1. (250 words) Why are you a candidate for Cheyenne City Council and what qualifications make you the best choice for this office?
I believe I offer the broadest and deepest understanding of Cheyenne issues across the field of City Council candidates, having covered, analyzed and written about them at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle for more than 17 years. Whether residents agreed with the paper’s conclusions, I showed the ability to dig underneath the issues and to peek behind the scenes to make informed conclusions, always with goal of making the community a better place in which to live. This has allowed me to put together the most complete City Council platform (www.thinkbigcheyeyenne.wordpress.com) in the Ward 1 field that is aimed at helping Cheyenne to keep and attract the young professionals it needs for a creative, energetic future. I also have proven leadership skills, having handled a $1 million-a-year annual budget with more than two dozen staff members, guiding a nationally recognized news product, and can leverage my education (MBA from Tulane University) and experience to help the council both keep Cheyenne on sound financial footing while putting a vision and action plans in place for its future.
Top three issues:
1 -- Budget: Cheyenne’s mayor and council already should be preparing for a future with lesser state support as well as a declines in local sales tax revenue as the impact of state cuts take effect. That the mayor offered a standstill budget and the council approved it and then spent nearly $750,000 in reserves on recurring expenses shows they are not even considering what may be coming down the pipeline in terms of budget cuts and possibly staffing reductions. The council and mayor must do a budget analysis to find inefficiencies, duplication and potential areas for reduction. If the current council does not demand that from the mayor, the next council must do this work upon taking office. As one measure, our Think Big campaign suggests a hiring freeze with reductions through attrition only. Some of those savings could be used for raises in the near term, but more importantly beginning to lean down government now will avoid larger staff reductions later if those are needed. This is not an emergency situation – yet – but it well could turn out to be one. The time to prepare is now.
2 – Infrastructure. The city is falling ever further behind in its efforts to keep its streets in shape. Officials say we need about $7 million a year to maintain the system, and we are spending about $4.5 million, which points to an accelerating problem since the streets break down and have to be replaced at much greater cost. Some of the blame for this is inflation -- costs have risen even as sales tax revenues have flattened. But part of it should have on the back of the city administration. Mayor Rick Kaysen has done little more than produce standstill budgets. Making matters worse is a decline in state support on the near horizon, and then there is a possible sales tax decline as layoffs take effect due to state cuts. It appears this streets issue can't be solved through the current funding streams. The Legislature now allows the use of the sixth-penny sales tax for street maintenance, and local leaders must consider that as they prepare next year's sixth-penny ballot. This also points to the need to consider using part of a seventh penny for streets. No one wants extra taxes, but using a part of the seventh penny of sales tax may be the only option. It's not about concrete vs. blacktop, or about blaming contractors, as some candidates argue. No, it's about gritting our teeth and doing the right thing on the financial side, squeezing the budget, moving funds and using the fifth and sixth pennies, and possible the seventh, to support the streets.
3 – Lack of vision. Both the council and mayor have shown little ability or desire to think about preparing Cheyenne for the future. They instead have developed a “can’t do” mindset that has prevented them from even planning for future opportunities, such as the development of a vibrant downtown, creating a recreational Mecca at the Belvoir and putting in place amenities for the young professionals that are so dearly needed here. A good example was the introduction of the Downtown Core plan and its lukewarm response from the council. Rather than embracing the concept and then developing strategies to help, the main response was “we can’t afford that.” One might note that the plan was developed apart from the council; that speaks volumes about the lethargy at City Hall. Cheyenne’s elected leaders should be thinking about what is needed to make the city attractive to young professionals and then putting strategies in place. With that approach, the city will be ready when opportunities arise. As things stand now, opportunities could be passing Cheyenne by and the mayor and City Council wouldn’t even know it.