I first met former Sheridan mayor Dave Kinskey within a week of arriving here three plus years ago. We met in his office at City Hall and he filled me in on the sins of The Sheridan Press, concluding the meeting with a washing-of-the-hands gesture and how he was done with us.
Nowadays, we get along better but can’t say for certain. We had a friendly chat at the parade recently, but that was about it. When he was mayor, you always knew he was in the room. Writing about him prompts qualifiers, however: I’ve never had coffee with him or shared a meal. Never out socially with him either. I always addressed him as “mayor.”
That said, in 34 years of publishing community newspapers in five distinctly different cities (this being the last), he was the best mayor I’ve come across.
Kinskey is up the nose of a number of citizens because of city negotiations with the firefighters union, fluoride in the water system, the dismantlement of the city’s ward system, the development of high-tech data systems in Sheridan and many other issues during a tenure of nine years as the city’s top official. Why, there’s even a bumper sticker about his ambulance service. Too, the Press has been in court with the city over open records. There are likely grudges and gripes involving him that I cannot imagine. Yet, infrastructure was addressed and he took pride in being a fiscal tightwad, and that’s not a slur. There’s new industry here and possibly more on the way. The council is engaged more so than many other similar local governing bodies, indicative of citizens wanting to serve with him. He was a force for Sheridan. (Some will posit for himself as well.) For the office of mayor of a city around 18,000 people, that’s enough, and then some. One critic of his, citing the fluoride issue, acknowledges his like-him-or-not record: “when he became mayor,” he says, “the city came to life.” Another seasoned observer noted how he was a “get on board or out of my way” type of mayor.
Most of the mayors I’ve encountered while publishing the local newspaper were indistinguishable from the office furniture in City Hall. A few stand out, of course. But by and large, they were ready to have their photo taken for declaring a particular “day” for some group, or ready with a pair of scissors for a ribbon cutting and little else. Kinskey was different. He was informed, confident, competent and engaged. (He did ribbon cuttings as well and has had his photo in the Press a lot, including just two days ago.)
I know first-hand he can be “diva-esque” and thin-skinned. He’s called us out on what we would deem little things and expecting space for rebuttal. There are instances where he could’ve used more tact. Still, there’s a mutual appreciation of how “plain talk” often works well in providing clarity and expedition.
I’ve seen him be fair. One example. Earlier this year, when the Press and the Sheridan County School District 2 were fighting over public meetings and public records (we still are), he called and took me for a ride all over Sheridan, basically discussing the city’s economic potential. The past, the current, the future; that sort of thing. We visited a number of sites, just the two of us in his Suburban. Not once did he get in any licks on Superintendent Craig Dougherty, a man whom he publicly and heatedly argued with in January at the Whitney Benefits educational summit. Though he certainly could have piled on — either in reinforcing a point of view or while making small talk.
Kinskey is transitioning to represent Sheridan and Johnson counties in the state Senate. The vote that put him in Cheyenne is apt: Johnson County commissioners voting for him; a split county commission here. There’s likely some background on that, but hey, that’s politics in a public arena, recalling President Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote. I doubt there’s a statue in the works a la John Loucks regarding him, but do believe he’ll champion Sheridan and Johnson counties at the state capital given his experiences in business, law, politics, contacts and to some degree, self-promotion. He’ll prosper and in doing so, like the old saying, he’ll lift the other boats.