Former Casper Bus Operator Sues City, Alleging Contractual and Constitutional Violations | Regional News

A longtime Casper transit contractor is suing the city, alleging it breached its contract and violated constitutional rights by seizing records and property last year before terminating their agreement.

The lawsuit, filed by the Casper Area Transportation Coalition (CATC) Tuesday in Natrona County, alleges Casper officials accused the agency of double tapping into CARES relief money and other funding. governmental. According to the lawsuit, CATC leaders say the city was at fault for not telling them they couldn’t look for more money once CARES stepped in to cover 100% of their costs.

CATC operated fixed-route and on-demand bus services in Casper, Mills and Evansville for 39 years before the city announced it was terminating its contract and resuming operations in April last year, says the trial.

According to the complaint, CATC officials were told in January 2021 that the city would be auditing its finances, based on instructions from the state. The agency’s director, John Jones, and his accountant have been placed on administrative leave.

City officials and two police officers, according to the suit, then went to the CATC office to retrieve documents, banking information and keys. According to the CATC, city officials also changed the locks on the office and ordered the IT department to shut down the agency from its computer system as well.

Attorney Judith Studer said her review of city emails and body camera footage from that day indicated the city had “coordinated to shut everything down at once.”

Since the office was leased to the city, the lawsuit said the search was a violation of their contract that gave CATC the right to use the space “without city interference.” CATC also alleges that the city violated its computer services contract by denying the agency access to servers during business hours.

“Technically they own the property, but it wasn’t done in good faith,” Studer said. “There was no legal basis to come in and take things.”

The suit further alleges that the search violated the agency’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against improper search and seizure without a warrant or subpoena.

A city accountant conducted a report — not an audit, CATC points out — on the agency’s finances after obtaining the documents and, according to the lawsuit, concluded that the CATC should not have collected other funds since the city paid all its expenses.

CATC Board Chairman Louis Grunewald said Wednesday the city maintains the CATC owes them more than $400,000 — but according to the CATC, it’s the city that owes the agency about $100,000. $000. Grunewald said the agency also had smaller debts to Mills and Evansville.

The lawsuit alleges that the accountant did not speak to anyone from the CATC to complete the report.

According to the lawsuit, the city said bus fare revenue should have offset the amount of CARES Act money CATC received from the city — but never reduced CARES payments based on reported fares. .

“The (fiscal year 2020) contract states that the fares belong to CATC,” the suit states. “Upon learning of the City’s error, CATC offered to return the funds improperly paid by the City. The city manager ignored the offer.

Grunewald said the city also uses federal grants the CATC received for rural transportation to fund its local twinning for urban transportation grants from the FTA or WYDOT, which the suit says may violate the terms of those subsidies.

In April, City Manager Carter Napier told the Star-Tribune that the city had contacted the CATC about the audit, but “did not engage them” in conversations about canceling the contract. Napier and other city officials declined to comment Wednesday, citing ongoing litigation.

According to the complaint, the Wyoming Department of Transportation and other funders stopped communicating with the CATC after the city cracked down. Grunewald said the council, which still meets, is working on a plan to provide rides to nonprofit customers in the area, first by reimbursing them for Casper bus or taxi rides from the money CATC still has in the bank.

The lawsuit says that since the city took over, CATC has heard complaints from bus riders about late buses, missed rides and higher fares. Casper’s director of community development, Liz Becher, said in a text Wednesday that “ticket prices are exactly the same as they always have been” and service hasn’t diminished.

Studer said the CATC filed a claim with the city in September, standard practice under Wyoming law for those who challenge government actions. There was no response from the city, she said Wednesday.

The CATC is asking for a jury trial in this case, according to the initial filing.

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