An already heated debate over a proposal to build a 101-foot-tall Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Cody, Wyoming has taken an ugly turn.
Members of a group opposing the Cody Wyoming Temple in its proposed location told Cowboy State Daily that some of their yard signs were stolen, vandalized and replaced with new versions condemning the group in a variety of ways.
Terry Skinner and Carla Egelhoff, members of the Preserve Our Cody Neighborhoods group that opposes the temple location, said their group has had about 20 signs stolen so far.
Some were found in dumpsters, while others were altered and posted in public again mocking arguments those opposing the temple had made at public meetings.
“Whoever is putting these messages on them, they seem to be taking things personally,” Skinner said.
The first signs showed up the morning of June 27, just hours before the second public meeting on the proposed temple was held. Skinner said this batch of reappropriated signs were spray painted black with white handwriting written over it.
More signs appeared June 30 and July 1.
Some strike a sarcastic tone and accuse opponents of the project of being bigots, satanic behavior and calling members of the church “Mormon trash.”
Egelhoff said one sign was painted with a sneering red devil and the words “We Need Your Support.” Both she and Skinner said another sign sarcastically alluding to those who oppose the temple as bigots is “offensive.”
“All we can say is people seem to be upset,” Skinner said.
Another sign reads “Mormon trash” on one side and “We Made Cody” on the other, which many find confusing because the city was founded by Buffalo Bill, who was not a member of the church.
According to the Historical Cody Mural and Museum, it was not until the 1920s that members of the church settled in Cody, a few decades after the founding of the town.
Skinner said although they don't know who is vandalizing the signs, they feel confident it is not a member of their group doing so in an effort to make those supporting the temple look bad.
During a recent meeting between Preserve Our Neighborhoods and members of the church, both sides agreed they’re not happy with the ugly turn that the temple discussions have taken.
“There was no resolution on how to mitigate those concerns other than agreement that are extremes on both sides that shouldn’t control the dialogue,” Skinner said.
Skinner and Egelhoff have consistently stated that their group doesn’t oppose a temple in Cody, but simply opposes its proposed location. They believe the proposed location violates the Cody Master Plan, a guide for future growth in the city.
“We don’t talk like that, we don’t think like that, those kinds of thoughts and actions and messages are not even in any of our discussions,” Egelhoff said about allegations their message is intolerant of the church. “We’re talking about the building, the codes, the suitability or lack thereof.”
Todd Christensen, a bishop of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in Cody, said the message clearly is anti-church, not about building codes.
“I’m pretty sure when they say, ‘not in my neighborhood,’ the same argument has also been extended to ‘not in my town’ and in some instances ‘not in my county,’” he said. “At some point you have to put your foot down and say that’s not right.”
He believes it no different than if someone was trying to argue against Black children being allowed to attend school in their area or members of other religions from being allowed to live somewhere.
“That’s like saying, ‘It’s not about race, but I just don’t want colored kids to go to our school.’ ‘We like Jews but they should just go somewhere else,’” he said.
Response To Pre-Shipping Temple
Last week, Cowboy State Daily confirmed that the man who donated land to the church to build the temple has been leasing space at his business for the church to store pieces of the temple in anticipation of having the project approved.
Egelhoff said she’s not offended by this act of presumption, but considers it poor decision-making on the part of the church and “a power play.”
“If it were me running this project, I think it would be unwise to get all the materials on-site before you have a permit,” she said. “The project is not approved until you have a permit in hand.
“It’s just not smart to have your materials show up to your intended job site before you’ve got permission to build that thing.”
Skinner and Egelhoff said they had been aware of the storage for some time and believe that the storage pods holding pieces of the temple arrived in the late winter or early spring. This timeframe was well ahead of any permit application being submitted for the project.
“I think it’s aggressive because people knew (about the storage),” Egelhoff said.
She said the same pods were used in the construction of a recently built temple in Casper, a structure of similar size to the proposed Cody Wyoming Temple. Egelhoff also said they have been frequently used to make temples for the church, with a separate room often located in each one.
“They come shrink-wrapped the way rich people on the East Coast shrink wrap their yachts in the winter time and put them in dry dock,” she said.
The Right Fit
So far, the Cody Planning and Zoning board has rejected a special exemption request the temple submitted for its most controversial feature, a 77-foot steeple that brings the high point of the building to 101 feet.
Cody City Planner Todd Stowell has argued that the steeple should not be considered part of the building height, a determination Christensen agrees with but believes should be clarified better in future city code.
“I feel very confident the law will prevail,” he said.
Christensen also believes federal law sides with the church, but Egelhoff said the the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 doesn’t give a religious organization license to build whatever it wants wherever it wants.
Like choosing the right college, Egelhoff said a building must fit with its surroundings. She said every church built in Cody previously has met the building codes of their respective locations and that the temple doesn’t fit with the rural residential character of their neighborhood.
The Cody Planning and Zoning Board is expected to continue discussing the temple at its next meeting July 25.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.