At its July 11 meeting, the Town Council voted unanimously to suspend council rules in order to skip consideration of the mayor’s appointment of Scott Owens as a new town attorney and instead consider awarding the contract to its current attorney, Brian West. With the rules suspended, they unanimously awarded the town’s legal services contract for the coming year to West. But following a telephone call between the Mayor and West concerning the decision, Mayor Brandon Dewey told the council that the Town’s attorney advised them to immediately review their decision and invalidate it because it wasn’t legal. The council did invalidate the contract award to West and subsequently confirmed the Mayor’s appointment of Owens. Details of the contract with Owens will be presented to the Council at its next meeting on July 25 for approval.
As soon as council president Bob Michalson moved to suspend the rules and consider awarding the contract without confirming the mayor’s appointment, Dewey stated that he had consulted with West about the issue of whether it was an appointment or a contract.
“In this case it’s both,” said Dewey. “It’s an appointment and a contract. The council needs to approve the appointment and then approve the contract that goes with it.”
Michalson went ahead with the motion to suspend the rules and do the contract first and council member Jim Crews seconded it. Crews said it all began with a request for services and the bids had been opened. He said tonight they could either award the bid or reject them all. He said he thought that West made the better candidate.
Mayor Dewey asked, “What happens if you make a contract with an individual that I am not willing to appoint?” He said that’s why the appointment was listed first on the agenda. He said the law was clear that the mayor appoints the attorney.
Crews asked what would happen if the council awarded the contract and the mayor didn’t appoint him.
“The council would have its own attorney, but not the town,” said Dewey.
In the public comment period, Bitterroot Star publisher Victoria Howell said that approving a contract with West would be illegal since the law states that the mayor appoints the attorney. Howell stated that the council had said they wanted to meet Mr. Owens and question him before approving the appointment, but then didn’t ask him a single question when they had the opportunity earlier in the meeting.
Jaime Williams commented that the council was in turmoil and lacked leadership. She said the current attorney has let the turmoil continue.
“You say you want change. If you want a change here’s an opportunity,” she said.
Lori Luporini suggested that the town attorney be required to attend every meeting.
Council member Robin Holcomb said that she has asked to have the attorney attend meetings but the mayor turned her down.
The council voted unanimously to award the legal services contract to Brian West.
A recess was called after the vote and prior to considering the mayor’s appointment of Owens.
Upon returning to business, Mayor Dewey said he had taken the opportunity to call the Town’s attorney to ask about the decision they had just made because it raised some flags in his mind.
“It certainly raised some flags for Mr. West,” said Dewey. “His advice as a practical matter was to reconsider the motion you just made and back out of it. There is no contract for services with West on the agenda tonight, nor could you force Mr. Owens’ agreement on him.” Dewey said it meant there was no contract to approve yet, there were only some proposals. He said the timing was off on the process. Dewey said that West advised reconsidering the contract award and not following through with it.
Crews made a motion to reconsider and then said, “I move we reject all bids for the proposals.”
That motion was approved unanimously.
The council next considered the Mayor’s appointment of Owens as Town Attorney. Crews moved to affirm the appointment of Owens.
Without any discussion among the council the vote was taken and the appointment was approved on a 2 to 1 vote with Michalson casting the dissenting vote.
The council also confirmed the mayor’s appointment of Monica Hoffman as Town Clerk. Hoffman holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with a minor in Human Resources and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology. Her previous work experience includes working for Minuteman Jet Center at the Missoula Airport as a customer service representative. Prior to that she worked for the State of Oregon’s Employment Department.
Hoffman ‘s appointment was confirmed on a 2 to 0 vote with Michalson abstaining. Michalson expressed concern over the job description for Hoffman’s position which he claims the mayor changed without council approval.
The council considered an Inter-Local Agreement and land lease between the Town of Stevensville and the Stevensville Rural Fire District. A motion was made to table the issue to allow for review of the revisions that were included at the request of the Stevensville Rural District. Both Town Fire Chief Jeff Motley and Rural District board member Bill Anderson urged the council to approve the MOU and lease with the revisions. Anderson said they were just language taken from the 2000 lease agreement that needed to be included because they seem to have been forgotten. Michalson withdrew the motion to table and Crews moved to approve the lease agreement with the highlighted revisions and the motion was approved unanimously.
The Council approved a resolution vacating the 40 foot alley running through Block 17, lots 3-18 of the Original Town Site leaving a utility easement.
In correspondence, the Town received a letter from Helena attorney Mike Meloy on behalf of the Bitterroot Star concerning the appointment of Crews to the Ward 2 council seat.
“The agenda for the June 13th Council meeting suggested that the Council might suspend rules related to the appointment of a candidate from Stevensville,” wrote Meloy. “However, the notice did not contain any reference to proposed action actually appointing someone to fill the vacant Ward 2 position. Likewise, it contained no reference to appointing Mr. Crews to fill the position. In past years, the Council has specifically noticed the proposed appointment as a single agenda item and named the individual expected to receive the appointment. Accordingly, the public was not given a reasonable opportunity to weigh in on the selection of Mr. Crews as a result of the deficiency in the notice.” The Star requested that the council convene a separate meeting and give specific notice to the public of the appointment of Mr. Crews and permit the public to participate in that decision before it is finalized.
The Council also received a letter from Main Street Association Director Lorraine Roach complaining about the fireworks that culminated the Western Heritage Days celebration. Roach received an email from one person complaining about the downtown fireworks display and said she had heard other complaints. She said many people did not expect the fireworks and were disturbed by them. Although she stated that the Main Street Association has taken no official position on the issue, she recommended sending direct notices to homeowners in the future. She also complained about the litter left from the fireworks in the alley behind the Kohl building.
In a related matter, earlier in the meeting Council President Michalson questioned the decision by Fire Chief Jeff Motley allowing the 4th of July fireworks when the town was experiencing a water shortage due to pump failures.
Motley defended his decision stating that he had received special fireworks training and considered all the factors involved before approving the fireworks display. He said the chance of fire from fireworks of this sort was minimal and that firefighters were on hand in case something extraordinary should happen.
Victoria Howell, publisher of the Bitterroot Star, which sponsored the Western Heritage Days event this year after the Main Street Association dropped the celebration from its calendar, also defended the event’s fireworks display, stating that the fireworks were publicized in advance in newspapers, on radio stations, with a widely circulated flyer and on social media. She said it took place with full approval by the Town Council, the Fire Chief and the owner of the adjacent building and parking lot, was fully insured and was properly handled in every way. She said that she personally cleaned up the debris in the alley and had a video to prove it, although she didn’t get to it until Monday evening because she had a paper to put out.
Howell said that the celebration almost didn’t happen this year. She said that the Main Street Association which had been sponsoring the event began circulating the idea that Main Street businesses didn’t want it.
“We knew that couldn’t possibly be true,” said Howell, “and in fact we took in over $16,000 from local businesses and had prizes donated and a lot of in-kind contributions. The event was so successful that we will be able to make a significant contribution to the Stevensville and Lone Rock school backpack food programs in which kids discreetly receive backpacks full of food to take home.”
Howell said that it was probably the best Western Heritage Days ever. “The bottom line is, you just can’t please everyone,” she said.