Stevensville Town Council members Bob Michalson and Stacie Barker have placed five items on the agenda for the January 24th town council meeting which include abolishing the Park Board; abolishing all Town social media websites [sic] and cease video recording and broadcasting of Town Council meetings; requiring the Chief of Police, Chief of the Fire Department, the Town Clerk, all Deputy Clerks and the Finance Officer/Treasurer to be residents of the Town of Stevensville; to discuss the responsibilities of the mayor to enforce Council Rules during Council meetings; and to direct the mayor to establish an office for the Town Council and a Council Reference Library within 30 days.
Michalson was accused of harassment and bullying in a recent complaint filed by Town Clerk Audrey Tribbensee. An independent investigative report found that, based on testimony from all sides, the clerk was probably being bullied as defined in the Town’s personnel manual, but that there were no rules prohibiting it either in town code or in state law. But, according to the report, Michalson was guilty of retaliation when he made certain remarks to the clerk after she submitted her complaint that could reasonably be interpreted as a threat of job termination. The independent attorney who authored the report suggested that Michalson apologize for his remarks and he did so publicly at a recent council meeting.
Barker was also mentioned in the report:
“The staff characterizes Mr. Michalson and Ms. Barker’s words and actions as intimidating and undermining. It is conceivable that reasonable minds could find that the Council violated its own personnel policies by allowing Mr. Michalson and Ms. Barker to speak to staff in a way the staff finds threatening and humiliating,” states the report.
Since that time, both Michalson and Barker have publicly accused the mayor and several members of the public of bullying them in their decision not to appoint Jim Crews to the Council.
A note is attached to the Park Board agenda item stating, “The Park Board does not appear to be a necessary board of the Town of Stevensville. The board met twice in 2018, and has not followed thru [sic] on any of their issues from 2017 or 2018. The board has repeatedly asked the Council for guidance and direction. The board is an advisory board to the Town Council but has be [sic] unable to function as a board. The Park Board also is not a recommended or necessary board per the Town Ordinances, reference the Stevensville Municipal Code Article VIII. Suggested motion: I move to rescind Resolution 11 and abolish the Park Board.”
As to abolishing the social media sites and the video recording and broadcasting of Town Council meetings, an attached note states that it appears the mayor and staff are monitoring and editing the comments of the public on the Town’s social media site. It is noted that this is not a prescribed duty of the clerk or staff or elected official as it could be a violation of the right of free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Maintenance of an informational site to distribute information may be acceptable. Maintenance, monitoring and censorship of the public’s comments are not acceptable, states the note.
Mayor Dewey Brandon told the Star that he believed this issue was being brought forward because the spouse of one of the Council members was recently banned from the Town’s Facebook page.
No attachments or rationale was submitted for the agenda item establishing a residency requirement for the positions of clerk, deputy clerk, finance officer/treasurer, police chief and fire chief.
Mayor Dewey said that he did not know why the council members would be looking to place a residency restriction on the staff. He said with a town population of only 2,000 people it did not make sense to restrict the job pool to within the town limits.
As to the need for a Council office, an attached note states that the mayor is “inhibiting” the ability of the Town Council to perform its legislative duties and accuses him of “fostering a hostile, unfriendly and insubordinate condition in Town Hall.”
“As such is the case, the Town Council hereby directs the Mayor…to establish secured office space for the exclusive use of the Town Council as an Office and Council Library and provide for 7 days per week, 24 hour per day access to [it.]”
It goes on to state, “Further the mayor shall provide for a copy machine, fax machine and desk top computer access and a telephone…The Office will have no video or audio recording devices installed in the office or on any of the phones or computer. Further the Office will be equipped with a presentable desk, chair and guest chairs with a meeting table so that Town Council Members may meet privately with the Town’s Citizens.”
According to the mayor, the item about directing the mayor to enforce council rules has to do with his failure to place an item on the agenda at the previous meeting to reconsider a request to vacate an alleyway in town.