This week, the Sheridan City Council discussed the implications of an ultimatum handed down by Sheridan County. The county wants the city to pay for the municipal prisoners housed in the county detention center. The city says it pays for it through a trade — jail services for dispatch services. The two entities are at an impasse.
City officials held a meeting Tuesday that included negotiations to figure out how to move forward. Yet the meeting was closed to the public and the media.
The issue is one that will impact two of the largest government entities based in Sheridan County and therefore a large constituency of local residents. Why wouldn’t those negotiations be of public interest?
To be clear, The Sheridan Press was told that neither the City Council nor the Sheridan County Commission would have a quorum present at the discussions. Therefore, the meeting was not required to be open under Wyoming’s open meeting laws. Still, a topic of such importance should have been discussed openly.
A second meeting was held Thursday and that one was open to the public.
Our hunch for the initial closed meeting is the issues go beyond simple mathematics of budget line items. It seems to be a bit more personal than that.
In past situations — for example when the city wanted to charge the county upward of $700,000 per year to provide fire service in the “doughnut area” around Sheridan city limits — the city has seemed to strong arm the county. Ultimatums were exchanged then as well. Pay up, or find your own way to provide fire service to those residents and businesses. The county, as a solution, formed the Sheridan Area Rural Fire Protection District, aka Goose Valley Fire Department.
It seems, now, the county is giving the city a taste of its own medicine. The argument has a personal feel to it. The disagreements between the city and county have been well documented in past years, for example: municipal versus circuit court case loads, road annexations, Optional One-Cent Sales Tax funding distributions. In some cases, the solutions have proved beneficial to the community. In other cases, the outcomes are less clear.
In one sense, it is encouraging to see the county standing up for itself; in another sense, the mathematics may prove a detriment to the county’s stance. Whatever the solution the two entities hammer out, the path to get there should be public and include input from the community residents. A public debate could keep the negotiations less about personal disagreements and more about the task at hand.