Stevensville Town Council President Bob Michalson needs to give up his vendetta against the Mayor. It has been a difficult thing for the community to witness and he has now clearly crossed the line of acceptability in his most recent attempt to shut down the town in order to carry out his aims. Not one of his fellow council members could go along with his misguided attempt to put a spending freeze into effect, and for good reason.
Number one, there is no fiscal crisis. No department is buying a bunch of tires without council approval as he suggested. Perhaps, like some other council members and even a former clerk, he bought into the notion that the Mayor was putting forth an unbalanced budget (which is not legal) when he shared the preliminary results of a zero-based budgeting process in which the departments figure out their true needs based on their duties and obligations and then ask for the amount of money that would meet those needs. Cuts then have to be made that will negatively impact those services. In this case, the excess came to about $125,000. This is the painful part of the budgeting process and in this case, it was the employees who stepped up. No one got a raise, not even a cost of living increase, but the budget got balanced without gutting any departments, and that includes filling the vacant positions on the police force.
Not only is there not a fiscal crisis calling for a spending freeze, but there was going to be no prior notice and no public participation in the process. Michalson himself stated at the meeting that he and his “sources” had “done their homework in advance”. Unfortunately, none of them is a lawyer and not one of them thought to ask the Town Attorney.
This brings us back to Michalson’s vendetta. It began several months ago when he and another council member sought an opinion from the Town Attorney on whether the Mayor’s actions (which amounted to a statement to the press) were illegal.
Michalson didn’t like the answer he got and his answer to that has now been made famous once his emails were made public. If he can’t get the Mayor on some legal infraction then he will just “make his life miserable.”
He has certainly given that aim every effort he can muster. But so far to no avail.
So how do you make the Mayor miserable enough to leave? By taking an action against him that he cannot impede, or as Michalson put it to the mayor, “I’m sorry, but there is nothing you can do about it.”
And yet there was something the Mayor could do about it and he did. He asked for public comment and took it, despite that fact that Michalson tried to cut him off by blurting out, “There is no public comment.” There was also some pertinent comment from a couple of employees who were rebelling at the idea of having their departments shut down.
Trying to ramrod through an issue such as a spending freeze without a bit of public notice or public participation shows extremely poor thinking regardless of any laws. But it is also definitely against the law. This is not simply the Bitterroot Star’s opinion, it’s our attorney’s opinion. It is hard to believe that neither Michalson nor any one of his “trusted sources” thought a legal opinion was needed in this case.
Even though other council members have expressed strong feelings about the Mayor’s “lack of communication with the council” and questioned his actions legally at times, not one of them could go along with Michalson on this, and that speaks loudly to how far he’s gone off track in his vendetta.
Maybe one of his trusted sources could help us all out and tell him it’s time to give it up, because he doesn’t seem to want to listen to anybody else.