GILLETTE, Wyo. — Election season is well underway and County 17 has sent a list of questions to each candidate who has filed to run for a municipal office.
These questions are designed to give our readers a better understanding of the people behind the names on the ballot. All candidate responses submitted to County 17 are republished as they are received.
Below, get to know Ben Decker who is running for a seat on the Gillette City Council to represent Ward 1:
- Who are you? (name, where you’re from, employment, hobbies, etc.)
My name is Ben Decker. I have an Associate’s degree from SDSM&T in General Studies and a Bachelor’s degree from UW in Psychology. My family moved to Gillette in 1991 when I was 11 years old. I have owned rental property in the area since 1999 and manage all aspects of leasing and maintaining the properties. I currently work for UPS. As your Gillette ward 1 councilman I would like to improve upon public accountability and transparency. I intend to be fiscally responsible and help to manage the city’s finances in a conservative and careful way as I have with my own. I would like to limit the scope of the city government to focus on making the basic functions excellent.
2. Why have you decide to run for office and what do you hope to accomplish should you be elected?
The City of Gillette should get back to the basics. Main priorities should be basic infrastructure, utilities, police department, and fire department. The city government should be much more frugal with taxpayer money. For the last fiscal year, the proposed, agreed upon city budget was $118 million. It was adjusted half way through the year to $204.9 million. That’s $86.9 million extra that comes from you. The city continues to find new ways to spend your money. I would like to see the government stay out of new areas of daily life. This would allow more time, money, and expertise to be used for the government’s proper, limited role, and allow taxpayers to keep more of their money.
3. How do you plan on accomplishing your goals?
The biggest issue facing the city is declining income from coal, oil, and natural gas extraction. The proper way to prepare for this decline is to find ways to decrease spending, avoid large amounts of debt, and make ongoing maintenance and upkeep less expensive. Projects should be completed in a way that brings a long-lasting benefit to the community. For example, the city pool should be built with a crawl space underneath so that down the road, when there is a leak, a plumber can go into the crawl space and fix the leak. Simple, common sense planning like this can eliminate more costly repairs such as replacing the entire pool like we are seeing now.
4. What experience do you have that qualifies you for the office you are seeking?
My education and experience will allow me to help with problem solving, communicating with the public, and managing the budget. I have attended many council meetings over the past year to learn more about the city’s operations and fight for honesty and transparency that has been sorely lacking.
5. Do you feel you could be a good steward with taxpayer dollars? Why or why not?
Yes, I would be willing to vote no on spending money on things that should not be the role of government. I would focus on needs over wants, and help to find ways to make capital projects more cost effective.
6. On the issue of transparency, where do you stand on ensuring all public business is conducted openly and in a manner that encourages public attendance?
Wyoming open meetings law should be followed. Meetings should be open and public with executive sessions only when necessary. Back room deals or decisions would not be tolerated. I would keep the public informed. I would encourage the public to attend meetings and make them feel welcome. Maybe I would offer free pizza to encourage attendance (just kidding).
7. Do you believe the office or board position you seek has been open and honest with the public? If yes, how can the entity remain open and transparent when conducting public business moving forward. If not, what changes would you implement to ensure that all future dealings are open and transparent?
After recent investigations into the former Mayor and current councilpersons found violations of Wyoming open meetings law happened on a regular basis, the current Mayor, Eric Hanson, and two councilmen, Shay Lundvall and Greg Schreurs, have made an effort to make the council more open and honest. I would like to continue, and improve upon, this effort. The people should run the government instead of the government running the people.
8. If you are presiding over a meeting and a topic was being discussed that you didn’t fully understand, would you ask for a more detailed explanation during the meeting or would you seek the information after the meeting?
I would ask during a meeting. If I need more clarification, another councilman or someone in the public may also. It is important for the council as well as the public to understand the issues.
9. Should you be elected, or re-elected, do you plan on seeking any major policy changes in your chosen office? If yes, what would those changes be? If not, why not?
Yes, I would seek changes that keep your money in your pocket. For example, The optional 1% sales tax’s original purpose was infrastructure. Using it for this can keep other taxes and utility bills lower. It should not be used to fund nonprofit organizations. Keeping nonprofits independent allows taxpayers to keep their own money and invest as they see fit. When they do choose to invest in a nonprofit, they gain personal connection and involvement in the organization. It results in funding nonprofits that are wanted, effective, and managed well. It also eliminates the ability of the government to impose requirements to continue to receive funding. We live in a generous community. Rather than taking money from the taxpayer and giving it to a nonprofit, we should allow the people to give directly.
On the survey people fill out asking where the 1 percent funding should go, veteran services has come out on top. This is also a legitimate place to use the penny power money. Like police and fireman, military is a legitimate role of government. Veterans have sacrificed for our safety and freedom. We appreciate your service and I am in favor of contributing to services that you have earned.
10. What impact do you feel sports tourism has on Gillette and does that impact justify the costs of the Energy Capital Sports Complex, commonly referred to as the “Field of Dreams”?
The field of dreams does have some positive impact on the community. It should not be a priority over basic needs as it has been in the past. Entertainment isn’t a proper role of government. I do know that it brings money into the community and gives people healthy activities. I would need to look into the numbers more to see if the impact justifies the cost.
11. How can your community prepare for future economic downturns resulting from volatile energy markets and a potential global shift away from coal?
Recently the Supreme Court limited the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions. Local governments should follow this and help make the tax structure and business environment favorable for coal, oil, and natural gas extraction. We should also find ways to keep royalties in the community rather than paying the federal government only to receive some of the money back with strings attached. Doing this may require legislative changes, litigation, or both. The best way to prepare for an economic downturn is to vote for fiscally conservative candidates. I’m Ben Decker running for Ward 1 City Council and I would appreciate your vote.