Mayor Brandon Dewey was not in attendance and as a result, Council President Steve Gibson chaired the meeting. Although adopting the final budget was on the agenda, the council decided to take no action on it in the mayor’s absence and because council members had not had time to study it.
Gibson said that he had just received the 40-page document that day and in a cursory look had noted that the budget wasn’t balanced. It had more expenditures than revenues. He said it could not be approved without being first brought into balance and that would be difficult to do since he had not had time to study it all. Urged by the Town Clerk to move forward with the budget, he said that he appreciated her problem, but the fault was not with the council. He said the process should have started earlier.
Council member Robin Holcomb said she too had only just received the budget and had not read it.
“I can’t pass a budget if I don’t know what’s going on,” said Holcomb.
A special meeting to consider the budget was set for Wednesday, October 30.
The council then heard a report from Town Attorney Scott Owens about the mayor’s payment of the fireworks claim. Former councilperson Bob Michalson co-signed, along with the Mayor, the check to pay the fireworks vendor $4,915.50. But after that, Michalson changed his mind and called the bank to have the payment stopped. When the Mayor was informed that the payment had been stopped, he took action to override the stop and the bank paid the vendor. Michalson claims he stopped the payment because it was not in the budget and did not get approved by the council.
Town Attorney Scott Owens replied to the allegations at the meeting verbally and promised a written follow up. He said what it boiled down to was whether the fireworks were in the budget or not. He said that after talking with Michalson and the Mayor and reviewing the budget and the associated Purchasing Policy, he concluded that the expenditure was legal because it was approved by the council when they approved the budget containing the fireworks display. He said it was not an over-expenditure of the fund either. There was plenty of money in the fund to cover it. He said not only was the item in the budget but the check written to pay for it was signed by both Michalson and the Mayor.
Asked what the repercussions might be if the council did not approve the claim, Owens stated that it would get flagged in the town’s audit, but if it happened twice in a row, citizens could sue.
He said the claim that was paid was a valid claim.
Council President Gibson said that the issue of the claim and its validity and the need to approve that claim was one thing, but the Mayor’s actions to pay it without council approval were another issue that could still be addressed apart from approving the payment.
The motion to approve the claim was approved on a 3 to 1 vote with Holcomb dissenting.
Despite the attorney’s opinion that the mayor’s payment of the claim was legal, the council decided to censure him for the action. They passed a motion on a 3 to 1 vote, with Council member Patrick Shourd dissenting, to censure him for his action which they believe was wrong under the constitution and threatens the separation of powers. The motion included publishing a public notice of the censure in the newspaper.
Gibson acknowledged that there was no penalty or punishment associated with the censure, but it was done to shame the perpetrator.
Mayor Brandon Dewey said in a telephone interview later that the town attorney had looked into it and that the council actually has no authority to censure a mayor. It can only censure its own members.
“We will probably not be publishing that public notice until they can show some authority to censure,” said Dewey.
Councilor Holcomb then moved to “make the mayor pay back the $4,915.50 by the end of the year and show proof of it.”
Gibson corrected Holcomb, stating that this was just “a request.”
“You are ‘requesting’ that he pay it back,” said Gibson. “We can’t make him pay it back.”
“When do we hold our mayor responsible?” asked Holcomb. “He’s been doing this for years, paying things that haven’t been approved… When do we hold the mayor accountable for his actions? This has to stop.” She referenced a $27,000 claim for snow removal, the $4,000 plus for the fireworks and $34,000 in claims that she asked him three times not to pay until she could re-establish a council after the others all resigned.
“He needs to know that he cannot continue to pay things that aren’t approved,” she said.
Although it was noted that the council had no legal authority to make him pay, the motion to request him to pay was approved 3-0, with Shourd abstaining.