Councilmen, not mayor, to sign MOU

by nathan oster

The Greybull Town Council still doesn’t have an ordinance governing sidewalk encroachments along highway right-of-way areas, but after Monday night it is a step closer to having a signed, sealed and delivered memorandum of understanding with the Wyoming Department of Transportation.

The encroachment issue — or more specifically how to address it — has been a point of contention since the new council was seated in January.  Heading into Monday’s meeting, the council had a memorandum of understanding with WYDOT that Mayor Bob Graham has been refusing to sign because of the unwillingness of the council to pass an ordinance that would allow the town to enforce the stipulations of the MOU.

Councilmen Myles Foley and Clay Collingwood have been outspoken critics of the proposed ordinance, repeatedly calling it “unnecessary.”  With a full council now in place after the appointment last month of Ross Jorgensen, Graham asked for a reconsideration of the proposed ordinance.

But when the time came for Monday’s discussion, one councilman who supported Graham’s position, Bob McGuire, was absent. That left Collingwood, Foley, Graham and Jorgensen to decide the issue.

Graham opened the discussion by saying that he had been approached by Carla Scharen, owner of CC’s Pizza.  She is interested in putting tables on the sidewalk in front of her restaurant on Greybull Avenue.

Graham said he told her that without a town ordinance, she’d have to go through WYDOT.  He conveyed that she had attempted to do so, but was encountering “struggles” in her bid to obtain a permit.

“We have an MOU, but we don’t have the teeth to enforce the MOU,” Graham said. “So we’re asking (the council) to again entertain passing the ordinance.”

Foley said he, too, had spoken with Scharen. But, he said, she wants her tables to extend 5 feet out, not the 3 set forth as the limit in the MOU.  “She would have needed to get a variance from WYDOT anyway,” Foley said. “I told her if she wanted to go to 3 feet, she wouldn’t have to do that.”

Foley said having an ordinance wouldn’t help Scharen because she’d need to do a variance anyway.  Graham disagreed, saying that if the town had an ordinance, it could help guide Scharen through the variance process.

Jorgensen asked why the town needs an encroachment ordinance, noting that towns like Burlington, Manderson and Frannie all have highways running through them — yet none of them have been approached by WYDOT about the need for an ordinance.

Ron Huff, who was representing WYDOT, said “town forces” in those communities are responsible for maintain the right-of-way requirements.  WYDOT still must get involved from time to time, he said.

“We talk with the business owner, and if they don’t correct it, we pick up the encroachment and take it to our yard,” said Huff. “We hold onto it for the business owner to come and pick it up.  We talk about it and most likely give it back.  But at some point, if it keeps going and going, we’d probably consider it being in trespass.”

Huff emphasized that there has been “good compliance” in Greybull and that WYDOT has had success working with business owners in Cody as well. “Cody was in bad shape; they had stuff all over their sidewalks,” Huff said.

He reiterated that all WYDOT is doing in Greybull is trying to “shorten the process” required of business owners who would like to put objects in front of their storefronts.  “We are trying to be more business-friendly by working with the towns and letting them work with merchants without a bunch of paperwork requirements,” he said.

The ordinance “gives blanket guidelines for merchants to follow” without “having to ask WYDOT for permission or fill out paperwork.”

Foley reiterated, “We don’t need an ordinance to tell our business people what to do.  We can police it ourselves.”

He then asked Graham why he hasn’t signed the MOU.  Graham cited the opinion of the town’s attorney, Scott McColloch, who advised that “without an ordinance, the MOU has no teeth.

“Plus we have a deputy sheriff, who is part of the council, who felt it has no teeth,” said Graham. “Our own chief of police recommended that we have an ordinance for them to be legally able to approach someone in violation.”

McColloch added, “If you don’t have an ordinance, enforcement is left up to the highway department.  The town simply doesn’t have the authority to enforce it.”

Foley said he’d like to see the MOU signed — and that “if we needed an ordinance, it wouldn’t take long to put it into place.”  He asked if the signatures of two council members would be enough to make the MOU official in the absence of the mayor’s signature — and was told that two signatures from the council would work as well.

Foley and Collingwood plan to sign the MOU.

“That’s fine,” said Graham. “As long as the council understands that it cannot direct the police or the public works to pick up the signs.”