By Ernie Over, managing editor, County10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – At Tuesday night’s special Lander City Council meeting, opponents of serving alcohol at the Lander Middle School for this fall’s One Shot Antelope Hunt banquets were repeatedly told that they were at the wrong meeting. “Everyone here should’ve been at the school board meeting last week,” when its no alcohol policy was suspended, said Mayor Mick Wolfe, “or at tonight’s school board meeting instead of here and putting us in the middle of this.” Councilor Cade Maestas said the council could not overturn the school board’s decision to suspend their no alcohol policy for the four nights in question. “There is no legal recourse by the city,” he said. “The only decision we have to make is if they can sell alcohol.” Wolfe noted that if the city were to deny a catering permit for the event, all controls on the use of alcohol would go out the window. “People could take their own booze in there as long as they are not selling it,” he said.
“There is no one on this council who has not heard all the pros and cons on this issue, I ask you to keep to the point and no lecturing,” Wolfe said as he opened a public hearing before the special meeting in front of a standing room only crowd. The Mayor also read a two page letter from Fremont County School District #1 Superintendent Dr. Mike Bowman, who spelled out reasons why the school board made its decision to suspend its no alcohol policy at the middle school for the One Shot events.
With those comments as a preamble, in the end, and after 70 minutes of impassioned testimony, the question of whether the city council would approve a catering permit for the One Shot banquets came down to the permit application itself. “Did they follow the rules?” in filling out the application, and “is all the information there?” Maestas asked. The answer was yes. And the vote to approve the catering permit from the B&B Lounge was unanimous.
The request to use the new Lander Middle School building for the banquets was the result of an unfortunate fire that destroyed the Lander Community Center last month. the Communtiy Center is the location where One Shot events have traditionally been held. The school building was identified as the only suitable site to temporarily host the banquet events, which have drawn crowds of 500 people or more.
Opponents of issuing the catering permit emphasized that they were not opposed to the One Shot Hunt itself, which is now in its 69th year, but allowing alcohol use in a school building. One speaker, Riverton attorney Bill Miller who said he was representing Martin Mazurie, hinted that his client would seek an injunction to block the banquets if the council approved the catering permit. Miller said he had also been in contact with Governor Matt Mead on the issue. Miller then suggested that the school board violated state law when they approved the request at a work session, and he said the city’s open container ordinance would be violated if the permit was approved. That comment drew a strong response from Nancy Webber, the council’s president. She said a catering permit allows serving of alcohol outside of licensed facilities including other public facilities such as the Museum of the American West and city parks. Miller then suggested that the council’s action would be setting a precedent to benefit the “city’s elite.”
When one opponent suggested moving the event to the Fremont County Fairgrounds in Riverton, Wolfe said he was adamantly opposed to that.
After hearing other opponents, Wolfe asked if a One Shot Hunt spokesman would like to respond. Terry Martin, the current Vice President of the hunt club stepped up to the microphone. “I will not lecture you, will not tell you the law, will not threaten you, just advise you,” he said in an opening remark. Martin said he was “disheartened and saddened” by the comments he was hearing. “I wish the community would put a positive spin instead of negatives,” he said. “The school board made a decision based on community needs and we should rally around that,” he said. Martin also bristled at Miller’s suggestion that an exception was being made for an “elite” portion of the community. “I’m a Casper kid, I moved (to Fremont County) in 1998 and worked my way up to be the Vice President. Anybody can be a member, there are dues, yes, and the banquets are closed to only members, hunters, their guests and past shooters, but other events are open to the public, and free,” he said. “We have over 100 volunteers who put on this event and no one is paid to help. We put on one of the best hunts in the nation and the 24 hunters and their guests pay their own way to get here and pay for their own meals and lodging, except for the banquets we provide.”
Martin said no one in the One Shot wanted to put the city in this position, and said the club began looking at options as the embers of the community center were still hot. “We’ve also been in contact with the Governor, who is the co-host of the hunt, and he okayed alcohol to be served at the National Guard Armory here, but it’s not big enough … We have no other options. We asked for permission, we have our own legal opinions and we don’t threaten litigation. Let the passions show that Lander can rally and overcome the tragedy (of the loss of the community center).
“Other than some early snarky comments, no one here is against the One Shot,” Maestas said. “This is more about alcohol.”
Martin acknowledged that the club “was in a very difficult position.”
Eric Dahl, the grandson of the One Shot Hunt’s co-founder Harold Dahl, said the community center fire put the club in a “tight spot” and that the club was just “looking for help from the community, and the school was kind enough to help us,” he said.
Former North School Principal Dennis Oman said the controversy was a “no win” for the school board, but he suggested that the One Shot could be community heroes if they were not to allow alcohol at the banquet.
That drew a response from One Shot Past President and Past Shooter Richard Fagnant of Lander, who said he chooses not to drink alcohol at all, “and it’s not our place to judge others or put restrictions on others. Alcohol is a part of our social events but is not the focus of the events,” he said. “We could teach that alcohol can be consumed responsibly.” Fagnant said use of the school “could change” but he said it would be very costly to the club, around $15,000, if they were to, for example, have to rent a tent and other equipment needed for a banquet. “We’re homeless,” he said, noting that $100,000 of the club funds went into the community center to help enlarge it years ago.
Maestas said the council was not taking the decision lightly, and councilor Monte Richardson suggested that there was still time for people to run for the school board. “If you’re unhappy with their decision, step up and run for office,” he said. Council member John Boulette said the banquets “are a great opportunity to model responsible alcohol consumption.” He also said no one wanted to be in this situation, but the fire changed everything.
With that, the vote was taken and the catering permit was approved 7-0. The special meeting was adjourned at 7:10 p.m.