After Stormy 2023, Casper City Council Elects New Mayor

After a year that saw the former Casper mayor draw national attention for comments he made about the city’s homeless population and resign amid allegations of domestic violence, the City Council elected a new mayor Tuesday.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

January 03, 20244 min read

Casper Vice Mayor Lisa Engebretsen and newly elected Mayor Steve Cathey take their oaths of office Tuesday night.
Casper Vice Mayor Lisa Engebretsen and newly elected Mayor Steve Cathey take their oaths of office Tuesday night. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

CASPER — The city has a new mayor, turning the page from 2023 that saw its controversial former mayor resign and his successor opt not to continue as mayor.

Casper City Council members Tuesday elected Councilor Steve Cathey to lead the nine-member body, which functions using a council-city manager form of government where the city manager runs daily operations. The mayoral role retains one vote and runs council meetings as well as acts as figurehead for the city at official functions.

Cathey and Vice Mayor Lisa Engebretsen both announced their candidacies for mayor in December, when a secret straw poll set up the vote Tuesday with Cathey as the only candidate for mayor and Engebretsen for vice mayor.

Both received unanimous votes from the six other council members present, while the respective candidates abstained. Councilors Gena Jensen and Jai-Ayla Sutherland were absent.

‘The Most Boring Mayor’

Former Mayor Ray Pacheco had said he would not seek to retain the seat he filled following the resignation of former Casper Mayor Bruce Knell in September, who resigned after allegations he physically attacked his wife. He denied the accusations, but left the council saying his reputation in the community had been ruined.

Pacheco said Tuesday that he never intended to be mayor for the long-term.

“I decided to take this interim period for one reason and one reason only — to get us back on track, to make some normalization again,” he said. “That’s all I wanted to do, be the most boring mayor the city had ever seen. I think I accomplished that, and it’s great to sit in the seat as a council member.”

Cathey said he appreciated the confidence of the council to put him in the mayor’s seat.

“Hopefully, we can have another quiet and peaceful year,” he said.

The selections set the stage for a new year after controversies involving Knell generated headlines in 2023. First there were his comments about homeless people and the issues they were causing in the city that garnered national attention, and then a few months later his defense about his alleged conduct with his wife while attending a University of Wyoming football game in Texas.

Ordinance Allowing Removal Of Leadership

In addition to electing new leaders Tuesday, the council unanimously adopted an ordinance to the city’s municipal code that allows for a council member serving as mayor or vice mayor to be removed from those positions, but still be allowed to retain their seats on the council.

City Manager Carter Napier confirmed at a previous council meeting that the need for that change became evident after Knell’s resignation. While the code considers removing a council member entirely for “cause,” there is not language to remove anyone from leadership roles while letting him retain his council seat.

Pacheco said Tuesday that the ordinance was needed based on the experiences the council went through last year.

“As we are looking at how this started, this conversation, it is imperative for us to have a mechanism for us to look at the removal of leadership positions for individuals … that certainly are not representative of what we are trying to establish as a group here and what we do to represent our community,” Pacheco said. “I know after receiving several phone calls from several people asking how we do this and the removal of certain individuals, we had no mechanism really other than a long, drawn-out process. I think this gives us an opportunity to have that mechanism.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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