The weather and the campaign trail are getting hot this July; and the heat radiating from Cheyenne City Council Candidates canvassing neighborhoods, is no exception. This 2016 election brings out twenty-eight candidates between three City Wards. It appears that Individuals are crawling out of the woodwork this year, inspired to step up and serve their local community.
One of these candidates is Joe Shogrin campaigning for Ward 3.
A local political supporter wondered why I hadn’t interviewed Joe, yet, based off of my unprompted interview with Mayoral write-in candidate, Richard Johnson; and I said “If Joe wants to talk, I will sit down and listen, and write something up.”
Well, Joe Shogrin DID express an interest to sit down and talk with me about his campaign and his visions for Cheyenne’s future; double bonus win for him, I live in Ward 3, as well. So, we had an impromptu and rather casual meeting over a beer in my humble garage.
Joe stands at about six foot four inches. He is a man who looks like he can lift some heavy equipment with agility… which all makes sense, when I find out he is a High Voltage Lineman. As I understand it, this isn’t easy work for the weak of heart, fear of heights type. This is work that transcends seasons, and jumps straight to badass modern necessity; a-no-one-likes-being-left-without-power-during-a-snowstorm-kind-of-labor.
In 2010, Joe Shogrin left Altus, Oklahoma (population 22,000) for the fine (if not larger) town of Cheyenne, to continue his work as a lineman.
Now, personally, electricity scares the dried fecal matter out of my colon. I don’t really understand how it works. I know that it is especially dangerous when prefixed by the words “High” and “Voltage”. This isn’t the case when it comes to Shogrin. Joe isn’t scared of electricity or heights. Joe loves his job. Beyond that… Joe LOVES helping people.
“You know the thing that really drives me, is being out there in the middle of an ice storm or a lightening storm, and there are all these people out there who are out of power and suffering… and, I know, we gotta get that power back on.”
Before working in the electricity business, Joe was humbly working as a janitor; however, when he found out that his first baby was on the way, he realized he needed a real career in order to support his growing family.
As luck, God, or good grace would have it; Joe found himself at the right place, at the right time when he went into the Altus City Building to ask about available jobs. He was presented with the opportunity for an entry level, seasonal meter reading gig that would be laid off in six months. He took the job, reading meters for six months, and at the end of it promptly joined the Linemen Apprentice Program.
Joe credits most of his career longevity and advancement with his ability to self teach and seek out knowledge in his chosen field. I make a mental note that these are great attributes for individuals to possess when running for public offices that represent widely varied demographics.
“Cheyenne is an interesting market because a lot of our Councilmen (people) are small business owners, so they look out for small business interests which is an important dynamic that needs to happen, but I feel like the council today isn’t really for the people. Politics shouldn’t be that way at any level. They are there for us, there to serve us. That is what I want to get back to. That is why I want to be on Council. I feel like we have a problem here; a disconnect from the people to the Council; the Council to the people, right on up into the State house and the Senate, upward. We basically have disconnects on every level of Council right now, which is dangerous.”
These are potent observations, that should not be taken lightly; especially from someone willing to put their name in the hat to play a long standing local political game. I think about Rich Johnson’s comments about his beginning attitude in politics being idealistic and optimistic, and how much has changed in his perception of what he could change during his first year in council.
Politics is like High Voltage line work… it isn’t for the weak willed, and easily battered. Maybe Joe really has a chance at winning a seat and assisting in some much needed changes.
I want to know why Joe thinks he would be a good fit for City Council.
“I’ve worked for the city (as a lineman) and one of the biggest strengths I bring to the table is moderation. Mediation is where it is at. I am some one who is willing to moderate and work in the middle. You give a little bit here, you take a little bit there, and after a while you have a compromise.”
So, Joe Shogrin is a willing mediator in favor of compromise. He comes across as open minded and level headed, not to mention brave, with functional risk taking. (Heck, you have to possess those attributes to get that far off the ground to deal with electricity in treacherous weather….)
“I am very supportive of our local economy, but our economy goes through these boom or bust cycles every 10 years with oil. We have good employers; (it just seems) when we are comfortable making money, we crash. We don’t plan ahead, we don’t set anything aside for when the bottom falls out. You can’t base your economy off of two or three (major income) issues with a city this size; we have to diversify our income sources and work load as well as the types of jobs we have. I am kind of disappointed because I see our Council and Candidates, and when I talk to them they are like ‘ We have to support small business!’ And I agree 100%, BUT, we also have to support moving forward to the next level so we can (as a community) support small business. If people have money in their pocket, they are going to spend it and they are going to spend it here, mostly. Now they may go to Fort Collins, but we could build up our down town area; do stuff that will keep them ( local money) here.”
We talked for awhile about Keith Coombes recent Facebook post for Ernie Novembers’ Record Store, calling out downtown business owners for having such short business hours; especially in the summer time, on the week end. Just a few weeks ago Keith kept the business open an hour later than their usual 9 pm closing down. Ernie November, already stays open later, every day of the week, than any other non food related walk-in place of commerce in down town Cheyenne. By keeping the doors open for interested patrons, beyond the posted closing time, thereby engaging the community; the business was able to make an extra $500 bones on the books. This is great for one small local business… and it should be inspiration to other small business owners to take heed and ride the periodic tides we have when it comes to downtown interest and seasonal shopping. (Here is a link to Keith’s post if you want to check it out for yourself.)
“One of the constituents (running with me) is big on down town. His platform is ‘Bring Back Downtown.’ He says that he goes down there at night, and it’s dead except for the bar scene. You have a couple of beers and walk around, but there is nothing to do. It makes you wonder, what is there to go down there for? The bar scene? That may not be what the Councils’ job is, but, it’s also (what adds to) a perception of the community. Everyone is struggling to make a living, and so as a Council, what can we do to help them? I know that business owners are making their own schedules and want their time… not everyone is willing to work 12p-9p; and it isn’t the Councils job to impose that… but as a friend of the community, working to be in the Council; I would suggest that they really look at that and consider adjusting. Maybe try working some different hours and see what you get in the results. Downtown is essential to so many activities in Cheyenne. We have the Plaza, the Depot and space; sadly, it is underutilized. Bring the people in like we do on Friday’s. If I am to be a steward of peoples money, I’m not just going to spend it (willy nilly). I am not going to spend it on something that I wouldn’t spend my own money on.”
Joe is a blue collar guy, working blue collar work. He has to get his pants dirty and his hands callused to do what he does. He has to challenge his fears and step into the unknown in order to help strangers. He finds satisfaction in a job well done. I admire these attributes in general, and especially when it comes from those who feel invigorated enough to step from their obscure silence into a cooperative community position; willing and excited to help tow the line.
I shared my concern about certain ambitious projects in the city that seem to be rising to the top of discussions without real priority; for instance, the Sky Bridge. It is a very large scale project that was introduced to the town as “a way to make our skyline unique”, yet it doesn’t seem that this project should be any priority; especially when taking into consideration that there are so many defunct properties in down town… It seems like an over ambitious project with no real connection to realistic priorities as it pertains to actually improving Downtown Cheyenne for its residents. Another example is the Children’s Museum that started as a granted project, and is now being presented as a building that will be paid for with tax dollars, under the guise that it will invigorate a down town that already has a parking problem, and few options for kids. (On a personal note, I think the Museum is a great idea, but it belongs closer to Lions Park with other kid/family friendly activities; perhaps in the existing old terminal of the Regional Airport, which is historic in itself.) I also share my concern that we are wasting resources with all of these surveys that cost money to assess, in order to figure out a consensus for the direction of down town.
“A project like the Sky Bridge should be funded by grants on a Federal level. And if they try and make us pay for it through taxes, I am going to fight it. I will dress up as Darth Vadar with my friends dressed up as Chewbacca and everything, and I will say ‘DO NOT PASS’ and have some fun with it. Most of these surveys are coming from the State level. I have been talking to some of the candidates I am running with, who are interested in interacting on that level, and I think I can smooth a road over between State Statutes and City Council. If that could happen we could make a positive impact in Cheyenne and Casper, because (State statute) it effects them too. “
Joe is a big proponent of calling out what doesn’t work, and then figuring out solutions that work best for everyone. He has a soft heart for those around him that are suffering from circumstances that are out of their control. He asserts his compassion by volunteering community service, coaching soccer and mentoring children who have no fathers.
“I could be at home watching night shows like everybody else, but instead I choose to invest my time in the future. I have been watching City Council meetings for about two years. I get upset about it because they are suppose to be the voice of the citizens and some of the things they vote for are not Citizen Friendly. It’s like, if I started ‘Joe’s Lawn Mowing Business’ or ‘Joe’s Tiki Hut Stand on The Corner of Joe Rd.’ Then my interest would be ‘well I gotta make sure they don’t close that little loophole, so I can keep my business.’ That is how they (City Council) work, they protect only what serves them. I serve people. That is who I want to serve. I care about everybody, including them. So far as I can tell, there is no real Leadership on Council.”
Joe is quite the people person, and he aims to lend a helping hand whenever the opportunity arises. This is an attribute more leaders should have.
“I am the type of person that will pull over and help you if I see ya stranded on the side of the road… or if I see ya struggling with something. If I see you struggling with your lawn mower, when I am driving by, I will stop to help you because I am pretty good with stuff like that.”
Shogrin’s goal in acquiring one of the Ward 3 Council seats, is to bring together the community of Cheyenne. He understands that many hands working together, can accomplish more in less time. He believes that some of the beautification that needs to happen in the city, could be accomplished quickly if we could set a time and date to get together to get things done. He notices that people are some what “shelled off” in this city, and he wants bring them out of their isolation. He wants to have a strong community that cares for the welfare of one another.
“We have to take care of ourselves. Not just our house, but our community. That is hard to talk people into doing because people are so introverted and shelled off from the world with their face in their cellphone on Facebook.”
Joe has a unique perspective on running for City Council, he doesn’t view it as a competition and he doesn’t view the other constituents as opposition.
“I can’t say enough nice stuff about the people that I have met who (are also) running. I mean they all seem like really nice people. I am not running against them; I am running WITH them. In all honesty, if I get in, and they don’t all they gotta do is call me and say ‘Hey, Joe. Watch out for this. Can you help me with this? ‘ In my mind I am running with seven other people. We all want the same thing; we want to make Cheyenne stronger, bigger, and better. Basically I am surrounded by seven other people that have the same heart for the City that I do; so why would I make an enemy instead of a friend? I care for those people. Win or lose, we are in it together.”
Team work and compromise,is not a platform many actually run on… in fact, to some it may not even seem like a platform at all. The truth speaks loudly in this moment; if we truly love our City and desire to make it better, we have to work together and prioritize our compromises. Is Cheyenne mature enough to be progressive and thoughtful in it’s evolution? Cheyenne is large enough, to start carving out it’s own unique image in the comparative landscapes of other cities. What do we want to represent to ourselves and prospective future residents, and visitors alike?
As the cost of living continues it’s incremental increase across the boarder in Colorado; Cheyenne is bound to be a destination for those who can’t afford to live in Colorado’s changing economy. How can we encourage those who move here, but retain work in Colorado, to spend their money in Cheyenne with local business’? Especially when the heart of the city is in somewhat sad disrepair? What can we do to beautify our town and effectively diversify?
” A constituent made a comment about maybe trying to get the homeless people out of that area (downtown), and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle spun it like they’re a homeless hater . I’m like ‘No.’ The press will do that to you.’ But, responsibly, if you get them out of the area, you help give them means and ways to work. You gotta work with them, to have them work with you. There is always a balance, always a compromise to work things out. My friends joke that I could negotiate a deal between the Devil and God. I say, ‘I might be able to’ It’s about compromise, and it’s about working together and that’s my whole agenda.”
One of the big compromises Joe observes that needs some attention, is the wages in our great State. At this point in time, wages for most jobs doesn’t even come close to competitive national averages; which could be one reason Colorado transfers, may choose to keep their jobs and money across the boarder. Joe is concerned that our below average wages need to be addressed as a way of adding to the positive draw for current and future residents.
“If you have a CDL other places you average about $50,000 per year. Here you make about $12.24 an hour, which is about $25,000 dollars a year. And here you have to have a Heavy Machine License, because a lot of these guys have to go unload heavy equipment… so that is additional, but typically a Heavy Machine Operator will make $60-70 thousand a year. Not here. We may pay those guys $18 an hour. Then we have our Fire and Police departments, and we are growing, so we need to think about that because those departments are going to have to grow in the future. Since I have been here, I think we have grown by 6,000, that’s a lot, and now we are short on both Fire and Police. I was talking to both Chiefs, and basically Fire needs another outpost over on the east side of town. Those business’ on the east side of town actually have higher insurance rates because the response time of the Fire Department. That is one of our bigger employment centers over there. There are 2000 plus jobs in that area. “
An area of address Shogrin finds pertinent, is the need for City funding to diversify their support into more of the activities and organizations in town. Joe then referenced the failing Ice and Events Center that was taken over by the City a few years ago. Lack of advertising and promotion of activities at the Event Center has made it slip to the back of most peoples minds when contemplating a fun family friendly social activity.
“The city tends to really support four or five organizations. We don’t promote our business’ well enough. There are local business’ here, that I haven’t even heard of. You can go down off Dell Range into one of the local shops; take my friend who owned Kabob King. When he took over that building down there behind Applebees, and I go in there to have a Kabob Burger, and I look over at Applebees and their parking lot is packed. I look at his parking lot, and there are two cars in it. Applebees is a big box store. 90% of the money they make over there goes back to the corporation and the rest goes to service and bar staff. We have a lot of organizations that can help you promote your business, but a problem I see, is they are not all under one umbrella and they need not be governed by the City Council because that says corruption. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, or even in eight years; some where down the way, it’s going to get corrupt. Corrupt government pisses me off more than anything. If I see something right or wrong going on, I am going to call it. If it’s wrong, and I am doing it, I am going to apologize and get re-educated. I’m not above that, it’s a strength I have going into Council, if I get there. I’m not above admitting when I am wrong and learning something new. Sometimes I need help too, and I am not afraid to ask for it.”
Observing past candidates and current Council meetings leaves much to be desired in even giving the illusion of working together as a committee for the people. Many meetings run long circles around the issues with little being accomplished with the time spent meant to progress the city and address issues. Members seem unwilling to compromise or budge on their stances, which begs the question, are these representatives REALLY FOR the people and the City, or are they solely fixated on protecting their own personal interests?
“I am like, one percent asshole. Other than that I want to bring people together. At the end of the day I want us all to work together as a team. My first goal in City Council, would be to bring everyone to work together as a team. The first thing we have to realize is the first priority is, we are working together for the same reason; We are for the people, we are for Cheyenne. It’s an easy commitment. If some one is 25% right about something, we don’t have to just shoot them down. You take that 25% and build on it. Without our town having a great future, our business’ will not have a great future. If business doesn’t have a great future, the town isn’t going to have a great future and have a chance to actually become prosperous. “
Joe noted that Cheyenne’s focus has seemed geared toward the tourism that is primarily generated during the summer months in the Capital City, versus prioritizing the actual residents and business’ that run year long that actually supports city programs with tax revenue. He feels that if we invest in the beautification and maintenance of our city, it will be more attractive both aesthetically, and and in functionality.
“You see beer bottles sitting in the gutter for 3 days and no one wants to pick it up. We don’t practice due diligence in picking things up. One of the issues we have with downtown is it just needs a new coat of paint… and if enough people were to help, we could get it done in three hours. It doesn’t have to take a lot to make a place look awesome. If the City were to prioritize, and set aside a few days where city employees just went around helping people get things cleaned up…Can you imagine all these experts in their field with a budget and some grants, and we could clean up downtown nicely. We have beautiful buildings, they’ve just been neglected. “
Every downtown is known for having a ghetto area. How can Cheyenne, revitalize and address the issues that arise from an alcohol infused area that draws homelessness and at-risk adults, effectively? How do we clean up our act with out over gentrifying? How can we assist sub-sectors of our community that are disenfranchised and potentially dealing with chemical abuse and mental health issue, who are drawn to these areas where like minded poverty stricken peers congregate?
“I know why they congregate down there. Both of our Homeless Resources are down there within walking distance. You have the intersection of two busy highways right down there, and on top of that you have three places downtown there that offer free wifi. Then you are also in walking distance of MLK park, in which they sleep in if they can’t find a spot that is safe to sleep at, at night. It’s not about making the homeless people leave downtown, it’s about giving them an incentive to leave downtown. I think that is the problem people have had with downtown ‘Oh, it has to be clean’ and they want to do like they did in Denver. They swept through the homeless parks and rifled through their things, destroyed their things.”
Overall it appears Joe Shogrin really is for the people and the City. He is most definitely NOT a douche-bag. His apparent willingness to work with and for others, all while focusing on resourceful solutions that capitalize on the unique expertise and strengths of individuals working as a team, seems profound and exactly what the city of Cheyenne needs right now. With this attitude many positive things can be accomplished over a shorter period of time, thereby accelerating us into a bountiful future for this Magic City.
If you would like to connect with Joe on Facebook, click here.
If you would like to call and schedule a chat with him about any questions or concerns you may have, give him a call at (307)630-8342.
If you haven’t already, you still have time to register to vote; the primary election is in August and the race is heating up. You can register to vote at the County Clerks Office at 2020 Carey Avenue.
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