After hearing requests for Native American community involvement in the process, Riverton chooses new city administrator in private meeting

Local community members say they are “disturbed” and “frustrated” that Riverton did not “honor” their request for Native American involvement in the new city administrator selection process.

The Riverton City Council offered the position to public works director Kyle Butterfield at the end of a regular meeting Tuesday, pending contract approval.

Community safety

Five people had approached the council at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting to reiterate the request for Native American involvement in the city administrator hiring process.

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“We want safety,” Riverton Peace Mission vice-chair Allison Sage said, recalling the 2019 shooting death of Anderson Antelope Sr., who was killed by a Riverton Police Department officer during an altercation in the Walmart parking lot.

“(That was) a big scare for us,” Sage said. “(That) man should still be alive.”

He asked that the new city administrator be able to facilitate police de-escalation trainings, focus on the use of police body cameras, and hire a community relations ombudsman.

RPM board member Nicole Wagon said the new city administrator should also have “positive experience” working in a reservation border town, as well as “knowledge (and) understanding of Tribal issues,” “empathy for Indigenous people” and “the ability to address racial bias, discrimination and police accountability.”

RPM co-chair Chesie Lee shared stories about “civil rights violations” that take place regularly in Riverton and throughout Fremont County, including “landlord-tenant bias, employment bias and equal credit opportunity issues.”

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“Native Americans … get pulled over for traffic stops without any apparent reason,” she said. “(They’re) followed in stores. White customers are served before them even though they’re first in line. (The list goes) on and on. …

“I think if we came together as a community – white and Native – led by a city administrator with the right attitudes, knowledge and skill set, we can do better.”

‘I don’t see the discrimination’

Councilmember Kyle Larson said he was “unfamiliar” with the stories Lee shared.

“I don’t see the discrimination you’re talking to,” he said. “I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen somebody go in and step in front of somebody else (in line) because of they were a different color. … I just don’t agree with you.”

Councilmember Kristy Salisbury pushed back on Larson’s comments, arguing that, if he doesn’t “see discrimination” in person, that might just mean he is not “aware of it.”

“Just because you don’t treat someone bad doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” Salisbury said. “(This group is) asking us to pay attention to what we’re doing to ensure that we are … working together and having an awareness.”

Mayor Richard Gard countered, however, that “it is not our job as a city council to be in charge of social society.”

“We try to keep the city running,” Gard said. “We’re not able to hire an administrator that’s solely in-tune to a racial center. We need one that knows how to buy a backhoe and how to get it driven and how to get the snow picked up and how to take care of the water that has to be delivered.”

On Thursday, Lee said she was “upset” to hear that Gard wasn’t prioritizing “these kinds of social issues” during the search for the city’s new administrator.

“I found that concerning,” she said. “We have no say over who’s going to be hired, but we still want them to address the problem.”

Internal hire

When the RPM representatives addressed the city this week, the council had not yet decided to offer Butterfield the administrator position, Gard said Thursday.

The decision was made during a closed-door executive session that took place at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting, he said, adding that the council “just can’t invite” every community group to participate in municipal hiring decisions.

“That’s our job,” Gard said. “If you want that job, you should run for office and get elected.”

He acknoweldged that Riverton has conducted more extensive city administrator searches in the past, involving public meet-and-greets and open interviews, but this time Gard said the council was able to find a qualified candidate internally.

“We tried to do our due diligence and save the city as much money as possible and move forward as quickly as possible to make sure we have professionals running the city,” he said.

He noted that Butterfield had applied for the city administrator position before, when Tolstedt was hired.

Plus, Gard said, Butterfield has worked at City Hall for the better part of a decade, so he is a “known commodity, and we know his work.”

Butterfield knows Riverton too, Gard added – meaning he is aware of the social issues that can arise in reservation border towns.

“He knows the difficulties that come with where we’re located and isn’t just giving us lip service,” Gard said. “I think it is an answer to (the RPM) request. We tried to find somebody that was interested in Riverton and engaged in Riverton and invested.”

Riverton Peace March organizer Ron Howard, who also spoke Tuesday, said he simply hopes Butterfield will “listen and consider what we say.”

For more information call the City of Riverton at 856-2227.

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