HANNA — A town meeting here grew rowdy Tuesday as residents upset over a proposed clean-up ordinance shouted at town officials and laced their comments on the matter with profanity.
“What’s going on right now, today, is a farce. It’s a bunch of bullshit in my book,” resident Oaks Briggs said at the beginning of a long and frequently cantankerous public comment period regarding the ordinance.
Nobody spoke in favor of the proposed measure, which the council voted to reject.
Shortly before Briggs spoke, town officials essentially gave up trying to clarify the proposed ordinance to a bristling crowd gathered in the tiny Carbon County town’s recreation center.
The council had evidently anticipated the meeting could get wild. There had been numerous angry posts on a Hanna social media site leading up to the meeting and a petition against the junk ordinance.
The ordinance would have allowed the town council to appoint a code enforcement officer, and would have implemented fines of up to $750 per day for failure to clean up trash, junk vehicles and other eyesores.
The meeting’s location had been changed to rec center’s spacious gym in anticipation of an unusually large crowd. And a few Carbon County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a Wyoming state trooper were on hand to provide security.
During one tense moment, resident Stephanie Gonyou and Hanna Town Treasurer Ann Calvert had a terse exchange.
During her comments, Gonyou said she didn’t think the council was supporting the community, but was instead trying to burden it with unnecessary rules.
“This is not California, this is not Colorado,” she said.
Calvert at one point tried to interject, but Gonyou said she wasn’t interested.
“There is nothing you have to say to me. I am here, this is my five minutes, not yours,” she said.
Calvert stood up and walked to retrieve a microphone, but was shut down.
“Ah, shut up and sit down!” somebody yelled angrily from the audience.
Gonyou also accused the mayor of smirking at the audience instead of expressing support for the community.
Junk, Trash, Abandoned Buildings
Hanna has a problem with junk, loose trash and abandoned buildings, Mayor Jon Ostling told Cowboy State Daily after the meeting ended and most of the crowd had left.
By then, the mood was quiet and peaceful. A few residents came up to chat with the mayor, and some even apologized for how boisterous the meeting had become.
The town of 683, which sits off an isolated stretch of U.S. Highway 30 southwest of Medicine Bow, doesn’t have a town marshal, Ostling said.
The proposed ordinance, a revision of the town’s existing junk code, was intended to help clean things up, he said. But given its hard rejection earlier that evening, there probably won’t be any more attempts to revise it, Ostling said.
Instead, Hanna will keep trying to hire a marshal “either full-time or part-time” to enforce clean-up regulations and other municipal codes, he said.
The steepness of the fine and proposed appointment of a code enforcement officer seemed to be points of strongest objection as one person after another railed against the measure.
They also balked at some details of revisions to the town code, including measures limiting smoke coming from wood-burning stoves that some people use to heat their homes.
Resident also cited their love for living in a quiet, out-of-the way place that’s free of bureaucratic red tape.
“I left a very high-level tech job to be he here because I wanted freedom over cash,” Josh Hamby told the mayor and council.
He invoked his faith during his comments.
“There is only one man that I bow to, and his name is Jesus Christ,” he said, drawing enthusiastic applause and shouts of encouragement from the audience.
He later told Cowboy State Daily that he had recently moved to Hanna from Salt Lake City, which he described as “a liberal hellhole.”
“The code enforcement officer there was coming around every summer and dinging me for every little thing,” Hamby said, a situation he doesn’t want to see repeated in his new hometown.
Several other people objected the fines would be too much for many residents to handle because they’re retired and on fixed incomes or must spend considerable amounts of their pay commuting to jobs in distant communities.
In his comments, and while speaking with Cowboy State Daily, Hanna resident Seven Grover said an appointed code enforcement officer would go against the United State’s principle of the separation of powers between judicial, legislative and executive branches.
He likened appointing the code enforcement officer to the appointment of judges by Britian’s King George, who was king at the time of the American Revolution.
‘I’ll Pick Your Shit Up’
Robert Jones told the council that he also thought the proposed ordinance was “bullshit,” and that it would overburden the town’s elderly residents.
“If you guys are going to hold a gun to some of these seniors and elderly people with their trash that they can’t get to the dump, are you guys gong to have a free dump day for these people?” he said.
To which, somebody from the crowd shouted, “Yeah, a free dump week!”
Jones added that if the ordinance had passed and elderly people or others who couldn’t afford the fines were about to be fined for failure to comply, he would be willing to come haul their trash for them.
“Call me, I’ll come pick your f**king shit up for you,” he said.
Which drew another shout from the crowd, “Oh, me too!”
The Real ‘Trash’ Is Drugs
Tracy Luker, along with some others who spoke, suggested that the mayor and some council members had junk vehicles or other clutter in their yards.
“Clean up your own damn back yard. Clean up your own shit first!” she said.
She added that she thinks Hanna has had a recent influx of illegal drug users, which should be of greater concern for town authorities than loose trash and the like.
The real “trash” is the drug culture, she said.
“The only way to clean this town up is to get the f**cking drugs and the druggies out of here,” she said.
Later, she told Cowboy State Daily that she and others had such strong reactions to the proposed ordinance because they consider Hanna to be a special place. They think it’s the sort of town where problems should be solved by neighbors helping each other, not through more ordinances and government.
A Proud, Hard Legacy
She said she grew up in Hanna in the 1970s, but moved away for many years before returning about eight years ago.
“I had to come back to Hanna. This is my home,” she said.
The spirit of Hanna hasn’t changed since its mining heyday in the early 20th Century, and it should be kept intact, Luker said.
The town had a population of thousands during the height of coal mining there, which began to taper off in the 1980s. Hundreds of miners died in accidents over the decades that the underground mines were operating, most notably during massive explosions in 1903 and 1908.
Many of the miners who died in those explosions are buried in a cemetery just outside of town, which is considered to be one of Wyoming’s most important historical sites.
Could Have Been More Civil
Pam Paulson has lived in Hanna for much of her life and is one of the primary caretakers of the miners’ cemetery as president of the Hanna Basin Museum and Historical Society.
Early Wednesday, she told Cowboy State Daily that Hanna town council meetings are usually attended by only a handful of people, so the previous evening’s raucous proceedings were unprecedented.
She added that she could understand both sides. On one hand, the need to keep lots clean and tear down abandoned buildings in Hanna is evident, so she understands why the mayor and council were trying to do something about it.
But allowing for more public comment on the matter beforehand might have prevented such an angry reaction, she said.
“I felt that some of the proposed amendments to the ordinance were extreme for the town of Hanna,” she said.
However, she said she also thought that the angry attitudes and use of profanity during the meeting weren’t the best approach either.
“You can always get further with honey rather than vinegar,” she said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.