SHERIDAN — It was a packed County Commission board room Thursday for a public hearing on a conditional use permit for a new business venture in Story.
Several residents spoke in favor of the business because it would make the area a “happier” place. A few spoke against it because they didn’t want a “gateway drug” in their backyard.
Ultimately — even after applicants Timothy and Angelica Stoner presented the commissioners with a batch of their special “Purple Diesel” brownies — the board voted 4-1 against the CUP request to cultivate, process and sell marijuana and marijuana-laced goodies.
“I’m going to say, ‘No,’” Commissioner Jason Vela said, a bit green-faced and woozy after consumption of his brownie. “If it’s not healthy for me, it can’t be healthy for anyone else.”
At the end of the day, the CUP request was fake and the brownies were just brownies.
But, the first-hand experience of county government was a real and valuable exercise for Leadership Sheridan County participants who were completing their county government module Thursday.
Vela is actually chief of the Northwest Community College District police department. He was joined by fellow “commissioners” Desirae Barkan of Tom Balding Bits and Spurs, Jill Keller of Volunteers of America Northern Rockies, Tom Hurley of Kenco Security and Meredith Sopko of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce. Other Leadership Sheridan County participants filled the board room as the audience.
The day included presentations at the library, sheriff’s office, juvenile and adult court, courthouse and County Commission board room. It was meant to educate participants about the ins and outs of county government.
“I was a graduate of Leadership Sheridan County 2000, and I gained immense information out of going through the process,” Commissioner Mike Nickel said. “What we’d like for the people to understand is that we do have a process to go through when there’s an issue out there. It’s not just listening to some simple information and making a vote. We research it thoroughly, we notify neighbors that are involved, and it is quite a lengthy process.”
The mock county commission meeting is a time for Sheridan County’s real county commissioners to turn the tables a bit and have fun speaking as applicants and residents.
Timothy and Angelica Stoner were played by past Leadership Sheridan County graduate Jason Willi and Deputy County Clerk Sue Allender.
Nickel played Story High School Principal Justsayno Topot; Commission Chairman Terry Cram played Zeke Hateall, who wasn’t against the product but was against any new development in his backyard; and Commissioner Steve Maier was Joe Liberty, who spoke for private property rights and noted that the two best football teams in the nation featured in this year’s Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, just happened to come from the two states that had legalized marijuana. (“This is good for football in Sheridan County,” Liberty said.)
Commissioner Bob Rolston was identified only as “fiscally responsible” and said the tax revenue from the business would be beneficial; and Commissioner Tom Ringley was revealed as a “private” partner in the business.
After hearing the impassioned speeches of the residents, the commissioners stated their reasons for their vote. Four cited proposed location and zoning, potential damage to roads and corruption of children as their reasons for voting against. Sopko was the lone voice in favor, citing economic development.
“We got to sit in on this mock commissioners’ meeting, which was interesting,” said Keller, who acted as commission chairman. “I didn’t know how they did that with how the public gets to come in and speak their mind. It’s probably been the best module we’ve been on in Leadership (Sheridan County). I have learned a lot with listening to all the judges talk, and the county commissioners and the work they have to put in for our community.”
Keller said being part of the process gave her an appreciation for the all the details that must be worked out for a new business to come to town, as well as for the balancing act of being a government official.
“You want to sit there and listen to what the people are fighting for, but you’ve got to think about the public around them, so it is hard,” Keller said.