SHERIDAN — More than 200 elected officials from cities and towns throughout Wyoming traveled to Sheridan this week to attend the Wyoming Association of Municipalities Summer Convention at Sheridan College.
WAM, a nonprofit organization that works with and advocates for Wyoming’s cities and towns, holds its summer conference annually as both an educational resource for municipal officials and an opportunity for municipalities to discuss common goals.
Sheridan Mayor Roger Miller said Sheridan’s participation in WAM is important to the city’s ability to communicate needs to state officials. For instance, Miller said WAM played a large role in explaining the importance of continuing direct distribution funding — an appropriation the state distributes among its cities and towns to supplement municipal budgets — to legislators during the 2018 Legislative Budget Session.
“It’s easier to be heard by the governor when we speak as 99 municipalities (through WAM),” Miller said.
But the group strives to be more than a lobbying organization. WAM Executive Director J. David Fraser, who took started in his role roughly two months ago, said the annual conference is central to executing WAM’s mission.
Fraser may be new to WAM, but he’s plenty familiar with the ins and outs of municipal governments. Fraser has served as a city manager for four different cities in four different states — Colorado, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada — spent 10 years as the Executive Director of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities and worked as a municipal consultant.
During his time as a municipal official, Fraser said he learned the importance of collaborating with neighboring cities and towns.
He said events like the WAM conference give municipal leaders the opportunity to meet, discuss common problems and form relationships that can lead to collaboration down the road, even if that collaboration is informal.
“When I got into city management one of the things I loved about it was that there were no trade secrets,” Fraser said. “If I was dealing with an issue, I could call neighboring cities, I could call other city managers I know, and they would share the secret sauce with me openly.”
The conference also provides municipal officials the chance to attend educational sessions on topics ranging from financial management to ethics and integrity.
Many municipal leaders get elected without ever having worked in government and are unfamiliar while the whole of a government’s operations.
“People usually get elected and they’ve got a vision for what they want to change, but they don’t necessarily come into the door knowing what tools they have to make things happen,” Fraser said. “A big part of what we do is help them understand their role and the tools that are available to them to make things happen.”
Miller said attending WAM sessions helped him tremendously when he took over as Sheridan’s mayor in 2016; and now that he’s settled into the role, the WAM sessions serve as welcome refresher course.
“For new (elected officials) it’s very important and very vital to sit through and listen and be able to talk about all of the different aspects of being a government official,” Miller said. “…In the perfect world, 100 percent of every city council and every mayor in the state would be here every year.”
Having the conference in Sheridan also serves a local benefit — and not just because most of the 200-some attendees booked hotel — in that it familiarizes people around the state with the city and see first-hand the projects it’s working on, Miller said.
That will help the city’s efforts to work with organizations and other municipalities in the state.
“It’s about relationship building…so all of the municipalities are working together for the greater benefit of Wyoming and our local communities as opposed to fighting over limited funding and cutting one another down,” Miller said. “It’s a great organization for that positive reinforcement of what we do.”