Secret Casper City Council meeting stirs debate

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A Casper official is insisting that an unannounced City Council meeting involving a councilman’s conflict of interest case was legal.

The Casper Star-Tribune reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1haB3sB ) the meeting was held over Skype on Tuesday.

City Manager John Patterson says the meeting wasn’t an executive session that would require notifying the public it would occur. Bruce Moats, a Cheyenne attorney specializing in media law, says there are no exceptions under Wyoming’s public meetings act.

The meeting addressed the case of Councilman Craig Hedquist, who is under investigation for conflict of interest because he owns Hedquist Construction, a top city contractor.

Hedquist denies any wrongdoing. The council plans to decide at a May 12 hearing whether Hedquist violated state and local conflict-of-interest laws. He could be removed from office.

The Star-Tribune obtained a letter from Hedquist’s attorney to City Attorney Bill Luben confirming that the unannounced meeting occurred Tuesday evening.

Michael Lansing, who represents Hedquist, said he learned about the meeting from hearing officer Sharon Rose, an Evanston-based attorney hired by the city to oversee the Hedquist proceedings.

Patterson said the council had requested a meeting with Rose, and the opportunity to hold one came up at the last minute. Patterson said Rose told him the meeting wasn’t an “executive session,” because the council was not meeting as a legislative body, but as a hearing body, exempt from public notification.

Moats cited a previous case in which the court ruled there was no such thing under the public meetings act.

“No, that had to be a noticed meeting,” Moats said.

Casper Mayor Paul Meyer said he received an email Tuesday morning about the meeting. He had what he called a “meet and greet” with Rose before excusing himself.

Meyer said only Hedquist and Councilman Steve Cathey weren’t present, and no staff members were in the meeting.

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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