Committee approves bill dividing Frontier Days, Cheyenne

CHEYENNE - After discussing it at length earlier in the week, lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday morning that has divided officials from the city of Cheyenne and Cheyenne Frontier Days.

Members of the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources unanimously approved Senate File 134, which would grant CFD a special malt beverage permit via state statute.

From the viewpoint of many city officials, the bill reflects an effort to circumvent the city's authority to issue the event's liquor license. City leaders - including Mayor Marian Orr and Police Chief Brian Kozak - have said they won't grant the license unless CFD officials agree to pay for the additional law enforcement needed to provide industry-standard security numbers at the event.

The city of Cheyenne has historically provided police officers to CFD at no cost. But last year, in order to reach an officer-to-attendant ratio on the level of similar events, CFD agreed to split the $100,000 cost for additional officers to patrol the rodeos and evening concerts. Moving forward, city officials thought the understanding was that CFD would pick up the entire $100,000 for the additional law enforcement.

But according to CFD President and CEO Tom Hirsig, discussions between the two parties have been few and far between in recent months. During Thursday's meeting, Hirsig argued the two issues - the issuance of a malt beverage permit and the funding for law enforcement - need to be kept completely separate.

On Tuesday, when the committee first discussed the bill, city officials argued the two issues are inextricably linked by state law. City attorney Michael O'Donnell said Kozak has the ability to withhold a liquor permit if it is deemed the event has not met security requirements.

However, members of the committee weren't warm to the idea of the city using the permit as leverage. Committee chairman Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said Tuesday the deal "reeked of extortion."

Thursday morning, a member of the Cheyenne City Council spoke in favor of SF 134, despite the opposition from Orr and Kozak. Council member Rocky Case, an outspoken critic of the mayor, said the negotiations between the city and CFD need to include the City Council moving forward.

"If we can get this malt beverage permit passed, hopefully the City Council, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the executive branch can work together to come up with a reasonable solution," Case said.

Pat Crank, the attorney representing Frontier Days, said in an interview after the meeting that getting the City Council involved in the debate was crucial.

"We need to figure out how to solve the root problem, which was the tying of the issuance of city code to the payment of some arbitrary sum," Crank said. "We need to figure out what Frontier Days should pay and what they're willing to pay, but we can't do it with a gun to our head."

Wyoming Business Alliance President Cindy DeLancey also spoke in favor of the legislation, arguing "a permit should be a permit."

"We are spending millions of dollars within our governments trying to look at ways to try to incentivize and bring business to our communities," DeLancey said. "For that to occur, businesses need a clear, precise, predictable process for them to conduct their business."

While every lawmaker on the five-member committee voted to advance the bill, one senator worried the legislation alone might not solve all the issues between the city and CFD.

"I would be disappointed if we're a year down the road and hear the same story that Cheyenne Frontier Days has not gone to the table with the city and the mayor to negotiate some fair agreement," said Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton, D-Rock Springs.

After the committee advanced the bill, Orr said in an interview that she is open to having as many people at the table as possible.

"If this passes, it really doesn't change anything," the mayor said. "The actual issue is making sure that we've got the proper security numbers at Cheyenne Frontier Days during the festival. So we just need to continue having those talks with CFD officials and hope to move forward on this."

After winning approval from the committee, SF 134 will return to the Senate floor for debate and up to three readings before it could go to the House.

After winning approval from the committee, SF 134 will return to the Senate floor for debate and up to three readings before it could go to the House.