CHEYENNE – The Laramie County Board of Commissioners didn’t have the authority to dissolve the Laramie County Fair Board, according to a Wyoming Supreme Court opinion issued Tuesday.
The opinion stated the summary judgment of Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell was incorrect, and reversed and remanded the decision. Campbell previously ruled that the commissioners did have the authority to dissolve the board.
In late 2018, the commissioners dissolved the fair board to create an events department that would run the fair and other recreational opportunities in Laramie County, primarily due to the addition of the Event Center at Archer. The court cases and decisions centered primarily around whether the commissioners had the authority to do so, along with reallocating the tax money from the mill levy the board was collecting.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court said the state statute the commissioners cited to dissolve the board didn’t give them the authority to do so. It stated the statute only gave them the authority to create the board.
The Supreme Court examined two issues: if the board had standing to maintain the declaratory judgment action, and if the commissioners had the implied authority to dissolve the board.
“The Fair Board has an existing or genuine right at stake because resolution of this action will determine whether it continues to exist,” the opinion stated. “The Fair Board has a genuine interest in its existence, regardless of whether it or any of its members might suffer financial harm by its dissolution.”
Another part of the argument brought before the Supreme Court was whether the commissioners had the right to reallocate tax money originally collected through a mill levy under a ballot initiative for the board. The money was later used to build the Archer Complex.
The Supreme Court said because the commissioners didn’t have the authority to dissolve the board, its further action of reallocating the tax money is void.
“The commissioners’ resolution clearly contemplates that the county fair will continue without a board of trustees,” the opinion stated. “Although we appreciate the commissioners’ desire to consolidate and streamline management of county recreational activities, the Legislature has identified the means by which a county must conduct a county fair, and deviation from that procedure is beyond its authority.”
Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm said the commissioners don’t have any comment on the case at this time. He added the commissioners are going through the ruling and meeting with their counsel to discuss it further.
But the Cheyenne attorney representing the Laramie County Fair Board said she was extremely pleased by the decision.
“The district court now needs to take further action,” said Gay Woodhouse. “The board needs to be reinstated and re-allowed to move forward.”
She said she’ll be filing further motions with the district court.
She added the ruling reinforces that while the commissioners do have authority, that authority is specified by state statute, and their authority had to be used within the statutory language.
The Fair Board members are thrilled by the decision, Woodhouse said, and felt strongly that this case was worth pursing from the beginning. She said she wanted to make sure the court looked at the case objectively and applied the plain language of the law fairly.
“You know, the one thing that we felt from the very beginning was just that it was so clear that the county commissioners had an option if they wanted a fair to create a fair board of trustees, which they did in the early 1900s,” Woodhouse said. “And at that point, they lost the discretion to simply abolish it, because that was authorized in the statute, so we felt it was very clear on its face that they didn’t have the authority, and now this has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. And, quite honestly, we’re thrilled about it.”