By Zac Taylor
Via Wyoming News Exchange
POWELL — An attorney who was forced to leave the podium during last week’s public hearing on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ proposed temple in Cody says he will sue city officials unless he receives a public apology.
Jack Hatfield serves as a deputy Park County attorney but spoke solely in his role as a private citizen during the June 15 meeting hosted by the Cody Planning and Zoning Board.
Of the more than 40 people who spoke for and against the plans to build the temple in a neighborhood near the Cody golf course, Hatfield was the only speaker to be admonished multiple times for directing his comments to church representatives.
He was ultimately told to leave the podium after he referred to City Planner Todd Stowell, who is a member of the LDS church, as a “shill.”
In a Friday email to City of Cody attorney Scott Kolpitcke and City Administrator Barry Cook, Hatfield asserted that his free speech rights were violated and demanded an apology. “… if I do not receive the public apology within a reasonable period of time, I will be filing suit in the U.S. District Court,” Hatfield wrote.
Kolpitcke responded by saying that he would discuss the matter with city officials, according to an email chain provided by Hatfield.
During his public comments last week, Hatfield turned toward church representatives and said, “This is not the way you treat people.”
He specifically criticized the way the applicants have treated the project’s next door neighbor, who will have a “massive parking lot 100 feet from [them].”
Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Carson Rowley twice interrupted Hatfield and reminded him to direct his comments to the chair and not the applicants.
However, Hatfield later turned and directed comments at Stowell, the city planner.
“What else do we have going on here? We have a shill in the city planner,” he charged.
Stowell had disclosed his church membership in his staff report on the proposal and said he’d sought to handle the application like any other to come before the city.
Hatfield’s comment to the planner prompted Rowley to tell Hatfield to stop speaking and leave the podium.
“Sir, that is your third warning. I will ask you to step back from the mic,” Rowley said.
Hatfield requested multiple times to continue speaking — “I have tried to make my statement, as I am entitled to as a United States citizen, and you’re not letting me do that,” he said — but Rowley continued to ask him to leave the podium.
Hatfield eventually did so, but in Friday’s email to Kolpitcke, he reasserted that his right to free speech had been violated.
“I was constantly interrupted by the board and ultimately not allowed to continue speaking without just cause,” Hatfield wrote. “This was clearly based on impermissible viewpoint discrimination and there is ample case law demonstrating that my rights were violated.”
In the message, he offered to settle “all claims I would have based on this violation of my rights with a public apology from the City of Cody.”
Hatfield added to the Tribune that, “This was such an obvious and blatant violation of my free speech rights that any attorney would advise them I’m being very generous.”
Kolpitcke declined to comment.