector businesses, like the Lincoln Theater, for instance. He’s done such a great job with that. Maybe that’s somebody we want to talk to about collaboratively working with the Civic Center so that it begins to make money and everybody benefits from those tax dollars,” Coppinger said.
He added that he would ask the voters about Civic Center expansion, and if they wanted it, then they’d made it happen. He also noted that whatever recreation assets the city does have should be brought up to ADA standards to be accessible for everyone.
“We need to make whatever we already own accessible to the handicapped. If we own it, we should make it available to everybody so it’s inclusive, not just for certain people,” Coppinger said.
How have you planned for the economic recovery when we’re able to ease the restrictions, and would you actually support an ordinance to mandate masks if COVID-19 worsens?
Coppinger said he would never impose a mask mandate, citing personal freedoms and the role of the private sector in keeping people healthy.
“I believe that people want to do the right thing, and I think mandating them creates a certain type of rebellion. It’s also against their personal rights. They have the ability: if you’re sick, stay home. If you’re fearful of being sick or bringing home a sickness to somebody, please stay home. That’s something companies need to work with their employees, but I don’t believe the city government should be forcing people to wear masks,” Coppinger said.
He added that he’s honored the rules at every business that requires masks because it is their right to do so, saying that people have the option to do what they feel is best for them.
“If you don’t wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, but don’t mock somebody for their beliefs,” Coppinger said.
Collins said the power lies with the county health officer in the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department to make those kinds of decisions.
“I think the job of the mayor is to sit down with those folks and make sure that we’re advocating for our business community. … But they’re the scientists, they’re the doctors, and it’s rightfully in their position to do that,” Collins said.
Still, Collins said the mayor should help find creative ways to help businesses throughout the closures, saying that he is concerned about the effects on the local business community.
“One of the things that we could do is look at taking CARES Act dollars and try to create barriers so that restaurants could have higher capacities,” Collins said, noting the loosened restrictions on restaurants unveiled by Gov. Mark Gordon earlier this week. “I think we need to look for creative solutions to be safe, but yet allow for businesses to try to be as successful as they can.”
What would you look for in a new police chief?
Note: The League of Women Voters asked this question under the impression – based on a Facebook post about a “Chief for a Day” student essay contest – that Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak was retiring. They clarified after the forum that Kozak would remain chief.
Coppinger said a new chief would have to be steadfast and a quality leader, but that he’d sit down with the folks at CPD and in the community to see what they’re looking for.
“We’d really need to sit down with the current staff at the police department and find out what they see in the current chief that they have, what they’d like to see in the next chief, and then work with the community also and get their opinion,” Coppinger said.
He added that a new chief should be well-rounded in issues of mental health, police process and techniques.
Coppinger said the chief should be “one that people gravitate to. One that encourages their police officers to be better, stronger police officers and gives them an avenue to give their opinion, saying, ‘This is what I think might work,’ and then be able to give corrective feedback or actual feedback. One that is not afraid to say ‘Yes, we made a mistake, and we’ll fix it.’”
Collins said a top priority would be to find a high-quality chief that can meet the specific needs of the Cheyenne community.
“We need to look at the whole picture, and I’m thinking about looking at the crime statistics, which I’ve been doing with the FBI numbers, looking at things that we need to work on, then trying to find somebody who has that skill set that can come in here and make a difference. We would like to find somebody who can work with all of Cheyenne,” Collins said.
He noted that he’s been meeting with a diverse group of residents, hearing their ideas and concerns. After those discussions, he said it’s vital to find a leader who will work with everyone who lives in Cheyenne.
“We just want to find somebody who has a proven history of being able to work with all segments of their community. Obviously, honesty is important and those types of things, but I think that’d be a given. I’ll be looking for somebody who can complement what it is that we need here in Cheyenne and has a proven ability to do it,” Collins said.