Chamber claims it wanted to stay neutral in vote
November 11, 2021
The Green River Chamber of Commerce claims it didn’t intend to promote support for the failed 1% general purpose tax proposal.
Last week’s special election resulted in a massive defeat for the proposed tax, with 5,359 voting against it and 1,300 voting for it.
The chamber issued a one-paragraph press release Monday afternoon stating the chamber was asked to help encourage voters to show up at the polls last week.
“Specifically the Chamber was asked to provide signage on the proposed general-purpose tax and share the tax’s intended purpose: to support public safety and economic development,” the release states.
The chamber claims it did not take a stance on the tax or intend to show support either for or against it, seeking to be a neutral party in the election. The chamber’s press release also doesn’t identify the individual or organization that had asked it to produce the signs.
The chamber did not provide further comment nor did it respond to multiple attempts to seek further comment.
According to emails requested by the Green River Star, the signs’ intended purpose was to promote support for the tax.
As reported last week by the Star, Sweetwater County Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld sent an email to Commissioner Roy Lloyd and Kaylee Hughes, an employee of Rocket City Creative and SweetwaterNOW, saying large signs supporting the tax needed to be placed after the Sweetwater GOP began placing signs urging voters to oppose it. A subsequent message from Lloyd asked if the signs could be considered promotional, to which Schoenfeld replied that they would be and the county wouldn’t pay for them.
Lisa Herrera, CEO of the chamber, or other representatives from the chamber were not included in an email Schoenfeld sent with a proof of the sign. Those included in her email were Lloyd, Sweetwater County Attorney Dan Erramouspe, deputy county attorney John DeLeon, Green River City Attorney Galen West, City Administrator Reed Clevenger, Communications Administrator Steve Core and the city’s Public Affairs and Grants Manager Ryan Rust.
Erramouspe said Monday he hadn’t seen the email with the proof, learning of the signs after they were placed the week prior to the election. He said his main concern throughout the process was that government money would have been spent on promoting the tax to voters, though the county does need to provide information to voters.
“The county has an actual obligation to provide information to voters,” he said.
The postcard about the tax sent out on behalf of the county was heavily edited and modified from its original version according to Erramouspe, with anything that could be considered promotional language removed prior to printing. He said his office still received complaints about the mailer.
Prior to an opinion issued by the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the Rock Springs City Council opting not to support sharing costs with the county and Green River governments, a large marketing plan was initially proposed with the county and the two cities each providing money to the cause.
The initial $30,000 proposal from Rocket City Creative was sent from Core to Schoenfeld and Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo Aug. 12. In that email, Core asked if the county, Rock Springs and Green River could contribute $10,000 apiece to the campaign and asked the two their thoughts on seeking funds from the county’s smaller towns. He also questioned if the marketing money could be funneled to the chambers, main street/URA organizations and the Sweetwater County Economic Development Coalition.
Lloyd, included by Schoenfeld at Core’s request, responded by asking if Hughes was doing the work independently or through SweetwaterNOW and if other proposals were sought and stated the initial $7,500 budget for signs seemed high based on his county commissioner campaign. The amount would have covered 500 yard signs in Green River and Rock Springs.
Core then responded by writing the work was done through the same group that had handled the Sweetwater Cares campaign, believing Rocket City Creative to be independent of SweetwaterNOW.
“I did not seek others, frankly, not sure if there is (sic) others,” Core wrote.
Clevenger responded to an email from the Star originally sent to Core Wednesday afternoon after the Star's press deadline. Clevenger admits Core using the word "funnel" was a poor choice of words, saying the city uses several outlets to promote information to educate Green River's residents and saying the idea of funneling money to an organization like the chambers or SECD is the same as if the city wanted to buy an advertisement in the Green River Star to educate residents.
"The fact is the city was bouncing ideas of the best way to educate the public about the tax initiative in the timeframe that was now in front of us," Clevenger wrote to the Star.
He said the city had multiple conversations with the commissioners, the Rock Springs municipal government and both chambers on how an educational initiative could be accomplished, with all of the groups in those discussions being asked to pay for that initiative at some point. He said the city also kept communication with their legal counsel and the state as they were working toward a plan to educate the county's residents. While he believes the education efforts were hampered by Rock Springs not giving its support to the initiative after the special election was approved, he said residents spoke with their vote and there were some lessons learned along the way.
"From the timing of the initiative, to the wording of it, the details that needed to be further vetted on the how and why the funding was needed, etc., are all items that will be worked on in the future for any such initiative that may be brought forward," he wrote. "Until then, we need to find ways to move forward and to continue offering the services residents expect and helping to diversify our economy in a meaningful way."