Appraisals and conflicts
Events from Nov. 19 Saratoga Town Council meeting discussed at length
December 11, 2019
“I was elected to try and get things done. I had somebody tell me the other day out in the public that they don’t think this council has done a damn thing and I kind of agree with them.”
During the Dec. 2 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, comments from Councilmember Bob Keel took aim at a town council that is “split and obviously non-functioning.” Keel’s statements were just part of a larger discussion that took place under council comments that centered around events from the Nov. 19 town council meeting.
As was previously reported (see “Medical debate continues” on page 1 of the Nov. 27 Saratoga Sun), Keel provided the lone dissenting vote on a letter of support to the Platte Valley Healthcare Project (PVHP). A letter sent from Ellie Dana to the governing body and local media outlets stated Keel should have abstained due to a conflict of interest. During that same meeting, it was revealed that property owned by the Town of Saratoga adjacent to the ambulance barn for the South Central Wyoming Emergency Medical Services (SCWEMS) had been appraised.
A copy of Dana’s letter was provided by Randy Raymer and read aloud by Mayor John Zeiger. The letter contrasted an abstention by Councilmember Judy Welton during a vote on a liquor license renewal for the Rustic Bar to Keel’s vote on the letter of support. It also requested that Keel abstain from any further discussion, motions or votes related to Platte Valley Healthcare.
After reading the letter into the record, Zeiger informed Raymer and the public that the Town of Saratoga had consulted with legal counsel Tom Thompson.
“We will wait until we hear from our attorney and what his opinion is of Mr. Keel not participating,” said Zeiger.
Keel used his time under council comments to respond to the letter from Dana. In his response, he read from Wyoming State Statutes 15-1-127 and 9-13-106, respectively. Under 15-1-127, it reads that no qualified member of a governing body, nor their immediate family, may receive “any monetary or other economic benefit” from any contract with the city or town. The statute goes on to read that the qualified members shall not participate in consideration or discussion of the contract, influence the decision of any other members of the governing body or have a vote on the contract.
Additionally, under 9-13-106, it reads that a public official or employee “shall not make an official decision or vote on an official decision” if the public official or employee has a personal or private interest. That same statute defines a personal or private interest as one that is “direct and immediate” instead of “speculative and remote.”
Keel stated that he had talked with Thompson about a possible conflict of interest, and that the legal counsel had determined there was none. According to Keel, Thompson had informed him he did not have a conflict of interest as he was not in an administrative position at the Memorial Hospital of Carbon County nor did he have any association with the MHCC Board of Directors.
“I need to recognize the importance of my right to represent my constituency and, for this reason, I decided not to abstain with this vote. I feel like, as a candidate for the town council, that healthcare was a big aspect that was considered and I feel that it is my right and my duty to make my public opinion known about this issue,” Keel said.
On a similar subject under council comments, Councilmember Jon Nelson raised his concerns about the appraisal. In his initial comments, Nelson stated that he had been unaware of the appraisal before the Nov. 19 town council meeting. He compared the news of the appraisal to the unannounced attendance of MHCC interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Bob Quist during the May 21 Saratoga Town Council meeting.
As was previously reported (see “Presentation consternation” on page 3 of the May 29 Saratoga Sun), Quist had been invited by Zeiger to speak at the meeting to the surprise of two council members.
“That was something that was also a surprise to me and, I think, other council members,” said Nelson. “I think it’s representative, or evidence of, discussions and negotiations that are happening behind closed doors between members of this council and members of the memorial hospital board or their executive members.”
Nelson asked Zeiger if he had been speaking with MHCC about having the property in question appraised. Zeiger replied that he hadn’t, but reminded Nelson that he was within his rights to have the appraisal ordered without full approval of the council. The mayor then told Nelson that he believed the council needed to move forward and begin working together.
Keel echoed Zeiger’s statements, adding that he was interested in working together and moving forward.
“I am interested in moving forward and trying to work better as a council and get things done but if not, I don’t gain a … thing from sitting on this council and I’m not interested in staying here if all that’s going to happen is what happened in 2019,” said Keel.
The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 at Saratoga Town Hall.