By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
The mayor of Rock Springs has pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor criminal charges, alleging that he attempted to use his position with the city to secure an engineering contract for his own business.
On Aug. 19, Tim Kaumo entered a not guilty plea in Sweetwater County Circuit Court. A week later he was scheduled for a Sept. 20 settlement conference.
A staff member with Sweetwater Circuit Court clarified that Kaumo is not actually settling the case, and this is a purely procedural, scheduling conference. Typically, these conferences are informal and not done in front of the public.
Kaumo is facing five charges of official misconduct and one charge of conflict of interest, according to an affidavit filed on Aug. 1.
If found guilty on all charges, Kaumo could receive up to $30,000 in fines.
The charges stem from a nearly-two-year investigation by the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation and the FBI that was filed on Aug. 1.
Kaumo has been Rock Springs mayor for 12 years. In May, he announced he was 99.9% sure he would not seek re-election. Kaumo followed through on this hypothesis and did not run in the primary election earlier this month.
During his departure speech, Kaumo neither alluded to or mentioned the FBI investigation.
“I’ve struggled with this decision for many months, yet I feel after 12 years I’ve done what I can,” Kaumo said during the May announcement. “I’ve enjoyed serving this city but it’s time for new adventures.”
The two city council members sitting on either side of Kaumo never looked at him during his speech. No comment was made by any party after Kaumo delivered his address.
An investigation of Kaumo’s activities had been long underway by the time he gave this announcement.
The Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office in August 2020 requested an outside investigation related to possible illegal activity within the Rock Springs city government, specifically related to a request for proposal (RFP) for a $3.8 million Bitter Creek Reconstruction Project, according to the affidavit.
Kaumo is also president of JFC Engineers & Surveyors. JFC was one of the companies that had submitted a proposal for the Bitter Creek project when the city asked for bids from engineers.
From July 17, 2020 to Oct. 6, 2020, Kaumo is accused of sending emails to members of the Rock Springs City Council regarding JFC and the RFP, according to the charging affidavit.
“Based on the language of the emails, (they) presented themselves as attempting to justify and sway elected City Officials toward voting for Mayor Kaumo’s employers and business,” the affidavit said.
In one particular email, Kaumo said he is “capable of making common sense decisions and determining right from wrong here whether it is in support or non-support of my place of employment,” he wrote.
The emails also disparaged competing engineering firms, the document said.
“The lowest bidder is most likely an incompetent bidder as we well know which leads to a shitty job, time delays and change orders,” Kaumo wrote in another email.
Court documents also accused Kaumo of using his position as mayor to obtain documents which, under state statute, are considered non-public documents. These included proposals from the competing engineering firms William H. Smith and Associates and Western Engineers.
Kaumo described Western’s owner Byrant Lyman as a former employee of his who was disgruntled.
“In my professional life and my firm, we hold our ethics above all else,” Lyman told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday afternoon. We are absolutely not being charged with anything in this case.”
Lyman did say he has retained counsel regarding the case and could not make any further comments.
Kaumo also brought up the performance of Western Engineering on past projects, which he said resulted in him meeting with the then-mayor and city attorney to discuss his concerns.
JFC was chosen as the winner bidder by an internal committee, but those committee members raised questions about the cost of the company’s engineering services, which were two times higher than bids from competing engineering firms.
In July 2020, the Rock Springs City Council voted to not award the contract to JFC and chose to restart the process. WHS ended up winning the job.
During an October city council meeting, Kaumo continued to make disparaging remarks about his competitors and failed to abstain from a final vote awarding the contract to WHS, voting against it. He said he was voting against the process that took place in selecting the winning bidder.
“Simply because it has been unfair with accusations made against myself and staff with no evidence to support them,” Kaumo said.
Kaumo then proceeded to interrogate a staff member from WHS about their licensing and other issues.
“Mayor Kaumo again voiced his concerns publicly and in the presence of city council members prior to a vote, by berating the proposed winners of the second RFP,” the affidavit states.