Rep. Conrad confronts Mayor Williams

Mayor calls residents and officials trying to save old WSH buildings ’a very small but very vocal group’

By Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 4/10/24

EVANSTON — Rep. Jon Conrad attended the April 2 Evanston City Council meeting to provide an update on the recent Wyoming Legislative budget session. He was first on the agenda to speak.

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Rep. Conrad confronts Mayor Williams

Mayor calls residents and officials trying to save old WSH buildings ’a very small but very vocal group’


EVANSTON — Rep. Jon Conrad attended the April 2 Evanston City Council meeting to provide an update on the recent Wyoming Legislative budget session. He was first on the agenda to speak.

Conrad gave a recap on the property tax bills that were passed. HB 3, provides 50% off property taxes for anyone 65 years of age and older if they have lived in their home for 25 years, effective Jan. 1, 2025.

HB4 expands criteria for refund eligibility. Anyone who received a tax refund last year will receive a form in the mail to apply again effective immediately. Conrad also sponsored a veteran ad valorem exemption, SF 89, which was raised from $3,000 to $6,000, also effective Jan. 1, 2025.

Conrad also sponsored HB 45, which puts an immediate 4% maximum cap on increases on all property tax. People are eligible to apply for all three of the discounts if they qualify, effective immediately.

“House Bill 70 direct distribution passed.” Conrad said. “The total disbursement was $146 million and Evanston will receive $908,795 over two years, that amounts to $1.8 million for the biennium.”

Conrad then moved to a discussion regarding the historic Wyoming State Hospital buildings, some of which are scheduled to be demolished. He said he had met with the members of the House regarding the resolution the city council had approved several meetings ago in which they stated a desire to transfer the campus from the state to the city. The purpose was to delay the demolition of the WSH buildings for another year, until 2025, to allow the city the opportunity to pursue private interest in using the buildings for economic development.

“An amendment had been passed to set aside $3.4 million to begin demolition of the buildings,” Conrad said. “Rep. (Lloyd) Larsen said there would be costs involved in removing the original amendment, which designated the funds for the removal of the buildings. The state should not have to cover those costs such as postage, revising the RFP, etc. I said I would personally cover the costs of the changes. The House and Senate then voted overwhelmingly to delay the demolition for another year to give the city time to pursue the private sector for development of the campus. Larsen then gave me this letter that you, Mayor Williams, had sent to him.”

Conrad read the letter aloud to the council. The letter was addressed to Reps. Bob Nicholas and Lloyd Larsen. It reads as follows:

“Dear Representatives Larsen and Nicholas: I was recently able to watch a portion of the House Floor Session of Feb. 21. I thank you both greatly for your comments regarding Mr. Jon Conrad’s amendment regarding the delay in demolition of portions of the old state hospital campus. I was dismayed by Mr. Conrad’s representation of the City of Evanston’s wishes regarding that campus. I assure you that the group he purports to represent is a very small but very vocal group, none of which, including Mr. Conrad, has been elected or appointed to speak for the City as a whole. I would have appreciated being made aware of this amendment prior to it being brought forth by Mr. Conrad, unfortunately he did not give me that consideration. I appreciate our previous inclusion and discussions regarding the campus over the last many years and I assure you that, as I’m duly elected to speak for the city as a whole, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on the floor. I thank you. My best, Kent Williams, Mayor, City of Evanston”

Conrad then addressed Evanston Mayor Kent Williams.

“Mayor Williams, in spite of your letter, my work was successful in getting what this council voted on and wanted — a year’s delay. Will this council support an RFP to be released? The council needs to drive this, I have fulfilled my commitment. We need a reliable plan to take to the governor. Perhaps Rocco, your community development director, can drive this effort.”

The interaction between Mayor Williams and Rep. Conrad then became heated when Williams asked, “Did you discuss this with any of the council members? Why wasn’t I included? I only stated facts in that letter. This is disappointing; you haven’t reached out to me.”

Conrad said he had discussed the matter with councilmembers Jesse Lind, Jen Hegeman and Mike Sellers. He reiterated that it would involve no cost to the city — specifically based on the governor’s letter absolving the city of any costs —  specific buildings not being demolished and offering a 12-month period for a viable path forward by interested private parties for restoration.

Evanston City Clerk Diane Harris said to Conrad that if Rocco O’Neill was involved with the RFP, it would cost the city in his wages, etc. She said not everyone in Evanston supports saving the WSH buildings.

Conrad reminded everyone that five out of seven members of the council supported the resolution to approach the state to try to save the buildings.

“A year ago I met with Kent and Diane Harris about the Wyoming State Hospital buildings,” Hegeman said, “and, after a long discussion, you said you had no interest in pursuing saving the [buildings], so we went ahead. Mayor Williams, you have voted against saving them twice, so why would we involve you in any more discussions? You don’t speak for me. You just nixed the vote of the majority of the council who voted against you when you wrote that letter.”

Williams ended the discussion by stating that he wrote the letter and the community can hold him accountable.

The parade route for the High Uinta Athletics half-marathon was approved following some discussion about the concern for safety of the runners due to the closure of the 6th Street overpass. Evanston Police Chief Mike Vranish said the group will bring an alternate route map to the council if it is determined that the original one will be a danger to the runners.

The parade route and the limited malt beverage permit were both approved for the Evanston Cowboy Days celebration on Friday, Aug. 30 through Monday, Sept. 2, 2024.

There was a long discussion on what action to take regarding the Roundhouse trailhead access improvement project bids.

Evanston Director of Planning and Engineering Damon Newsome said the 2020 estimate of $356,000 for the work was no longer valid due to increased construction costs. He said the current estimate is $1.5 million from two bidders.

“The time deadline for the money from WYDOT and the federal money is Dec. 31, 2024,” Newsome said. “We have two options; we can move forward or we can reject the bids and downsize the project and put out another RFP in May. We need to finish the project in October.”

Councilmember Evan Perkes suggested the council hold a work session at the Roundhouse so they can see what they are dealing with.

“The city has tenants we promised we would be ready for and that is a concern,” he said.

City Attorney Mark Harris recommended they reject the bids and modify the plan to cut out some components to downsize and then accept new bids.

A motion was then made and approved to reject the current bids and downsize the plan.

The low bid of $122,931 from Fremont Motor Co. was approved for three new Ram 1500 crew cab special services vehicles for the Evanston Police Department.

A resolution to place the .5% sales and use tax for economic development on the 2024 primary election ballot was approved with one vote in opposition.

Councilmember Hegeman addressed O’Neill, who presented the resolution.

“If the community can’t decide on how the sales tax revenue is used, then I’m concerned,” she said. “How can we ask citizens for more money if there is no plan on how to educate them and if they can’t vote on how the revenue will be used? This council has a poor track record on follow-through of development and marketing what we already have.”

O’Neill disagreed with Hegeman and said there will be a plan that the community will be excited about.

The council then approved a resolution approving change order Nos. 2 and 3 for the Roundhouse Section 4. According to O’Neill these change orders will provide a cushion to work with in the future. He said they had weeded out some expensive materials and were able to provide a net decrease in costs of approximately $90,000.

The last resolution approved was to continue the city’s medical plan for city employees.