September 14, 2023 |
Photo – Mayor Ostling addresses Hanna residents at town council meeting – by Matt Copeland of Bigfoot99
In Hanna, residents voiced their disapproval this week toward a proposed nuisance ordinance change. After hearing two hours of public comments, the town council chose not to move forward with the changes.
Tempers flared as a crowd of around 200 people gathered in the Hanna Recreation Center for Tuesday’s Hanna town council meeting. The people were there to fight against proposed stricter public health rules, known as Ordinance 401. Among the personal attacks and comparisons to Nazi Germany leveled against the councilmembers, especially Mayor Jon Ostling, were appeals against the constitutionality of the tighter private property regulations.
Over 20 people spoke out against the proposed ordinance amendments. After the public comment portion of the meeting concluded, Mayor Ostling called for a vote on Ordinance 401. No councilmembers motioned to conduct the vote. Town Clerk Vivian Gonzales told the crowd that the ordinance was dead. The news was met with cheering.
Ordinance 333 is the town’s existing nuisance code that sets a minimum level of cleanliness for resident’s yards. The town relied on a code enforcement officer, working under the marshal’s office, to issue citations against properties that violated the ordinance. Hanna hasn’t had a marshal since Ted Kranenberg left to join the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office in March. Without a marshal to answer to, the code enforcement officer was unable to perform their duties and left the position.
The proposed Ordinance 401 is the amended version of Ordinance 333. The amendments give the mayor the power to appoint a code enforcement officer who would operate independently from the marshal’s office. If the ordinance had passed, instead of the marshal, the enforcement officer would be chosen by and answer directly to the mayor.
Among the changes, the definition of what the town considers to be a nuisance was broadened. Stacked firewood, high grass, and excessive chimney smoke were added to the list of citable offenses. Once a citation was issued, the fine for failing to address the problem was increased from $100 to $750 a day.
Wyoming state law requires all permanent changes to town regulations to be read and voted on during three separate public meetings. Ordinance 401 was passed twice, once at the July 11th town council meeting, and again on August 8th. If the council had voted for the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting, the new rules would have become law.
Following the second reading and passage of the amended ordinance, Hanna residents became aware of the proposed changes and began to voice their concerns. A petition against Ordinance 401 was signed by more than 200 people. Social media posts urged residents to attend Tuesday evening’s town council meeting and speak out against the rule changes.
Normally held in the town hall, the Hanna town council meeting was moved into the rec center gymnasium in anticipation of the large crowd. After approving the agenda and paying the prerequisite bills, Mayor Ostling moved directly into the Ordinance 401 discussion. The mayor said people asked the town council to address unsafe conditions created by non-residents.
Town Attorney Patrick Brady explained the changes to the ordinance. Attorney Brady said Ordinance 333 requires the presence of a marshal to give the code enforcement officer the authority to issue citations. Brady said Wyoming law doesn’t require the town to have a Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, certified law enforcement officer for the zoning officer to have authority. The town attorney said Ordinance 401 allows the council to appoint a code enforcement officer independently from the marshal’s office.
Attorney Brady said Ordinance 401 lowers the allowable number of nonfunctional vehicles in resident’s yards from four to two. Brady said failure to comply with the amended ordinance will result in a $750 a day fine. The town attorney tried to explain that $750 was the average fine for the area before being shouted at by members of the audience.
The public comment portion of the meeting began with several people expressing their disapproval of the amended ordinance. Former Carbon County GOP Chairman Joey Correnti addressed the council. Correnti accused the council of using the expanded powers granted to the town in Ordinance 401 as a means of revenue generation. Correnti said the council shouldn’t have been surprised by the townspeople’s reaction to the increased daily fines.
Hanna resident Ellen Freeman said a section of the ordinance states that it is unlawful for a person to maintain or permit a nuisance. Freeman asked the council if they intended to have residents report their neighbors for ordinance violations. Freeman likened the behavior to World War Two era Germany.
Many other speakers told the council that the $750 daily fine was excessive, especially for many older residents in the town.
Residents accused the council of using the amended ordinance to take possession of people’s property when they can’t pay the fines.
Most speakers agreed that people should have the right to use their private property in any way they see fit. Residents said they moved to Hanna because of the town’s lax nuisance laws. They claimed that passing the amended ordinance would fundamentally change the nature of the small town.
People present at Tuesday’s meeting told the town council that, if they dislike the amount of clutter in resident’s yards, the townspeople will band together and help clean up.
Of the twenty-plus speakers, not one offered support for the amended ordinance.
Following over two hours of public comment, Mayor Ostling called for a vote on Ordinance 401. The amended ordinance died for lack of a motion.