City Council member Mary Ellen Christensen delivered a passionate defense of her proposal to allow administrative issuance of catering permits, but the proposal failed on a 3-3 tie vote. (Ernie Over photo)

By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com

(Riverton, Wyo.) – The Riverton City Council agreed Tuesday night to proceed with a proposal to allow the raising of chickens inside the city limits, but in a split vote defeated a measure that would’ve made the issuance of catering permits easier.

City Council member Mary Ellen Christensen delivered a passionate defense of her proposal to allow administrative issuance of catering permits, but the proposal failed on a 3-3 tie vote. (Ernie Over photo)

The latter discussion was filled with passionate debate, especially from Council Member Mary Ellen Christensen, who said she believes that making the process to obtain a catering permit easier would give the city more control over alcohol parties. Christensen argued that there would be no less oversight over the process if the city administration issued the permits rather than the city council. Not only would it speed up the process to obtain the permits, but Christensen said applicants would have to follow the same parameters that now exist.

An opinion on the question written by City Attorney Rick Sollars indicated that only the governing body of the city, that is the city council, could approve and issue the permits. Without that approval, Sollars said any permit issued would not be legal.  But City Administrator Steven Weaver said other cities across the state allow the administrative issuance of the permits based on recommendations from the Wyoming Liquor Commission. Councilor Eric Heiser noted the state statute appeared to be contradictory, suggesting that both a governing body or the Liquor Commission could authorize administrative approval for the permits. He suggested the city seek a formal Attorney General’s opinion on the issue. “I’m all right with moving forward as long as we get an AG’s opinion,” he said.

Councilor Todd Smith said he initially did not have any problems with the issue, but now he said there appears to be significant legal confusion on the issue. “Our attorney and chief of police don’t think this is a good idea,” he said, “We don’t have a firm place to stand.” He agreed an Attorney Generals opinion would be needed before moving forward.

Council member Richard Gard, who generally opposes regulations on business, said the city’s attorney and police chief both believed the permits should be brought to the council, as is current practice. “I don’t see this takes a lot of our time and it’s a good thing to keep at this location,” he said, but quickly added, “although I am in favor of cutting regulations.”

City Administrator Steven Weaver said staff research on the issue indicated a number of Wyoming cities allow administrative issuance of catering permits, but the city attorney disagreed in a memo to the councilors. (Ernie Over photo)

Mayor Ron Warpness noted that the city only last year had greatly expanded the number of catering permits in the city each year and he said the community continues to struggle with alcohol abuse. “Our community has such a horrendous problem with alcohol, with us to be seen as watering down the process I have a real problem with that,” he said . “Eighty Five percent of our police activity involves alcohol use, and to make it easier, I just have a hard time going there.”

Ultimately, the council split on a 3-3 vote, killing the proposal. Voting in favor of pursing an ordinance to allow administrative approval of catering permits were councilors Christensen, John Lars Baker and Heiser. Opposing the measure were councilors Smith and Gard. Mayor Warpness also voted no.

The proposal to allow chickens in the city limits did not feature as much passionate debate, and it sailed through on a 5 to 1 vote, with only Christensen opposed.

Community Development Director Sandy Luers said that since she’s held her position in the last four years, she’s never taken one complaint over chickens and she hadn’t seen a chicken in the city limits. “If they are out there, people are keeping them in their houses,” she guessed. “If there are chickens out there and there have been no complaints, then this warrants consideration,” she said. Luers presented a report that detailed what other cities in the state allow or do not allow regarding chickens. Luers said she talked with Lander City Clerk Robin Griffin who noted that Lander does not prohibit chickens, and they they have not had any problems with them.

Christensen said she knows of one rooster, “somewhere near my house, I hear it all the time,” she said

Warpness said it made sense to him “to not have any guidelines but to allow good common sense.” He also said , “I don’t want to inject ourselves into people’s personal property rights.” The mayor also noted the council had a rather controversial measure earlier in the year to limit the number of dogs a city resident could own.

Smith said if the measure moves forward and chickens are allowed, and if any problems pop up, “we could address it at that time.”

The measure will now move forward.