CASPER — It may be more than two months since Bruce Knell abruptly resigned as mayor, but he’s still impacting city policy and procedures.
Casper City Council is considering a change to the city’s municipal code that would allow for a councilmember serving as mayor or vice mayor to be removed from those posts while remaining on the council.
The issue came to a head in late September when Knell resigned after allegations surfaced that he physically attacked his wife. He denied the accusations, but left the council saying his name and reputation in the community had been ruined.
The council heard the first reading Tuesday of a change to the municipal code that would allow a mayor or vice mayor to be removed while allowing them to retain their role as elected city council members.
City Manager Carter Napier said the need for the proposed change became evident after Knell’s resignation. While the code does consider removing a council member entirely for “cause,” there is not language to remove them from leadership.
In Casper, the mayor and vice mayor are chosen by the City Council from their own ranks.
The controversy over Knell’s domestic violence accusations highlighted the loophole, Napier said.
“It was apparent that there was no process really,” he said. “When the citizens would call and ask, we had to confess we really did not have a process for removing leaders, which is different from removing people from the council altogether. This is an opportunity to fill that gap with at least a process that is recognized in ordinance.”
The proposed change, provided by City Attorney Eric Nelson, provides language that allows for the mayor or vice mayor to be removed from office but remain a voting member of the council. That removal can take place upon a vote of “no confidence” by a majority of the council at either a regular or special meeting.
The proposal also states the mayor or vice mayor would then have an opportunity for a public hearing to address the issue at the next council meeting, if requested, followed by an executive session to deliberate. A vote on removing them from office would happen in public and would require a supermajority vote from the nine-member council.
Should the mayor be removed, the vice mayor will act as mayor pro-tem until a council vote at the next regular meeting. If the vice-mayor is removed, the office is vacant until a vote at the next regular council meeting.
Casper’s current mayor, Ray Pacheco, and Vice Mayor Lisa Engebretsen were elevated by their fellow councilmembers into their positions following the resignation of Knell.
About That Resignation
Knell resigned after denying allegations that he punched his wife into a wall while they were attending the University of Wyoming’s football game against the University of Texas. The alleged assault caused her to have to get about a dozen staples and numerous sutures in her head.
Knell said in his letter of resignation he submitted in September that his reputation has been damaged to the point where he must step down. He also said he recognized he had lost the confidence of the other members of the council.
“It is readily apparent to me that the City Council has abandoned me … and it is apparent to me that every effort is being made to destroy me to the public,” Knell wrote.
Before the new language can become part of the city’s code, second and third readings will be made at future council meetings. No one from the public spoke for or against the change Tuesday.
All the members of the council voted in favor of the proposed change except Brandy Haskins, who was not present and had an excused absence from the meeting.
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.