The Park County Commission has extended the lease of perhaps its most controversial tenant.
Earlier this month, the board voted to allow Northwest Wyoming Family Planning to continue using a small office in the Park County Annex in Powell for another year. Commissioner Tim French voted against renewing the lease, citing his pro-life, anti-abortion beliefs. Commissioners plan to re-vote on the lease Wednesday because, technically, only two commissioners voted in favor of the lease at the Aug. 7 meeting.
Northwest Wyoming Family Planning (NWFP) provides “reproductive health and wellness services,” including cancer screenings, breast exams and pregnancy counseling. The Cody-based nonprofit does not perform abortions. It sometimes refers clients to other organizations that do, though Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton said his understanding is that NWFP hasn’t given a referral for an abortion in “years.”
Under the lease, NWFP will keep paying the county $30 per month to use roughly 100 square feet of space on Monday afternoons; that’s a time period when the office is otherwise unused by Park County Public Health.
When NWFP leaders approached the county about leasing the space a year ago, they said it was a way to affordably serve under- or uninsured people in the Powell area; Crampton said it would also allow his office and the family planning group to more easily refer clients to each other.
One year in, “everything has worked well for us,” Crampton told commissioners Aug. 7, adding, “We’ve gotten a few referrals for vaccines and things like that, so it kind of increases our foot traffic as well. I have no complaints; I would approve it in a minute.”
Commissioners, however, have heard complaints from pro-life advocates about the lease and took several minutes discussing it.
“... I’ve defended our position on renting Northwest Family Planning that space down there [in Powell] on numerous times,” said Commissioner Joe Tilden. “And since the campaigning started with the election year, it’s become more and more apparent that there are a lot of people out there that don’t approve of us doing that.”
Tilden is running for re-election and three other candidates in the race — Bob Berry, Richard George and Zach Bowman — specifically brought up the NWFP lease on the campaign trail.
Berry has said the commissioners “messed up big time” and were “absolutely wrong” to lease space to the organization. George said he wanted the county to seek more public input on the decision “for and against, so the commissioners are accountable to public opinion.” Bowman generally has expressed concerns about the county government competing with private landlords by leasing out space at below-market rates and said that, “If we’re this divided on an issue [like NWFP], the taxpayers shouldn’t be involved.”
Crampton said he’s also heard complaints about NWFP, including that it sells a “morning-after pill” called Plan B.
“This is going to be a controversial statement …, but I don’t know that it’s our position to regulate morality,” Crampton told the commissioners. “I know we all have strong beliefs about things, but there are also people that need services and this is one more way of providing those services.”
Commissioner French disagreed with Crampton’s take.
“When it’s taxpayer dollars and many of those taxpayers disagree with any referrals or whatever your statement is, they have a voice in it,” French said, noting he’d opposed the initial lease to NWFP a year ago.
“It’s, you believe in life or you don’t believe in life,” he said. “Many of the people in the county believe in life, as I do. So ... I’ll never vote for them being in a county facility.”
Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf voted against leasing space to Northwest Wyoming Family Planning last year, but he supported the renewal. Grosskopf said in an interview that his worries about whether the county could spare the space had been resolved and that a recent ad about the organization answered a lot of questions. (“We do not provide abortions,” and “We are pro-education,” were a couple of the facts offered in the ad.) At the meeting, Grosskopf said many of the services offered by NWFP are “exactly the same” as those provided by public health.
As for the complaints about renting to the organization, Grosskopf said he’s also had opponents of fossil fuels object to the county leasing space to oil and gas companies at the Park County Complex in Cody.
“You know, you stretch the argument far enough, they’re similar circumstances. It’s a slippery slope. It really is,” Grosskopf said. “Maybe we shouldn’t be renting to anybody, but we are.”
“Mr. Chairman, I don’t see how on earth you can equate the two,” French responded. “The life of an unborn child or renting to an oil company? ... I mean, that’s a stretch to equate them and compare them.”
Grosskopf said he wasn’t equating them.
“I’m saying the circumstances are the same: There’s a lot of people against fossil fuels — just as adamantly as against abortion,” he said.
“Well, you’re pro-life or you’re pro-abortion,” French responded. “It’s pretty simple.”
“Or you’re anti-fossil fuel,” Grosskopf said.
After the exchange ended, Commissioner Jake Fulkerson moved to extend Northwest Wyoming Family Planning’s lease, with Tilden joining in support, French opposed and Commissioner Lee Livingston absent. Although he supported the lease, chairman Grosskopf didn’t vote, not realizing the motion needed three votes to pass. That’s why commissioners will vote again on Wednesday.
“To me, it’s a matter of health issues. That’s what it is,” Tilden said Aug. 7. He added to the NWFP representatives that, “If more people would use your services, maybe we wouldn’t have to worry as much about abortions anymore; I don’t know.”
Tilden said some have asked whether the county would also rent space to Serenity Pregnancy Resources Center — a faith-based organization, backed by pro-life advocates, that supports pregnant women and their families. If the county has the space for Serenity, “you bet,” Tilden said of his response. “We want all the information possible out there where the public can get it.”