Cody LDS Temple Opponents Sue, Claim City Is Stonewalling Turning Over Records

A group that has already sued to stop a planned gigantic 101-foot-tall LDS temple in Cody now claims the city is stonewalling on delivering public records.

Leo Wolfson

July 10, 20245 min read

An array of large shipping containers holding materials to build a proposed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Cody are staged at the site.
An array of large shipping containers holding materials to build a proposed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple in Cody are staged at the site. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

For the second time in about a year, the city of Cody is taking an extensive amount of time to respond to a public records request that could provide many answers about what happened behind the scenes prior to approval of a controversial Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple last summer.

The records request made by Protect Our Cody Neighborhoods (POCN) was filed Feb. 29. The group is suing the church over its 101-foot-tall temple Cody Temple that was approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission last summer. Final arguments were made in the case on May 23.

The group of residents have maintained the temple's height at 101 feet tall to the top of its steeple, plans for it to be lit up at night and increased traffic would be harmful to the neighborhood it's planned for.

More than a month after those arguments on June 27, POCN filed a new complaint in Park County District Court requesting access to city internal records related to the temple and its approval that it had made in its February records request. In addition to requesting an order for delivery of the documents, POCN also asks for penalties and damages from the city.

“The city’s repeated refusals to take its statutory responsibilities pursuant to the Wyoming Public Records Act seriously is a part of a pattern that city has knowingly engaged in with respect to the POCN,” the complaint reads.

The information requested in the records request was for all communications about the temple and former City Planner Todd Stowell made by city staff from July 19, 2023, until the moment the records request was submitted in February.

Stowell, who was criticized by many for allegedly showing favoritism to the church throughout the approval process because he’s a church member, resigned in February.

As of Wednesday, more than four months after the public records request was made, the city still hasn’t fulfilled the request, POCN says.

“We’re holding their feet to the fire,” Carla Egelhoff, an organizer for POCN, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “I’m so disappointed in my city government.”

Neither Cody City Attorney Scott Kolpitcke nor City Administrator Barry Cook immediately responded to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

Not The First Time …

A similar delay of turning over public records happened last summer when POCN requested all communications made about the temple up to that point.

The city eventually turned over a trove of 3,981 items, 72 days after the 30-day deadline required under the Wyoming Public Records Act for fulfilling public records requests.

The deadline can be pushed back if “good cause” exists, which allows records to be released on a specified date mutually agreed to by the applicant and the governmental entity. It’s up to the governmental entity to demonstrate “good cause,” which the city of Cody has not done for the most recent request, POCN claims.

The new request could provide more insight into the approval process as some of the most critical decisions made on the temple happened after the previous request was submitted, the group says.

The release of the records isn’t likely to impact the final result of the lawsuit that Judge John Perry is still considering.

What it will do, Egelhoff said, is provide a better understanding for what was going on behind the scenes during the highly contentious approval process and whether city staff was above board with residents at the time.

She believes there have been many political motivations involved with the Cody LDS temple.

“Personally, I would not like to see something like this happen again,” Egelhoff said. “I want to know the root causes.”

An illustration of the planned Cody Temple.
An illustration of the planned Cody Temple. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)


• Feb. 29: POCN delivers its record request to the city.

• March 8: Kolpitcke issues first response to the request on behalf of the city, one day after the deadline required to acknowledge receipt. POCN immediately responds to the email that day.

• March 30: Deadline to respond to request expires.

• April 1: Kolpitcke issues second response, asking similar questions to his first response.

• April 10: POCN responds to Kolpitcke and demands the full records request be honored.

• May 23: Final arguments made on temple lawsuit.

• June 5: After still receiving no response from the city with the documents at least 97 days overdue, POCN sends a letter to the city demanding a response or at least a partial production of the public records requested by June 10.

• June 27: POCN files new complaint in court, requesting delivery of the records.

• July 10: City hasn’t complied with the public records request.

What It Means

Egelhoff said the city has hired law firm Williams Porter Day & Neville to inspect and approve all public records requests related to the temple.

She believes the city is purposely stalling on delivering the documents until after Perry issues a decision on the case.

“The city thinks this is all going to fade away,” Egelhoff said.

Egelhoff said her group has offered the city a new deadline of early August to deliver the records.

The Cody temple lawsuit has drawn statewide and national attention. There have been a number of other LDS temple disputes in other communities with striking similarities.

As far as the Cody lawsuit goes, Egelhoff believes it represents a hugely significant decision for Perry's career.

“He’s going to want to get the decision right,” she said. “No one is going to remember what he does over his career of 30 years if he doesn’t get it right.”

If the court rules in favor of POCN, it will immediately nullify important permits related to the construction of the temple.

The church has defended its right to build the temple based on city code and has argued blocking its construction would be an example of religious discrimination. Egelhoff said the church has repeatedly used the threat of lawsuit during its negotiations with the city on the temple.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter