The Lander City Council reviewed state nepotism laws this week before approving a contract for services with Tecia Lynn Waller – Mayor Monte Richardson’s daughter.
The two-year contract is for $3,500 per month to “care for” the Lander Community and Convention Center, including general cleaning, grounds maintenance, and customer service.
Richardson recused himself and left the room before the item was discussed during a regular meeting Tuesday.
Once he was gone, Council President Missy White asked city attorney Adam Phillips to share some “thoughts” on the matter, noting that there have been “concerns raised about if anything is illegal (or) unethical about this process.”
Phillips offered some background information first, explaining that the city recently “added some duties” to the community center contract, prompting the current contractor, Shields Cleaning, to suggest that “it would cost more money” to do the job.
So, Phillips said, the city amended the contract and put it out to bid per Wyoming Statute 15-1-113.
The bid was advertised in the local newspaper July 20, July 27 and Aug. 3 – “we even went the extra mile and published it a third week,” Phillips said – and it was posted on Lander’s website and social media pages.
Waller was the only person to respond to the advertisements by the Aug. 8 deadline, according to human resources manager Rachelle Fontaine.
Phillips said the job has “generally” only generated one or two bids in the past.
Of course, the “biggest question on everybody’s mind (is), does this meet the qualifications of nepotism?” Phillips said.
He referred to Wyoming Statute 9-13-104, which states that “no public official (or) public employee shall advocate or cause the employment, appointment, promotion, transfer or advancement of a family member to an office or position of the state, a county, municipality or a school district.”
The statute also says “a public official (or) public employee shall not supervise or manage a family member who is in an office or position of the state, a county, municipality or school district.”
“Mainly it’s the supervision,” Phillips said. “They can’t be immediately supervised (by a family member).”
Since Waller is an independent contractor, Phillips said Richardson would have no “direct supervision” over her.
As far as advocating for Waller’s employment, Councilmember Julia Stuble said “the ethics of the mayor in this case … were fairly high,” noting that she didn’t even realize Waller was Richardson’s daughter until earlier this week, when “a constituent emailed me with concerns.”
“There was no influence from the mayor to me – no communication indicating that he had a preference for a family member, much less even had a family member applying,” Stuble said. “I did not have the mayor influencing my opinion on this matter at all.”
Stuble added that she is “comfortable” with Waller’s resume, which includes experience with a professional cleaning company and previous work at a bank, a church and a school.
“I have no qualms at all with the qualifications,” Stuble said.
‘I wouldn’t do it’
Councilmember Dan Hahn agreed that, legally, the contract with Waller was sound – but, he said, “I personally don’t believe in this.”
“I wouldn’t do it,” Hahn said.
He later voted against the contract, which the council approved 5-1.
Earlier, Councilmember Melinda Cox had asked what would happen if the contract was voted down, and Phillips said Lander “potentially would have to shut the doors” to the community center after the current maintenance contract ends Aug. 31.
The city could also hire a benefited employee to maintain the community center, but Lara said that would cost around $78,000 a year – compared to $42,000 annually for the independent contract.
‘We’re a small community’
This isn’t the first time Phillips has had to research nepotism laws for the city: The issue has come up before, he said, recalling at least one instance that “met the standard” for nepotism and resulted in a resignation among the secretarial staff.
Other situations have not involved supervision by “an immediate family member,” Phillips said, pointing out that the city council has approved at least two contracts for services in the recent past with family members of current staff.
One of those was with assistant mayor RaJean Strube Fossen’s nephew, who was hired as a contractor to set up the audio-visual system in the council chambers, Strube Fossen said.
“We’re a small community – we have it happen,” Lara said, adding that her son has been working for public works director Lance Hopkin.
All family relationships among city employees are disclosed in Lander’s financial statements and subject to regular audits, Lara said.
For more information call the City of Lander at 332-2870.